Revolution Lullabye

January 14, 2011

Bullock and Trimbur, Preface

Bullock, Richard and John Trimbur, eds. “Preface.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1991. xvii-xx. Print.

In their preface to their edited collection, Bullock and Trimbur explain the history of the collection, which came from the NCTE’s Commission on Composition’s charge to understand the teaching of writing in all American classrooms, K-university. Their collection focuses on the state of the field of composition and rhetoric circa 1990, addressing questions about the identity of the field, the social, cultural, political, and economic implications of teaching writing, the history of teaching writing and its effect on current practices, and how writing instruction can be improved. They explain their own values and what they privilege in writing instruction: collaboration, critical thinking, multidisciplinary writing, democratic values, and making the political in writing overt.

Notes and Quotes

“Writing is value-ful, and all teaching built on and through a set of values is inherently and inevitably political” (xviii)

Their goals for this collection: 1. raise awareness among comp/rhet scholars about some of the political, social, cultural, and economic issues as a way toward working for change 2. provide graduate students with a portrait of the challenges in the field and 3. argue that “politics drives curriculum” and is a necessary part of all institutions, even the academy, and argue that those in comp/rhet need to embrace that fact in order to move ahead and work in the system.

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January 10, 2011

Connors, Overwork/Underpay

Connors, Robert J. “Overwork/Underpay: Labor and Status of Composition Teachers since 1880.” Rhetoric Review 9.1 (Fall 1990): 108-125.

Connors looks at the change in the institutional position of composition teachers from 1880 to the present (1980), tying composition’s current low status to broader changes in society and American higher. Connors explains how the structure of the composition course in the late 1800s – which most often contained the entire freshman class, not split into sections, and which was based on frequent essay-writing and individual attention to students – butted up against the rise in American university student population. Professors of rhetoric were overworked, often moved on to another less laborous field, and rhetoric was not considered a desirable field for a scholar to enter. The growing graduate student population provided a large pool of cheap labor, which extended after the graduate students graduated and became poorly-paid instructors (disproportionalty more women than men compared to other fields) in order to have a foot in the door for a more well-paying assistant professor position. Connors uses historical documents and reports to construct his history, including reflections written by and about the Boylston Chair at Harvard, the Hopkins Report of 1913 (which published the results of a nationwide survey of over 600 composition teachers about their working conditions and expectations), and the NCTE “English and the PhD” report from 1925 (which argued that literature PhDs were not trained to teach composition)

Notes and Quotes

“Rhetoric has changed in a hundred years from an academic desideratum to a grim apprenticeship, to be escaped as soon as practical” (108).

Connors explained the first American college literacy crisis, which originated at Harvard in 1874 and resulted in the institution of hte required basic freshman writing course.

late 1800s: coeducation (men felt more comfortable writing arguments to women than debating them); rise of business and industry that demanded consistent written communication; larger debates of linguistic correctness; university student population growing rapidly and the emerging notion of writing instruction that should be individualistic (and hence labor-intensive.)

Hopkins Report estimated that, given how fast a teacher could read (2200 words an hour, 10 hours a week), a composition teacher could only effectively teach 61 writing students.

“While teachers in other fields were dealing successfully with the larger numbers in their classes by evolving techniques of discussion and lecture, composition teachers were tied to the reading of thousands of themes” (115).

mismatch between the work required to get a PhD (investigation, research) and what the TAs were then expected to do (teach, often sections of freshman composition.) TAs were assigned multiple sections of labor-intensive composition while trying to complete their dissertations, and they hated rhetoric andcomposition as a result.

Why did people agree to be part of the composition underclass? 1. “Surplus” PhDs who wanted to stay doing something academic in the hopes of getting a better job 2. Women who did not have a fair shake in competing with fellow male PhDs for academic jobs 3. Women who had the added burden of raising children and couldn’t compete in scholarly production 4. Women who needed part-time jobs to raise children. 5. People who wanted part-time flexibility

“Unless and until teaching and studying writing can be made work the entire English faculty wants to share in, irresistable social forces will maintain the underclass and all of the unhappiness and poisonous inequality that have always followed in its train.” (one solution – give extra credit to faculty who agree to teach writing)

uses late-19th and early-20th century reports, articles in English Journal, monographs, surveys on the teaching of English and composition

December 7, 2010

Wyche-Smith and Rose, One Hundred Ways to Make the Wyoming Resolution a Reality

Wyche-Smith, Susan and Shirley K Rose. “One Hundred Ways to Make the Wyoming Resolution a Reality: A Guide to Personal and Political Action.” College Composition and Communication 41.3 (1990): 318-325. Print.

Wyche-Smith and Rose, recognizing that the conditions outlined by the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing and the actual working conditions of writing teachers at American colleges and universities seem far apart and almost incompatible, list one hundred local, institutional ways writing teachers, tenured professors, non-tenured instructors, and WPAs can work to make the Wyoming Resolution a reality. The list is organized by actor: first things students can do; then things composition instructors can do; then things a part-time faculty member can do; things a graduate teaching assistant can do; then things a writing-program and writing-center administrator can do; things department heads can do; things deans can do; things professional organizations can do; things editors of professional journals can do.

Notes and Quotes

Wyoming Resolution drafted by writing teachers at a conference in Laramie, Wyoming. It addressed the working conditions of writing teachers in college and argued that their unprofessional treatment had an impact on students’ education. The resolution was endorsed by CCCC in 1987, which appointed the Committee on Professional Standards for Quality Education, which then issued the Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing in 1989.

What’s interesting to me is the organization of this hierarchy: it assumes a writing program model built with WPAs managing TAs and part-time instructors. There’s no departmental structure, full-time faculty roles here.

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