Revolution Lullabye

December 30, 2010

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)

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