Revolution Lullabye

May 6, 2009

Ohmann, English in America

Ohmann, Richard. English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1976.

This educational critique that focuses on higher education English departments, arguing that they are implicit in forwarding the capitalist, military, industrial agendas of the institutions in power (government, military, big business.) Ohmann argues against New Criticism for a return to the humanist, moralistic study of literature, one grounded in people and culture, not science. English departments, he claims, act to sort and sanction undergraduate and graduate students, assimilating them into an elite class. He draws his critique from an economic history of American industry (and its effect on education) and by looking at the MLA organization, the structure of English departments, freshman composition textbooks, the AP system, and institutional writings like The Pentagon Papers. His critique is profoundly affected by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, and the students’ rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and he wants English departments to adopt Marxist, revolutionary agendas, to shed their apolitical stance and work for societal change.

Quotable Quotes

“Ther is just no sense in pondering the function of literature without relating it to the actual society that uses it, to the centers of power within that society, and to the institutions that mediate between literature and people. In other words, the function of literature and the role of English teachers cannot be understood except within the context of a given society and politics” (303) – texts do not exist and cannot be understood in isolation

“Meetings and memoranda are main instruments in planning, prime media of discourse in a complicated technological society” (191)

Composition arose “when the modern university was being grafted onto the old aristocratic college” (134).

“writing was no longer mainly a private and public art, but a tool of production and management” (93).

“I found it harder to believe that Humanity was being served well by the academic humanities, as our official dogma held, or that the professional apparatus we had invented was a rational structure and not a Rube Goldberg machine” (5)

Notable Notes

wants what is done by English departments and professors to matter, not just be contained in some specialist world that doesn’t communicate with reality.

looks at composition and its connection with gatekeeping. Chapter by Wallace Douglas about the Boylston Professorship at Harvard – move from classical, rhetoric as art to training for the professions, a hurdle to overcome

problem with emphasis on apolitical, childish, decontextualized, solitary, individual, private themes and attitudes towards students in freshman comp – we need to look at what kinds of writing actually are written, valued, and enact policy in the world, like the memos of the Pentagon Papers.

Pentagon Papers – the memos set an official argument, framed action, was a point (evidence) for future reference. THe memo kept policy makers in a particular frame of mind, following the warrants of the genre because the purpose behind it, the human costs of war, were never questioned or considered.  Connection to teaching professional writing, ethics

what does it mean to be a professional? independence, jurisdiction to allow others in, to train, assertion that your knowledge is special, needed, and only attained through long training in schools

industrial society values are tied up in the history of English and comp: efficiency, centralization, measurement, capitalism, management (261)

the shift to the knowledge economy raised the importance of universities to corporations, the college degree became the mark of socialization and training

professional, intellectual choices are political choices (304-305)

May 2, 2009

Crowley, Composition in the University

Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1998.

Crowley forwards her abolitionist argument through this collection of essays, which gives a detailed investigation of the history of higher education, the history of the relationship between literature and composition, and the development of the first-year course in American universities. She focuses on the divide in English studies between literature and composition and maintains that as long as the first-year course exists, literature will be held superior, intellectually and institutionally, over composition. First-year composition, she argues, exploits its teachers (unfair labor practices), exploits its students (has no measurable effect), has negative curricular effects (isolated out of a curricular sequence); contributes to negative classroom climates (gatekeeping role); prevents the field from achieving full professionalization and disciplinarity; and finally, hurts the professional careers of its teachers. (241) It is an anamolous, ill-fitting course in the modern American university. Instead of the first-year course, Crowley suggests offering a vertical sequence of writing electives, informed by the discipline of comp/rhet, which will answer more truthfully students’ needs instead of imposing needs on them from above. Crowley relies primarily on textbooks used in the classroom and published articles and books in the field about composition history to make her argument.

Quotable Quotes

First-year composition must “become part of a sequenced curriculum of courses that introduce students to discipline-specific principles and practices” (9).

difference of comp vs. lit and other fields: “Composition scholarship typically focuses on the processes of learning rather than on the acquisition of knowledge, and composition pedagogy focuses on change and development in students rather than on transmission of a heritage” (3)

“Over the years, then, first-year composition has been remarkable vulnerable to ideologies and practices that originate elsewhere than in its classrooms” (6) – those outside the field in power set the agenda; political ideologies make their way in the classroom, teachers/administrators use the class as an opportunity to forward their own agenda, regardless of its connection to first-year comp

“I doubt whether it is possible to radicalize instruction in a course that is thoroughly implicated in the maintance of cultural and academic hierarchy” (235)

Notable Notes

there aren’t jobs in comp because it’s thought of as “an exciting new field in which new academic priorities are being set” – there are jobs because of the universal requirement. That’s problematic. (3)

no motivated writing tasks in first-year composition; it exists outside of all other vertical curriculums and sequences in the university, isolated

comp’s relationship with pragmatism (Peirce, William James, Dewey, Emerson) v. literature’s relationship with humanism. This leads to the question whether literature should be taught in composition classrooms (a huge difference in ideology…product v. a process; reading over writing, suspicion of rhetoric, elite v. democratic education) – look at the College English Tate-Lindemann exchange

history of the connection between communication and composition (founding of CCCC) and the impact of WWII and the Cold War on the purpose of composition instruction

history of the process movement, affected by research funded through federal grants on pre-writing (D Gordon Rohman and Albert O. Wleche Project English study.) There was a real attempt to understand how students and writers discover, invent, and think. This led to research in developmental psychology and on the creative processes of artists and scientists. Writing to discover was seen as the first way to see this (thus the emphasis on personal expressive writing). Then, the influence of Emig, who actually looked at her and her students’ writing processes. Also, turn to classical rhetoric for invention heuristics. Cannot underestimate the impact of student war protests in 1960s and 1970s to redistribute power and authority. Crowley’s essay is “Around 1971: The Emergence of Process Pedagogy” – two moves: attention to student’s whole composing process (students as writers) and a student-centered classroom. Process and current-traditional pedagogy are complementary.

the curriculum of composition is debated turf; it is owned by the community (U of Texas Austin’s difference curriculum)

Nancy Fraser – needs claims, the movement from thin needs (mythology) to thick needs (ideology.) The claim is that students need first-year composition. Who really needs it? The university only requires a course if they think the students won’t elect to take it (258)

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