Revolution Lullabye

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 Connors uses historical documents and reports to construct his history, including reflections written by and about the Boylston Chair at Harvard, the Hopkins Report of 1913 (which published the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

June 24, 2009

Tobin and Newkirk, Taking Stock

Tobin, Lad and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1994.

This collection comes from a 1992 conference, “The Writing Process: Prospect and Retrospect,” held at UNH and designed both to look at the process movement’s past and where it might go in the future. In his introduction to the edited collection, Tobin predicts that the writing process movement will change in the 90s due to three factors: the influence of gender, race, class, and culture on the teaching and theorizing about writing; the effect of new technologies on the teaching and theorizing of writing (PCs, online teaching, popular media); and the effect of research on teacher and reader response. These three trends will expand the scope of the process movement beyond the individual expressivist writer, giving larger social and political context to writing. The book has five sections: Reading the Writing Process Movement, Teaching the Writing Process, Institutionalizing the Writing Process, Deconstructing the Writing Process, and Narrating the Writing Process.

Quotable Quotes & Notable Notes

Lisa Ede “Reading the Writing Process.” 31-43

The writing process movement should stop being labeled “good” or “bad” – it was a rhetorically situated movement, created due a particular time and place (the literacy crisis of the 1970s led to the theory if we understand how students write we can teach them better and composition asserting itself as a discipline.) The problem is that all that research was oversimplified into a “process” that was only taught in one course; the British theories of growth and education were ignored as process was mechanized and the diversity of students was eliminated. Process is actually a conglomerate of lots of contradictory pedagogies and methods: freewriting, formal heuristics, sentence combining, protocol analysis, case studies, and theory. Ede argues that the field must look at writing beyond the classroom, especially those kinds of workplace writing that don’t follow our idea of process; abandon the individual writer focus and look at collaboration; and question our models and metaphors in our research. The focus, she argues, needs to be on doing what needs to be done in regards to teaching and understanding writing – not focusing on being a discipline.

James Marshall, “Of What Skill Does Writing Really Consist?” 45-55

“In our youth as a movement we were rebels, or tried to be. We did inhale. We self-consciously set ourselves up as outsiders, and then we gloried in it” (48).

“The one serious mistake we could make, I think, would be to maintain the rhetorical and political positions that we took in our youth. They worked then; I don’t think they can work today. We are facing a different set of problems, and we are working now from the center and not from the margins.” (54)

Three things to do:

  1. deal with our authority and our disciplinary place in the academy – no longer rebels. We’re established.
  2. search for theoretical roots in education and the progressive movement to have models and understand what we do.
  3. open up larger contexts and sites to study and teach writing.

Thomas Newkirk “The Politics of Intimacy.” 115-131.

Looks at how Barrett Wendell’s English 12 course at Harvard was not a course in what we think as current-traditional rhetoric. Rather, Wendell tried to open up relations with his students, talk with them as emerging writers, read student writing aloud in class as models, encouraged critique of the course, and gave them choices for topics. His curriculum, though, was doomed because it never received institutional support and was defeated by a heavy, impossible teaching load that made current-traditional pedagogy the only viable way to teach.

Mary Minock. “The Bad Marriage: A Revisionist View of James Britton’s Expressive-Writing Hypothesis in American Practice.” 153-175.

James Britton argued that expressive writing will naturally lead to other forms of writing over time, as a student grows and matures through years of schooling. American writing educators took that hypothesis and combined it with the American ideal of linear progress. What results is a one-semester course in writing that tries to bring college students from expressive writing to academic argument in fifteen short weeks. When this fails (as it often does, because the important quotient of time is left out), students and teachers alike feel like failures. Writing teachers need to stop trying to formalize and speed up the process of learning how to write: a student might do well on one paper and bomb the next, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t growing and learning. Instead of using expressive writing as an end to itself(which the British do), we use it as a means to an end, an end of academic discourse.

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