Revolution Lullabye

November 16, 2010

Hairston, Breaking Our Bonds and Reaffirming Our Connections

Hairston, Maxine. “Breaking Our Bonds and Reaffirming Our Connections.” College Composition and Communication 36 (1985): 272-82. Print.

Hairston notes, in this, her 1985 CCCC Chair’s Address, how far the field of rhetoric and composition has come in terms of graduate programs, membership and attendance at CCCC, and disciplinary journals. She argues that it might be time for the field to break ties intellectually, psychologically, and, if necessary, physically, from English departments dominated by literature. She points out that often it is those in composition who are reaching out to bridge the gap between literature and composition studies and that it would be better for the field to stop trying to gain acceptance from a field that seems to undervalue the teaching and research of writing. Composition and literature have different value systems: literature largely Platonic; composition Aristotelian. She argues that the field must prioritize research and the publication of research, make connections to other fields outside of literature, and make connections to businesses and organizations in the community.

Notes and Quotes

“I think that as rhetoricians and writing teachers we will come of age and become autonomous professionals with a discipline of our own only if we can make a psychological break with the literary critics who today dominate the profession of English studies. Until we move out from behind their shadows and no longer accept their definition of what our profession should be, we are not going to have full confidence in our own mission and our own professionalism.” (274)

“In many institutions, it’s clear that a majority of the English department
faculty do not share our conviction that English departments have an obligation
to teach people to write. If students do not already know how to write
when they get to college, they hold, that is somebody else’s fault and we
shouldn’t have to deal with it. It’s much easier to invoke the magic phrase
“rigorous standards” and proclaim that since students should have learned to
write in high school, freshman English is a remedial course that we shouldn’t
have to teach.” (277)

We must listen to our different drummer and pay attention. For we are different. As writing teachers we are engaged in a dynamic and loosely-structured activity that involves intensive interaction with people. It is an activity that is tied to living language, that shifting and ambiguous medi-um that won’t stand still to be examined and is never pure, and it is an activity that focuses on teaching a process for which there are no fixed rules and no predictably precise outcomes. We are engaged in a messy business, and necessarily so. And it’s one that is essentially Aristotelian – pragmatic, concrete, situational, and personal” (278-279).

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