Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling the Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth-Anniversary Speech.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Eds. Rose and Weiser. Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1999. 168-84.

Phelps uses the metaphor of a “Great Group” to explain the heady, exciting first years of the Syracuse Writing Program. It wasn’t exactly a “Great Group” – Great Groups are usually elite, young, and self-selected, and at the Writing Program, the independent writing program grew from a very heterogeneous faculty and staff, diverse in age, experience, and in degree. Phelps explains that the Writing Program had a tension-filled dynamic, a thrilling roller-coaster ride oscillating between order and chaos. Phelps argues that this dynamic is central to the development of any complex system or organization. Phelps also describes the storytelling role of leaders, explaining why it is crucial for WPAs to use rhetoric through speech and through writing to communicate to their program and to the university at large.

Phelps, Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition.” College English 53.8 (1991): 863-885.

Phelps investigates what the field values and the theory/practice tension in the discipline and in the academy. She argues that theory does not necessarily govern practice: that practice can be critical and tacit and that activity produces knowledge. She extends a teacher’s critical reflection and practical experimentation outside an individual classroom or teacher by explaining how practical wisdom can be cultivated in a teaching community. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program as her site of research.

Notes and Quotes

explains what theory has to offer practice, and what practice has to offer theory

“The resistance of a wise practice to theory redeems us from the danger of claiming to predict or dictate human life rather than trying to explain or understand it. Practical wisdom reminds us that theoretical systems are never exhaustive or adequate to phenomena, and thus undercuts their totalizing tendencies. This is the humbling discipline that practice has to offer theory, in return for its freedom” (884).

teacher-talk and lore – these are often confined to an individual’s own classroom experience. She expands this through program, curriculum development to talk about how knowledge is produced in a teaching community.

practical knowledge depends on a immediate and deep back-talk, reflective cycle

Scholes, North, Stenhouse

“Making things and performing actions both require ‘calculative’ reasoning, under similar conditions of relativity and uncertainty. Interestingly, these are precisely the circumstances for reflective practice…they are the constraints under which human beings inhabit a world of choice calling for judgments based on inadequate knowledge and conflicting values. These circumstances of uncertainty, contingency, and conflict call for informal reasoning rather than the strict rules of formal logic and empirical proof” (876-878).

use as a counterpoint to interview experiences

December 30, 2010

Phelps, Praxis as Wisdom in Action

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Praxis as Wisdom in Action.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, St. Louis, March 1988.

Phelps addresses the practice/theory divide in the field and argues that at best, composition should be thought as phronesis, or practical wisdom (drawing on Aristotle, Gadamer, Dewey, and Freire.) She argues that the field needs to study the teaching of composition as a process, and to take the research of composition pedagogy seriously – that a teacher interprets a situation much the way a reader interprets a text. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program’s program of professional development (which emphasizes critical reflection and teacher-research) and Stephen North and Donald Scholes.

Notes and Quotes

uses coordinating group system to explain North’s “lore” and Scholes “practical knowledge”…what became Syracuse’s “teacher talk”

reflection-in-action; practice disciplined by knowledge

Phelps, Fitting the Institution That’s There

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Fitting the Institution That’s There.” National Conference of Teachers of English, Los Angeles, November 1987.

In this 1987 NCTE presentation, Phelps describes how program design is an extension of process theory and argues for WPAs to define and see program construction as a design problem. Phelps explains how starting an independent writing program from the ground up involves working in and through chaos. She points out that writing program design has a “human element,” and that WPAs must design programs, balance costs and plan long-term goals always with the thinking of how changes and systems will affect the people working in them. She uses the first two years of the Syracuse Writing Program to explain her theory of writing program design.

Notes and Quotes

“But if teachers are taking such active roles in the Proqram, we need a model of program administration that empowers them to act on their ideas. For this reason among others we are designing a collaborative, entrepeneurial, decentralized administrative structure, cultivating leaders among the faculty of teaching assistants and part-time instructors, trying to diffuse authority and responsibility throughout the Program. Besides the intellectual and ethical justification, we need a much more professional, committed, expert faculty if we are to move the Program out into the university at large, working with other faculty, not to mention the reforms we are undertaking within our own course responsibilities.” (4)

Phelps, A Different Ideal and Its Practical Results

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “A Different Ideal – and Its Practical Results.” Modern Language Association, San Francisco, December 1991.

This MLA conference presentation is written in response to the CCCC Statement on Professional Standards, and Phelps questions the ideal teaching community and writing program structure that seems implied by the Statement – one in which the program is staffed entirely of tenured or tenurable teacher-scholars. Arguing (like others) that this homogeneous teaching faculty solution is an impossible fantasy, Phelps uses the Syracuse Writing Program to argue for a different kind of practical solution – one that relies on a heterogeneous teaching community. Phelps points out that the Statement “set off an internal class conflict” within the field, one that the field has largely ignored, between the teacher-practicioners, who make up the majority of those who teach college composition, and the tenured faculty and administrators who oversee writing programs. This divide parallels the “theory/practice” divide pervasive in the field and in English in general. Phelps also points out that the idea that the academy (except for the adjunct professors) is a homogeneous community is a complete myth -the academy is extremely hierarchal, with vast differences in prestige and pay that vary according to discipline, gender, etc. Phelps argues that arguing for a heterogenous teaching community, one where there is a position and value to part-time, non-tenured teaching force, is a practical and ethical goal at the university, one that could value diversity.

Notes and Quotes

“First, I want to object to the principle of solving problems by considering desires independent of realities. This approach strikes me as irresponsible and quixotic. I propose instead that, like engineers and architects, we design workable solutions as a relationship between our goals and reality constraints” (2).

“But my point is that the 4Cs Statement errs in trying to impose a universal answer when what is needed is imagination, flexibility, and fresh thinking about goals as well as means.” (3)

Syracuse Writing Program: creating a hybrid, heterogenous community isn’t easy. There are “difficult moral dilemmas of differential status and rewards” that the Program must deal with, and developed principles to guide decisions. They are:

  • “to distinguish the person and the respect due his or her contributions and personal dignity from level of pay, responsibilities, status, authority, ambition, or influence. These are often mixed in unexpected ways in a given individual.”
  • “to cultivate options for all members through a vigorous program of professional development. Employment is exploitation only where people have no choices. Also, professional development is an intrinsic reward that increases individuals’ marketability and variety of options.”
  • “to make merit rewards of all kinds (beyond decent, fair treatment and support for professional development) commensurate with our community values, which ultimately derive from the aim to offer our undergraduate students the best possible program.” (6)

These rewards include leadership positions, release time, merit pay, summer stipends

It is all about design, working in reality: “combining very hard work with a strategy of turning liabilities into assets to maximize good results in a realistic framework. There is no end point in such a design, only frameworks for progress.” (7)

December 16, 2010

Schell, Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers

Schell, Eileen E. Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.

Schell argues that there is a deliberate connection between the low status of women in the academy and in the workforce in general, the devaluing of the teaching of writing, and the part-time contingent status of those who teach college composition (who are overwhelmingly female.) She draws on feminist methodology and uses interviews, surveys, published narratives, and studies to try to represent the many perspectives of women who hold contingent faculty positions, to explain the social phenomenon of why so many women get tracked into contingent faculty positions, and to argue for collective feminist change, one that is grounded into modern economic, political, and historical realities. Schell argues that the thrust of change, which has been led and conducted in a “pragmatic professional context” through national organizations like AAUP, CCCC, and MLA, needs to be transformed to a strategy that specifically addresses the needs of women teaching in contingent faculty positions (81-82). In her final chapter, she identifies, through her research in the field’s literature and through her surveys, four of the popular solutions to the contingent labor problem and then explores their benefits and consequences: 1. the conversionist solution (converting part-time to full-time tenure-line positions); 2. the reformist solution (reforming the working conditions of non-tenure-line faculty); 3. the unionist/collectivist solution (organizing unions and building coalitions through professional organizations); and 4. the abolitionist solution (getting rid of the first-year course, which relies on exploitive contingent labor. Schell contends that change will only come from a deeper understanding of the forces that affect higher education – that the solutions batted about by those in the field and others outside will not work if the field’s higher education illiteracy – a responsibility to be aware academic citizens, literate in discourse and practices of higher education administration – is not addressed.

Notes and Quotes

teaching was one of the first acceptable professions for women – 19th century

naming: “Composition instructors are often described in gendered terms as handmaids, wives, mothers, and midwives, thus making women’s work as composition teachers a biological and social extension of unpaid, undervalued domestic labor” (62).

culled from her interviews of part-time instructors themes that many implied or talked about in reference to their contingent labor positions, teaching writing, and being a woman in a male-centered university system.

1995 Feminist Workshop at CCCC: “Women in the Academy: Can a Feminist Agenda Transform the Illusion of Equity into Reality” – to investigate the unique challenges of women juggling their professional and personal lives (82).

Other CCCC organizations that attended to women’s working lives and conditions: The Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (1997) and the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (1990, a caucus): goals to network, encourage mentorship, research the professional status of women in the field. (83-84)

Draws on Hansen’s “Face to Face with Part-Timers” to again argue that one way that WPAs can work towards improving the professional status and working conditions of women part-timers is by offering professional development and encouraging these part-timers to pursue professional and research opportunities (87)

need to challege, redefine the motherly caretaker teacher role that puts women at a professional disadvantage in the academy

“imperfect solutions to imperfect problems”: Schell’s subtitle to Chapter 5 (90).

“Fundamentally, though, a lack of knowledge of current labor trends and higher education management and economic policies is a form of crippling illiteracy” (119).

December 9, 2010

Schell, What’s the Bottom Line

Schell, Eileen E. “What’s the Bottom Line? Literacy and Quality Education in the Twenty-First Century.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 324-340.

Schell, looking at the changing landscape of higher education that is increasingly corporate and reliant on part-time contingent faculty labor, argues that in order to provide quality writing instruction, the discipline needs to work toward four conditions – “compensation, contracts, conditions of work, and coalition building.” Schell argues that arguments about contingent labor need to be brought from the individual level (citing the problematic rhetorical shift that blames the people, not the institutions) to the systematic level, where employment policies and their effects can be critiqued and changed. She advocates moving from a “rhetoric of lack” to a “rhetoric of responsibility”: asking and working for what is required for part-time and NTT faculty to be successful in their work and also who is responsible for it: institutions, faculty, students.

Notes and Quotes

“How can we work around what I have come to call the ‘hidden economy’ of part-time work, the ways in which institutions often profit from the undercompensated emotional and material investments that non-tenure-track faculty make in their teaching?” (327) These investments “constitute a not-insignificant, hidden economy of part-time labor” (327) – these costs are hidden because part-time faculty compensate for that which they are not provided for (copying, office space, etc.)

This hidden economy has both a “gendered and classed nature” that cannot be ignored

“Why do institutions hire and then fail to provide part-time faculty with working conditions necessary for the provision of quality education? The bottom-line answer is simple: cost-savings” – but at what cost? (329)

Writing instruction is regarded as essential to a student’s undergraduate education, so why are those who teach not given the resources they need to teach it well?

There is a need to build coalitions and visible teaching communities – communities that nuture and sustain the development of both teachers and students (332)

need to connect quality education with quality teaching and working conditions.

4Cs

1. compensation – wide range in salaries. Need to change the “piecework system” that persists (333).

2. contracts – get multi-year contracts that guarantee good salaries and benefits

3. conditions – value writing and teaching-intensive positions, work to get better working conditions

4. coalition-building – including unionization, collective bargaining initiatives

Stock et al, The Scholarship of Teaching

Stock, Patricia Lambert, Amanda Brown, David Franke, and John Starkweather. “The Scholarship of Teaching: Contributions from Contingent Faculty.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 287-323.

The authors, who all worked or are currently working in the Syracuse University Writing Program, argue for a reconceptualization of the teaching portfolio from a static portrait of what good teaching should look like to one that sees teaching as scholarship and that highlights how the teacher makes and implements pedagogical, scholarly discoveries. They contend that seeing teaching portfolios as evidence of the scholarship of teaching would “demonstrate that the scholarship of teaching is not one among several overlapping scholarships but a holistic scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching, all at once, together” (292). The essay uses the reflective essays from the portfolios of Brown and Starkweather to show how part-time and contingent faculty engage in the scholarship of teaching.

Notes and Quotes

“If teaching portfolios are to figure as more than a body of portraits of effective teaching; if they are to figure as contributions to a scholarship of teaching…they will need to be composed and read as discoveries about teaching and the subjects taught, as evidence of the integration of new and familar understandings of teaching and the subjects taught as well as scholarly applications of what is known about teaching particular subjects to particular students in particular times and places” (291).

The Syracuse WP was designed to do 2 things collectively among all members – construct the writing curriculum (spiral studio) and do inquiry into the field and the program activities that would allow for continuous assessment and amending of the curriculum and the program practices. Activities that aided this were the coordinating groups, Reflections, plan symposiums and colloquia, and construct portfolios.

DeVoss et al, Distance Education

DeVoss, Danielle, et al. “Distance Education: Political and Professional Agency for Adjunct and Part-Time Faculty, and GTAs.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000.

Statistics show that nontenured and adjunct instructors are far more likely to staff complex, time-consuming distance-education courses than tenured faculty because they are more willing to take on a pedagogical risk (needing the pay) and often have more up-to-date technological skills. The authors argue that these distance education courses need to be move from the sidelines and there needs to be adequate training, support, and compensation for those teaching them. The challenges of distance education raise questions for teachers, programs, universities, and the discipline at large: what effects come from distance education? How do we respond to them? Who is repsonsible?

Notes and Quotes

rise in distance education course offerings reflects the changing demographics of the American college student.

her distance education course reached over 50 students at 23 sites; her classes were video and audio-taped

Benko, Climbing a Mountain

Benko, Debra A. “Climbing a Mountain: An Adjunct Steering Committee Brings Change to Bowling Green State University’s English Department.” In Moving a Mountain. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 245-258.

Benko explains how the BGSU adjunct steering committee, which functions as a union for nontenured faculty at Bowling Green, worked slowly to improve the working conditions and professional treatment of the campus’ adjuncts, incuding getting rid of the “No Hire Rule” after 5 years (worry over de facto tenure), obtaining health benefits, and gaining voting rights for nontenured faculty.

Notes and Quotes

steering committee as a local alternative to a union, goal is to establish open lines of communication with upper administrators

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.