Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2009

Harris, A Teaching Subject

Harris, Joseph. A Teaching Subject: Composition Since 1966. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Harris traces the history of the teaching of writing and how the teaching of writing was talked about through five key terms: growth, voice, process, error, and community. His account begins with the 1966 Dartmouth Conference, and it relies on published articles, books, and textbooks in the field for historical evidence, debates over the terms,¬†and trends. He does not present an argument for composition as a theoretical field of inquiry; rather, he sees composition’s inherent ties to education and the classroom as important and needing to be asserted and validated. He traces the process movement through the 1960s and 1970s, and then uses community as the key term to organize his history about the social and political turn in composition. The last chapter is a reprint of his CCC article “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing,” in which he problematizes the term, saying that it posits an ideal, homongenous, warm and happy view of a community. Instead, Harris argues that we need to move even beyond contact zones – which give people fixed cultural identies and affinities – to recognizing the multiple identites and voices that writers and students negotiate at all times.

Notable Notes

Dartmouth Conference: British (K-12) interested in growth and teaching; Americans (university) were interested in professionalization of the field, research, becoming recognized academics

two different ideas of voice: that of the individual writer, emerging from inside (expressivist movement, Elbow, Murray) v. voices that are outside the writer that the writer must learn to orchestrate and control (Barthes, Bakhtin, Derrida, Bartholomae, influenced by Theodore Baird at Amherst)

goal of composition, process: critical thinking, habits of mind, arete (virtues necessary for democracy)

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