Revolution Lullabye

November 16, 2010

Hjortshoj, The Marginality of the Left-Hand Castes

Hjortshoj, Keith. “The Marginality of the Left-Hand Castes (A Parable for Writing Teachers).” College Composition and Communication 46.4 (December 1995): 491-505. Print.

Hjortshoj, the director of the stand-alone Cornell Writing Program, uses an allegory of the left-hand castes in Indian society, the artisans and smiths whose services were necessary but who were shunned by the others, to explain how compositionists could define what they have in common with each other across institutional and hierarchal lines. He notes that teaching writing is seen as messy, dirty work (not unlike custodial work) because it is: it is unpredictable, it is often difficult, and it happens invisibly the margins. Many academics, he contends, do not want to pull open the veil and reveal to others the difficulties they face as writers, the same problems that students struggle with. He argues that writing teachers and compositionists should strive to form programs or move to programs (as opposed to traditional departments) that value the kind of work that they do.

Notes and Quotes

“At research universities, especially, marginalized teachers (including teaching assistants) are most directly engaged with the interactive, exploratory, “hands-on,” transformative learning processes that university brochures advertise as the foundations of the undergraduate experience. By contrast, official ranking systems in these institutions, from undergraduate grading schemes to tenure reviews, privilege what is already known and already written, along with theory over practice, products over processes, individual achievements over col-laborative endeavors: being over becoming.” (503)

“paradoxal, unstable interdependence” (497).

written communication is fundamental to all academic discourse.

“What we teach, therefore, is fundamentally powerful and important, even if we are not. Within our institutions, writing teachers and their courses might be subordinated to all other kinds of instruction, but written language is not subordinate to anything.” (499)

“Like fire, language is essential, transformative, and potentially destructive. Most of the people I know, especially in academic institutions, are to some extent afraid of writing-daunted by the challenge of controlling language for their own purposes, and afraid that they might be controlled by language for the purposes of others. Writing teachers do not really control language. But the idea that we can or should control language makes us objects of fear or discomfort by association. Keeping us in our place-in a marginal, parenthetical relation to the rest of academic life-is a way of keeping the potentially disruptive power of language contained and disguised, though not altogether denied.” (501).

 He points out that the discoruse surrouding composition – that teachers of writing value their work but believe they are marginalized at the institution – comes into conflict with the fact that some compositionists are not in marginalized positions (deans, chairs, directors) and that a university-wide writing program is almost universally seen as a necessary and valuable enterprise in all US colleges and universities.

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January 30, 2009

Bridges, Training the New Teacher of College Composition

Bridges, Charles W. Training the New Teacher of College Composition. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1986.

The training of TAs and beginning composition instructors happens at almost every college and university (especially those with MA and PhD programs), but it is rarely discussed across institutions or theorized about in the field’s journal. This collection brings together essays by rhetoricians and writing directors to answer two questions: how do you, at your institution, train beginning teachers, and what advice do you give new teachers about the teaching of writing. The essays, some by well-known members of the field, run the gamut from discussing how new teachers should be taught through the writing process they will teach their students to specific suggestions for grading, making assignments, and managing a classroom. I’ll include the table of contents with some notes for reference:

Richard Gebhardt “Unifying Diversity in the Training of Writing Teachers” – tremendous diversity in who these beginning teachers are and what content can form a teacher-training course and the composition course. A “responsible training course in composition” sees the students as writers, showing them how to teach others to be writers through the writing process. The writing process should form the foundation of composition instruction. Lots of valuable references to comp articles.

Charles Bridges “The Basics and the New Teacher in College Composition” – teach teachers that writing isn’t just a basic skill but a valuable “way of knowing, of discovering, of experiencing.” Student-centered, writing-intensive curriculum/

William Irmscher “TA Training: A Period of Discovery” – the importance of a stability in a writing program through a director who is grounded in and is interested in the research and practice of the teaching of writing. Give TAs independence over their own teaching

RIchard VanDeWeghe “Linking Pedagogy to Purpose for Teaching Assistants in Basic Writing”

Nancy Comley “The Teaching Seminar: Writing Isn’t Just Rhetoric” – the training course should look beyond composition (because not all TAs are studying comp/rhet) to show how writing can be incorporated in all different disciplines

Don Cox “Fear and Loathing in the Classroom: Teaching Technical Writing for the First Time”

O. Jane Allen “The Literature Major as Teacher of Technical Writing: A Bibliographical Orientation”

John Ruskiewicz “The Great Commandment” – don’t lecture away the class; the focus should be on writing, have the students write

Mary Jane Schenck “Writing Right Off: Strategies for Invention” – journals, freewrite, heuristics, small groups

Ronald Lunsford “Planning for Spontaneity in the Writing Classroom and a Passel of Other Paradoxes” – importance of the teacher’s role in planning and implementing group workshopping sessions

Richard Larson “Making Assignments, Judging Writing, and Annotating Papers: Some Suggestions”

Maxine Hairston “On Not Being a Composition Slave” – argues against the model of the good comp teacher as marking up all papers and holding non-stop conferences. It’s a huge, draining workload and a cognitive overload for students, putting too much emphasis on correction. Teachers should only mark up a paper on the 2nd read, teach students how to revise, have students work on papers in class, do peer editing.

Christopher Burnham “Portfolio Evaluation: Room to Breathe and Grow”

Timothy Donovan, Patricia Sprouse, Patricia Williams “How TAs Teach Themselves”

Quotable Quotes

Teacher training needs to be “an important and rewarded part of a given department’s activities” (viii)

There needs to be more communication so theories and methods can be developed or else “teacher training will remain a hit-or-miss process that departments assign to lower-ranking faculty members and then ignore” (viii) – in isolation

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