Revolution Lullabye

July 29, 2013

Mullen, Students’ Rights and the Ethics of Celebration

Mullen, Mark. “Students’ Rights and the Ethics of Celebration.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 95-116.

Mullen questions the ethics of “student celebrations of writing,” culminative activities for many first-year writing programs which are used for a variety of purposes, including programmatic assessment and as a way to argue for the “authenticity” of first-year writing.  Mullen connects student celebrations of writing to the 1974 Students’ RIght to Their Own Language statement, arguing that students’ rights are violated when their participation in student celebrations of writing is mandated and when their written assignments and course work are co-opted and used by faculty and administrators.  Mullen suggests that student celebrations of writing move from generic promotions of writing, which he describes as having a “whiff of desparation” about them, towards more pedagogically-oriented events that target specific aspects of writing (i.e. research and writing or public writing) and that engage students in the planning of the activities instead of using them as the subject of the celebrations. He also argues that CCCC and NCTE need to engage in the conversation about the ethics of student celebrations of writing and SRTOL in general.

Notable Notes

uses Eastern Michigan University’s Celebration of Student Writing as an example

also criticizes required student-writing anthologies (like the one at UMass Amherst): “I hope I’m not the only one to see something a little problematic in the repackaging of uncompensated work that students were, after all, required to produce in order to create a product that other students are required to buy” (97).

student celebrations of writing emerge from a move toward student-centered pedagogies and valuing of “public” or “authentic” writing assignments (97)

students and student writing become “exhibits” that we use as faculty and administrators to promote the teaching of writing – for our own purposes (102). Who owns the student work produced in our courses? Who benefits from it?

2 central questions: who is responsible for the work produced in our writing classroom (students or teachers)? Who gets to speak for the writing? (104)

the myth of “authentic” writing (104-105)

the desire of teachers to negate their own influence over their students (104)

Quotable Quotes

“The problem with the current emphasis on celebration – evident in the examples I have sketched above – is that in our enthusiasm to celebrate the writing (or the student, or the research…) we seem to check our critical faculties at the door. I cannot emphasize too strongly that I am not charging celebration organizers with some kind of malign agenda. It is, in fact, precisely due to celebration’s appearance as an unadulterated good – what harm could possibly be done by a celebration? – that the celebration of student writing is an ethical minefield” (97).

“Our celebratory practices deserve scrutiny not least for the fact that what we as teachers of writing seem to end up celebrating most often is actually not the student or their writing but, as I will show, our teaching and ourselves – even, paradoxically, in the act of denying the influence of our teaching” (97)

“Moreover, if we really believe that the students’ right to their own language includes the full spectrum of languages they invent, nuture, protect, hide, manipulate, fake, mangle, and abandon in our classes, then one of the most problematic areas of our practice becomes the celebration of student writing” (103).

“To what degree are our celebrations implicated in the various educational movements that insist that learning can be reduced to externalized, immediately measurable demonstrations of outcomes? In a troubling irony, our fixation on an unreflective celebration of authenticity may reinforce the same reductive, systemic, consumption-driven view of writing that so many of our celebrations are attempting to overcome” (111).

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