Revolution Lullabye

October 24, 2013

Gilbert, The Problem That (Still?) Has No Name

Gilbert, Sandra M. “The Problem That (Still?) Has No Name: Our Brilliant Careers in a World without Work.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 29-34.

Gilbert comments on Susan Gubar’s essay “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010,” which is published in the same September 2013 issue of College English. Gilbert and Gubar met as young assistant professors in the English Department at Indiana University and collaborated throughout their careers. In her essay, Gilbert asks whether the present reality of women in the humanities and women in society more broadly measures up to the expectations and hopes of the generations of women who worked to disrupt patriciarchal structures and assumptions and give women opportunities in the workplace, in politics, in business, and in higher education. She questions whether women can “have it all” and names some of the new problems facing women and specifically women in the humanities: eroding departments and support for research; attrition of women on the tenure-track; the feminization of the humanities.

Notable Notes

draws on personal experiences and her own history like Gubar – she was in the first wave of women academics, encouraged by early feminists (Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett)

the excitement – bliss – expectations of the early years of the 2nd wave of feminism contrasted with the realities faced today, struggles & challenges that weren’t anticipated

“diminished things” (32)

Quotable Quotes

Getting and keeping a tenure-track job in the 1970s, 1980s: “Yet there [Indiana University], as almost everywhere, the attrition rate of tenure-track women who didn’t make it through complicated professional hoops or had to move (as I did) for personal reasons was high” (31).

About traveling to conferences, giving talks with Gubar around the country and leaving behind children/husbands: “But the pangs of separation often seemed worth it: I used to carry a picture of the Cabinet around with me – a bunch of dark suits circling a long table, backed up by a woman carrying a coffee pot. When I asked myself why am I on this airplane? I took out the picture and told myself, that’s why” (31).

“Still, change is slow; it comes in increments, as wise voices tell us. Our country has a (male) African American president, and we women are now professors, doctors, lawyers in numbers that would have astounded Virginia Woolf. We are Supreme Court judges, we are corporation presidents – and we are a majority of graduate students in English departments. Wasn’t it worth the wait? For here it is, the world we struggled for. But sadly, as Susan so incisively laments, the humanities we sought to change have become ‘a diminished thing.’ In fact, more than a few of the other workplaces to which English PhDs might have aspired – libraries, research foundations, museums, nonprofits – have become diminished things” (32).

“Yet still: still, as I look around me, brooding on the hopes of my children and their children, my students and their students, I can’t help thinking, ‘Never such innocence,’ to quote Philip Larkin in an even more dreadful manner” (33).

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November 22, 2010

Campbell, Two Memos to Colleagues

Campbell, Hugh. “Two Memos to Colleagues.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 268-371. Print.

Campbell (which is a pseudonym) argues that, given the history and current state of the discipline of English, the current narrow understanding of the field of English (one limited to literary study and criticism) is unsufficient, and rather, faculty members in English need to expand their understanding of the field to one that studies issues of literacy and composition and rhetoric. He also argues for the necessity of a real, university-wide writing program, one that offers upper-division courses in advanced, technical, and professional writing, one that is anchored by a university-wide writing center that is designed for all (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and community members) to come and use.

Notes and Quotes

“I do not understand why it should be more worthwhile or complex to interpret a work of fiction than a work of nonfiction. Furthermore, I am convinced that interpreting student writing is more difficult and potentially more rewarding than interpreting “imaginative” literature.” (369).

He sees composition and rhetoric as an integral part of English departments.

“The director of any writing program should be a tenured faculty mem-ber who (a) teaches writing and (b) publishes scholarship. This person should also be a writer in the broad sense: one who enjoys writing, not merely a com-petent drudge capable of doing an occasional satisfactory article for a scholarly journal and memos. I cannot stress this strongly enough: the head of a writing program should be more than an efficient administrator.” (371)

 

November 18, 2010

Smith, Louise Z. Smith Responds

Smith, Louise Z. “Louise Z. Smith Responds.” College English 51 (1989): 436-7. Print

Smith argues that a WAC program only works in context, and the challenge of any WAC program is to make it fit in with the individual institution’s needs and goals. She questions the Colgate Department of Interdisciplinary Writing, asking if it is prudent to value “retrained” compositionists from other fields (science, history, etc.) over literary specialists in reader-response theory, hermeneutics, etc., who might be able to bring a foundational understanding of composition theory and then some more.

Notes and Quotes

“Through helping a wide variety of colleges and universities to develop WAC programs, I’ve come to see every one of them as a living entity with a memory and an imagination, with a developing philosophical and political character – and with idiosyncracies, long may they wave! Consequently, I believe that any discussion of administrative models can carry us so far; then we need to think about the fit between a model and the character of the college where we hope it will serve. No model should be called ‘too idiosyncratic’ until thosewho will teach within it have tried it on and either discarded it or let the program director negotiate the tailoring and alterations for what can be used with durability, comfort, and pride, as the IWP clearly is” (437).

interesting connection here to Syracuse – Smith leaves it up to the program director to negotiate the tailoring and alterations, the Syracuse WP gave that responsibility, in part, to PWIs

November 16, 2010

Chapman, Harris, and Hult, Agents for Change

Chapman, David, Jeanette Harris, and Christine Hult. “Agents for Change: Undergraduate Writing Programs in Departments of English.” Rhetoric Review 13.2 (Spring 1995): 421-34. Print.

The authors, who conducted a survey of English major programs (316 schools responded), found that there were an increase in the number of undergraduate major programs that offered a concentration or emphasis in some sort of writing (linguistics, creative writing, rhet/comp.) Their 1992 survey came five years after a smaller but similar survey conducted by Donald Stewart in 1987. They argue that this increase in course offerings in writing and rhet/comp puts pressure on the traditional, humanities-based literature curriculum that pervades English departments and ask whether or not this emergence of rhetoric and composition will result in either separation from English departments (like communication, English ed, theater) or a shift in the culture of English departments (to value more productive-based knowledge and learning.) They argue that undergraduate majors with more balanced offerings in literature and writing will better prepare students for future careers and offer alternative ways to learn and teach students critical analysis and thinking skills.

Notes and Quotes

“The challenge we face is not simply to replace the old hegemony of literature with a new hegemony of composition but to construct a new English department where reading and writing are mutually valued and mutually supportive activities. The achievement of this beatific vision may seem impossibly remote in some departments, but, on the whole, our survey showed movement toward a more balanced department that should ultimately best serve the needs of both students and faculty.” (429).

June 17, 2009

Trimbur, The Problem of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problem of Freshman English (Only): Toward Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA 22:3 (Spring 1999) 9-30.

Trimbur articulates two of the problems of the first-year writing course: first, it tries to compact an entire field’s inquiry, research, discussion, and debates into a single course and second, it perpetuates a First-World English-Only attitude in American colleges and universities by privileging English vernacular literacy over other languages. He argues for the creation of larger curriculum in writing (minors, concentrations, and majors) to solve both of these problems. First, it will rescue the first-year course from being the only child of the discipline – the sole site of study and pedagogy in writing and rhetoric – transform it into an introduction to the discipline, where ideas and theories can be introduced and built on in later courses. Second, this major can and should reach beyond the traditional English department and seek interdisciplinary connections across the campus, finding ways to connect disciplines, faculty, and students toward the study of writing in the context of global, international, multilingual literacies. Such minors and majors need to be locally constructed and situated, and must be designed through answering hard questions of disciplinary identity: what do we study? what are our theories? how to our courses connect and build upon each other?

Quotable Quotes

“the relation of the study and teaching of writing to English departments is both accidental and overdetermined – the result not of a necessary belongingness between the two but of a particular historical conjuncture when written composition replaced rhetoric just as English departments were taking shape in the modern university.” (27)

“curriculum planning that looks for interfaces between disciplines, programs, students, and faculty” (25).

Notable Notes

first-year course is overpacked, overprogrammed like an only child

grad programs churning out students to teach and administer one course – what other field is so centered around a single course? shouldn’t our research, theories inform more than a single course?

composition and literature have worked together to promote vernacular, English-Only literacy and a homongenous national culture

May 5, 2009

Miller, Textual Carnivals

Miller, Susan. Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991.

Miller argues that the future of composition lies in a new “student tradition,” a serious uptake of the student in both pedagogy and research, recasting students not as passive, error-ridden children to be corrected and sanctioned but rather as people capable of authorship and of participating in public, empowering, real discourse (200). Rearticulating who students are will result in a rearticulation in who compositionists are. She traces the history of composition from its English and American origins, questioning the field’s move to place classical rhetoric or scientific process pedagogy at its foundation because neither encompasses the whole of what composition could be and both reinforce the hegemonic privileges of the elitist university structure. She looks at how the field – and those outside of it – have constructed students, instructors, and the institutional position of writing programs and their directors. Her history takes up theories of marginality, isolation, and institutional critique/critical theory (Foucault, Bourdieu, Althusser) in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, and for her evidence, she draws on course catalogue descriptions of English departments over the 20th century, published histories of composition (Kitzhaber, Berlin), and the 129 responses from a survey sent to current compositionists. Throughout the book, she uses the metaphor of a carnival to describe composition: a sanctioned place where unrecognized, usually invisible, “low” discourse operates inside a “high” discourse, elite institution. She wants composition to become a place where this carnival can be subverted, where revolutionary, counterhegemonic work can take place, and in order to do that, composition must break away from the given, current structure of the university to begin questioning the social, cultural, and political forces that keep it in power.

Quotable Quotes

Why did composition choose to take up freshman composition as its center? – “We cage ourselves by identifying with the freshman enterprise” (76)

Process pedagogy “stabilized a field that originally was a loosely connected set of untheorized practices claiming origins in rhetorical theory, religious reading instruction, and the study of classical languages” (115). The research of process allowed for tenured positions, freedom from the huge teaching loads of comp.

need to see students as “actual people in actual writing situations” (199).

“‘Composition’ contains diverse, in fact disparate, activities. Its participants, its students, and most of its teachers are uncredentialed or ‘illegitimate’ denizens of the best-established and most legitimate institution. Composition appears to be cacophonous, anarchic, and trivial, but it nonetheless produces predictable and sustaining economic and social benefits. In a strong sense, it is like the Old Testament God and the Lacanian woman – always in a state of becoming, of reinventing itself to compensate for its perceived lack of fixed goals and methods. But it is nonetheless in many ways a ritualistic performance that does not change expect by substituting new rituals and codes for old ones” (12).

need to “take student writers to be active rather than passively defined citizens of discourse communities” (200).

Notable Notes

composition is a major national industry in which large amounts of money, labor, and time are invested. Huge amounts of students, teachers

process is not a reform of product. Both ignore the social, cultural, institutional consequences of text production, look at texts in isolation. Process became the new content of composition.

uses metaphors of prostitution, gypsies, extrafamilial, surplus, maids, unnamed to talk about the labor of the teaching of composition

uses metaphors of unwashed masses, labs, clinics, the body, stripping of voices, cleanliness, infants, history of 19th century immigration and English-only  to talk about how the first-year course labels and treats students

a lot more variety of writing courses taught in 1920s than later in the century, when comp was made all about freshman comp

rhetoric is an ill fit as the foundation of modern composition

section on “Bread” draws a connection between university funding and status of composition

conclusion – Chapter 6 – explains the contradiction in the current system between how composition is talked about (important, intellectual growth of students, importance of mastering academic discourse) and what happens in the classroom and university (low status of students & teachers, no real evidence of effectiveness of 1st year comp, little use of academic writing outside university.)

freshman comp stripped students of their individual voices and their access to public discourse (silly personalized themes) – “a national course in silence” (59)

difference between English and American cultural ideals in the development of literature and composition as university initiatives. American focus on individual, enterprise, citizenship, popular literacy, democracy, responsibility.

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