Revolution Lullabye

December 2, 2010

Lloyd-Jones, Who We Were, Who We Should Become

Lloyd-Jones, Richard. “Who We Were, Who We Should Become.” College Composition and Communication 43.4 (Dec 1992): 486-496.

Lloyd-Jones discusses the tensions in the field’s identity and how the field is implicated in current problems in higher education, and emphasizes that those in composition need to take more leadership in their institutions and insist on better treatment of its teachers, expand connections with K-12 schools through NCTE and the Writing Project, expand its research, and avoid over-specialization. He warns that the increased dependence on contingent faculty is a huge problem for both the field and higher education, as the labor structure has used band-aid solutions to account for a massive change in student population and the purpose of college education in the 20th century. He uses the history of CCCC and a survey in the contents of CCC to explain the 20th century history of the field, how those in the discipline progressed from problem-solving teachers and administrators to beginning to study and theorize language and writing, moving into the academic culture and expectations of the academy. The shifting profile of American college students from post-WWII (the veteran) to the 1960s and 1970s (huge increase in community college students as the high school degree was no longer enough to get a job) constantly challenged the theories and ideas of those in the field, pushing the field to be more progressive, more ethically, socially, and practically oriented than other traditional departments like literature.

Notes and Quotes

College enrollments doubled in 1946 (GI Bill). The first CCCC in 1948 was a practical matter, English college professors and administrators trying to deal with the practical problems of the huge influx of students – placing them, teaching them, assessing them.

The discipline has just as much to do with national, international politics, economics, and demographics as it does with the creation and production of theory. Our focus on social justice and ethics in concern of our students naturally leads to a concern for our teachers (me)

The rapidly growing two-year colleges turned to cheap adjunct labor to teach composition.

The teaching of composition is a profit-generating enterprise. Why don’t we argue this point to increase working conditions for the teachers of writing?

The two-tiered college system, with tenured managers and untenured workers, “offer dark images for the future” (491). “I worry that we may ease toward a situation in composiiton where most of the people who do the actual teaching are disenfranchised. Or worse, a situation in which decisions are given over to people who have relatively little training in an extremely complex field” (491).

“I am not calling to separate composition from English; that question is passe…Literature is a form of rhetoric” (493).

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April 25, 2009

Varnum, Fencing with Words

Varnum, Robin. Fencing with Words: A History of Writing Instruction at Amherst College during the Era of Theodore Baird, 1938-1966. Urbana: NCTE, 1996.

Varnum presents a counternarrative to the mainstream history of 20th century composition instruction through her archival investigation of the Amherst freshman writing program directed by Theodore Baird from 1938 to 1966. Her history, unlike other histories written in the field, has three distinct differences: first, she spends much time looking at how outside social and political forces (institutional, national, and global) affected the pedagogy in Amherst’s writing courses; second, she depends on the archives of the program (assignments, student papers, memos, reports, as well as interviews) instead of textbooks and journals to sketch a picture of what was happening in the classrooms; and third, she brings to light a much-misunderstood era of American composition, one that is usually conflated and simplified to be “current-traditional.” Baird’s first-year writing courses were designed by the entire team of teachers (everyone used the same collaboratively-written assignment sequence), and student writing, not textbooks, were the centerpiece of the course. Baird believed that writing was a process of self-discovery, a process through which unexpressible (and unknown) truths could be expressed. Varnum’s history does not sugarcoat or reify Baird’s administration or pedagogy, pointing out that his high-priest attitude was decidedly masculine and top-down, perceived by some students and fellow faculty to be a bully who ran a “boot camp” course.

Quotable Quotes

“The tendancy among composition historians has been to look at practice in the classroom, or at the materials and ideas presented there, without acknowledging the larger forces that created the classroom itself” (7).

Notable Notes

great model for dissertation

Baird’s constant metaphor of running orders through chaos (taken from The Education of Henry Adams and science, philosophy, Burke, Richards that he read)

the Amherst course was taken by all freshman at the same time with the same assignments so that each assignment was a campus-wide event.

focused on conflict, constant questioning and revision

saw student writer as individual who possessed his own voice, the goal was to free that voice and the imagination; break them of writing what he dubbed “the Perfect Theme” (41) influenced heavily by The Education of Henry Adams

Baird’s ideal was to create a community of teachers

all the work that went into teaching and planning the course (assignments were re-invented each year) took away the time the instructors and professors could do their own research

how do policies and politics outside the classroom affect what is being taught?

impact of WWII, GI Bill, co-education, change in American university system, Civil Rights, move towards general education requirements

Varnum interviews professors who taught with Baird, 7 alumni of the program, looks at student papers, essay contest winners, uses letters she writes to Baird and recieves from him, assignment sequences (in appendix)

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