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)

December 2, 2010

Lloyd-Jones, Who We Were, Who We Should Become

Lloyd-Jones, Richard. “Who We Were, Who We Should Become.” College Composition and Communication 43.4 (Dec 1992): 486-496.

Lloyd-Jones discusses the tensions in the field’s identity and how the field is implicated in current problems in higher education, and emphasizes that those in composition need to take more leadership in their institutions and insist on better treatment of its teachers, expand connections with K-12 schools through NCTE and the Writing Project, expand its research, and avoid over-specialization. He warns that the increased dependence on contingent faculty is a huge problem for both the field and higher education, as the labor structure has used band-aid solutions to account for a massive change in student population and the purpose of college education in the 20th century. He uses the history of CCCC and a survey in the contents of CCC to explain the 20th century history of the field, how those in the discipline progressed from problem-solving teachers and administrators to beginning to study and theorize language and writing, moving into the academic culture and expectations of the academy. The shifting profile of American college students from post-WWII (the veteran) to the 1960s and 1970s (huge increase in community college students as the high school degree was no longer enough to get a job) constantly challenged the theories and ideas of those in the field, pushing the field to be more progressive, more ethically, socially, and practically oriented than other traditional departments like literature.

Notes and Quotes

College enrollments doubled in 1946 (GI Bill). The first CCCC in 1948 was a practical matter, English college professors and administrators trying to deal with the practical problems of the huge influx of students – placing them, teaching them, assessing them.

The discipline has just as much to do with national, international politics, economics, and demographics as it does with the creation and production of theory. Our focus on social justice and ethics in concern of our students naturally leads to a concern for our teachers (me)

The rapidly growing two-year colleges turned to cheap adjunct labor to teach composition.

The teaching of composition is a profit-generating enterprise. Why don’t we argue this point to increase working conditions for the teachers of writing?

The two-tiered college system, with tenured managers and untenured workers, “offer dark images for the future” (491). “I worry that we may ease toward a situation in composiiton where most of the people who do the actual teaching are disenfranchised. Or worse, a situation in which decisions are given over to people who have relatively little training in an extremely complex field” (491).

“I am not calling to separate composition from English; that question is passe…Literature is a form of rhetoric” (493).

February 20, 2009

Robillard, Students and Authors in Composition Studies

Robillard, Amy E. “Students and Authors in Composition Studies.” In Authorship in Composition Studies. Eds Tracy Hamler Carrick and Rebecca Moore Howard. Wadsworth Publishing, 2005.

Composition scholarship, by not citing student writing and by calling students by pseudo first names only, constructs students as non-authors, as children. This deficiency model has several problems. First, it perpetuates the idea of the teacher as hero, defined by her students’ successes and failures. Second, it places teachers in an hierarchal position in the classroom, one in which she possesses students (aka “my kids.) Third, it conditions the student to take on the role of a passive reader whose own texts are never circulated and always compared (negatively) to the work of professional writers. Last, by acting as if our students are children in both our teaching and our research, we are continuing the low perception and status of composition in the academy, for our attitudes towards our students are more in line with the attitudes of secondary and elementary teachers than those of our colleagues in other disciplines. Robillard surveys and reviews a number of works in the field, showing how they position and represent students in their discussions, choice of diction, and citation methods.

Quotable Quotes

“A student reads; an author is read” (51)

“In the institutionalized constrast between Author and student, the Author is originary, the student imitative (as is a child). If an Author is autonomous, a student is dependent (as is a child). If an Author is solitary and originary, a student depends on the work of others and is easily influenced (as is a child). If an Author is precise, a student is messy (as is a child). If teachers do not attend to the constructions of students that the discursive practices of the classroom encourage, if they continue to reproduce the constructions of students that they have been working with, they can do no better than to enact this dysfunctional binary” (54).

“Citation of one’s work – positive or negative – is a mark of respect for any writer” (48).

“WIth the respect that is entailed in citation comes the authorial loss of control over the text. To insist on students’ retaining control over their texts is to deny them authorial status” (48).

The “unwritten belief that teachers are judged by the work their students do” (43).

Notable Notes

uses student quote and cites it as we would an author, full name

composition is a field about its students – what other field is?

author/student binary

January 23, 2009

Shaughnessy, “Diving In”

Shaughnessy, Mina P. “Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook, 3rd ed. 321-326.

Citing that it is the teachers of basic writing, not the students, who need to change in order to succeed in the academy, Shaughnessy outlines four stages teachers of basic writing progress through in learning about basic writers and accepting the challenge of teaching them. The four stages, as Shaughnessy describes them, are Guarding the Tower (exclusionary policies and attitudes); Converting the Natives (trying old pedagogical techniques to help a few students who seem promising); Sounding the Depths (confronting the contradictions in the expectations of students’ many discourse communities); and finally, Diving In (committing to study and change teaching practices to answer the challenges of the new student populations.)

Quotable Quotes

“Are they aware, for example, after years of right/wrong testing, after the ACTs and the GEDs and the OATs, after straining to memorize what they read but never learning to doubt it, after “psyching out” answers rather than discovering them, are they aware that the rules have changed and that the rewards now go to those who can sustain a play of mind upon ideas – teasing out the contradictions and ambiguities and frailities of statements?” (324)

“The greatest barrier to our work with [basic writing students] is our ignorance of them and the very subject we have contracted to teach” (325)

“Diving in is simply deciding that teaching them to write well is not only suitable but challenging work for those who would be teachers and scholars in a democracy” (326)

“By underestimating the sophistication of our students and by ignoring the complexity of the tasks we set before them, we have failed to locate in precise ways where to begin and what follows what” (325).

Notable Notes

medical terminology used to describe basic writers

put onus on teachers, not students, to find the solutions.

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