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 Connors uses historical documents and reports to construct his history, including reflections written by and about the Boylston Chair at Harvard, the Hopkins Report of 1913 (which published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

February 16, 2009

Strickland, How to Compose a Capitalist

Strickland, Donna. “How to Compose a Capitalist: The Predicament of Required Writing in a Free Market Curriculum.” Composition Forum 9:1 (Spring 1998) 25-38.

Composition’s low status in the academy is not due to its pedagogical orientation. Rather, composition’s status is a result of the fact that it is the sole required course in a university designed around the concept of liberalism and free choice, a concept that indoctrinates students in the ideologies of individualism and competition that are necessary for a capitalist society. Strickland traces composition’s contradictory place in the academy to the pedagogical reform movements at Harvard under Charles Eliot, who instated the modern liberal arts elective curriculum. Composition served as required cultural capital that students must secure before moving on to become independent capitalist men, ready to interact with their instructors in a business relationship and become a free-thinking man able to own himself and his own choices. Thus, modern progressive composition pedagogies that attempt to subvert the system by giving students the freedom┬áto choose their own topics are actually just making composition like the rest of the university, where student choice through the major and elective system dictates the curriculum.

Quotable Quotes

Progressive composition pedagogies are really “reinscribing rather than resisting the dominant discourse of the university, that of the free capitalist individual” (36).

“The new university set itself up as a place to construct free, self-motivated, white male subjects, the very subjects necessary for the logic of American industrial capitalism” (26).

Notable Notes

choice is self-regulation, free students, self-governing, competition-driven

good English is necessary cultural capital for which to enter the system to have wealth, power, and the language of capitalism

women are not fit nor strong enough for the rigors of the capitalist liberal arts curriculum

teacher serves as a “model of masculine ability” (33)

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