Revolution Lullabye

February 19, 2009

Horner, Terms of Work for Composition

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

Horner uses a materialist lens to examine many of the debates in the field of composition and rhetoric, ranging from the purpose of service-learning courses to whether or not the field should professionalize to how we regard students and their writing, focusing his critique on six “key terms”: work, students, politics, academic, traditional, and writing. The volume is very circular (Horner announces in introduction that the reader can read through the chapters in any order they see fit), but each chapter (organized around one of the key terms) takes up the debates and Horner’s perspective in a slightly different way. Horner’s two main arguments throughout the text are calls to the field at large. First, he argues that the work done in composition is commodified (seen as a product that can be acquired and exchanged), and this commodification, which occurs at all levels, from the classroom to the university to the outside world, allows us to think of our work and the issues we deal with as abstractions rather than connected to material conditions. Second, that abstract view allows us to cede control of our work to faceless systems and institutions, like their effects are inevitable, rather than regarding and critiquing our decisions as conscious choices. Horner challenges the field to ground our scholarship, pedagogy, and service in the material, social, and historical conditions of the local places we work in.

Quotable Quotes

Intellectual work: “This subordiniation and subsumption of the work of teaching to the production of written texts constitute the playing out at the site of Composition the contradictions in more general conceptions of work. These contradictions are manifested in the distinction between intellectual and non-intellectual labor and in the commodification of intellectual labor” (2).

He argues for “representing students above all else workers, working on themselves, Composition, the academy, and the social generally” (35).

“Our distrust of work identified with these terms [academic and traditional], like our trust in work that appears ‘progressive,’ may ay more about the dematerialized ways in which we conceive of them than about the actual work accomplished under such rubrics” (103).

Notable Notes

see tradition not as a fixed body of knowledge but something dynamic, always negotiated, a foundation that is ever-changing and re-understanding knowledge

professionalization of composition can lead to an abandonment of the consideration of the material conditions of our work

there is a problem with the delegitimization of academic writing in the pursuit of all things “real world.” Is academia not in the real world? What does that say about our work?  There is materiality in all writing. Students’ academic writing is not inauthentic.

we always look at what students lack, look to their work to gives us clues to their being. Instead of seeing students as the result of pressures and factors being worked on, see them as workers.

our work as compositionists is tied up in our students’ work

extracurriculum – students outside the classroom work is “wholly unrecognized” and not considered intellectual work (117)

February 13, 2009

Hansen, Consuming Composition

Hansen, Kristine. “Consuming Composition: Understanding and Changing the Marketplace of College Writing.” In Market Matters: Applied Rhetoric Studies and Free Market Competition. Ed. Locke Carter. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005. 243-269.

The public school system and higher education need to establish K-U partnerships and state curriculum boards that will allow them a space in which to develop and share goals, values, and curricula, enabling them to together reframe education in terms of outcomes rather than as a commodity. Hansen shows the need for such collaboration by illustrating how the lack of communication between secondary schools and colleges (highlighting writing curricula and expectations) leads to the rise of for-profit corporations offering college credit for courses that aren’t equivalent, intellectually and developmentally, to college courses. She targets AP classes and dual enrollment classes, arguing that their popularity stems from a new consumer perspective on education: students and parents see them as economical and efficient, the chance to get three college credits for under $80. The belief that it is possible to buy an education, that courses offered at an online-only institution like University of Phoenix or by under-trained AP high school teachers offer the same educational value to students as a college course, is false and disadvantages students. Compositionists need to work to establish these K-U partnerships if they hope to compete against the attractive, if low-quality, opportunities being endorsed at the high school level.

Quotable Quotes

“With more diverse offerings and better articulated purposes and outcomes for writing instruction, it would be easy to persuade (or require) students to get more education in writing at college regardless of the kind of instruction they had in high school or how good it was” (267).

“[Parents and students] take the credit hours the student has earned as a token of preparation, rather than asking for other evidence of the students’ readiness to write successfully in college” (259).

“When the private good of selective higher education bumps up against the quasi-public good of nearly universal secondary education, the latter is seen as outdated, inefficient, and weak” (255).

“Universities are construed as sites of production, professors as laborers, courses as products, and students as consumers of those products” (246).

“Education is increasingly viewed as tantamount to a product to be purchased, rather than as a long-term process that promotes the development of individuals’ intellectual, social, and personal abilities, preparing them for the demands of participation in a democratic society” (243).

Consumer culture: it is possible to buy an education – not go through a “laborious process of maturing and developing under the guidance of mentors” (248).

Notable Notes

public good v. private good

the actual economic value (not even counting educational value) of selective higher education institutions is much, much higher than less selective higher education institutions (more scholarships, resources, etc.) High school merit is crucial for success in higher education in this way

capitalist economic marketplace goals and pressures have been folded into education

commodification, consumer culture

the junior year of high school is the last one that counts for college entrance; the senior year is largely wasted – final stage of secondary school is mismanaged and allows for AP and dual enrollment programs to enter the high schools, offering credit hours to be used to exchange.

issues with AP and dual enrollment: teacher training, inconsistent curriculum, supervision, no screening of students, some students taking it for high school credit and some for college, the money made in the system

need to understand developmental needs of students K-U – create appropriate outcomes for writing at all levels. Expand writing courses at the higher education level.

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