Revolution Lullabye

November 18, 2010

Trimbur, The Problems of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problems of Freshman English (Only.): Towards Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 22.3 (Spring 1999): 9-30. Print.

Trimbur argues for vertical writing curricula where the first-year course would be an introduction to the field of composition and rhetoric, a field that studies, examines, and produces the forms of writing people come into contact with and use in the academy, in the public sphere, and in the workforce. He likens the field’s obsession and concentration on the first-year course to a parent’s overattentiveness to an only child and contends that the field is far more rich and complex than required composition, and composition faculty, like faculty in other disciplines, should have the opportunity to teach courses in their expertise rather than exclusively the first-year service course. The consistent use of placement and proficiency tests justify the view that composition is not at the university because it has something to add to college-level curriculum but instead its role is to address a school-to-college transition crisis. Trimbur also contends that the focus of freshman English is almost exclusively monolingual, English-Only, and calls on the field to change the “First Worldism” of first-year composition.

Notes and Quotes

“I can’t think of any other academic field where a single course plays such a dominant role in shaping the work and subjectivities of its practicioners.” (9).

The “oversaturation” of the first-year course, the many goals of the first-year course: “Think for a moment of all the things that the first-year course is commonly being asked to do. It should help entering students survive in a hostile environment, crack the academic code, repair the damage done by high school English teachers, and enjoy writing. It should meet institutional needs by increasing retention and adding value to the ‘freshman experience,’ as well as certifying literacy levels and protecting the credibility of the undergraduate degree. Not only that, the course should meet employer needs for workers who can ‘communicate effectively,’ multitask, operate computers, and work on teams. It should respond to whatever literacy crisis is happening at the moment, negotiate differences in the ‘contact zone,’ denaturalize the media and mass culture, and stop the decline of public discourse by making a generation of slackers into responsible citizens who read the newspaper, vote, and participate in community service” (14).

“The first-year course simply begins and ends, and in some colleges and universities where students can test out on a placement exam, at least a portion of them just skip over it” (15). It is unconnected to any larger curriculum. Any other upper-divsision courses are not linked to the first-year course in a meaningful way.

Those who test into freshman English are a “stigmatized majority” (16) – they lack something. It’s better not to take the course.

figuring curriculum design as “a rhetorical practice to redistribute expert knowledge and expand the forums and languages available for writing” (24).

“To my mind, the relation of the study and teaching of writing to English departments is both accidental and overdetermined – the result not of a necessary belongingness between the two but of a particular historical conjuncture when written composition replaced rhetoric just as English departments were taking shape in the modern university” (27).

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