Revolution Lullabye

January 14, 2011

Bullock and Trimbur, Preface

Bullock, Richard and John Trimbur, eds. “Preface.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1991. xvii-xx. Print.

In their preface to their edited collection, Bullock and Trimbur explain the history of the collection, which came from the NCTE’s Commission on Composition’s charge to understand the teaching of writing in all American classrooms, K-university. Their collection focuses on the state of the field of composition and rhetoric circa 1990, addressing questions about the identity of the field, the social, cultural, political, and economic implications of teaching writing, the history of teaching writing and its effect on current practices, and how writing instruction can be improved. They explain their own values and what they privilege in writing instruction: collaboration, critical thinking, multidisciplinary writing, democratic values, and making the political in writing overt.

Notes and Quotes

“Writing is value-ful, and all teaching built on and through a set of values is inherently and inevitably political” (xviii)

Their goals for this collection: 1. raise awareness among comp/rhet scholars about some of the political, social, cultural, and economic issues as a way toward working for change 2. provide graduate students with a portrait of the challenges in the field and 3. argue that “politics drives curriculum” and is a necessary part of all institutions, even the academy, and argue that those in comp/rhet need to embrace that fact in order to move ahead and work in the system.

November 18, 2010

Trimbur, The Problems of Freshman English (Only)

Trimbur, John. “The Problems of Freshman English (Only.): Towards Programs of Study in Writing.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 22.3 (Spring 1999): 9-30. Print.

Trimbur argues for vertical writing curricula where the first-year course would be an introduction to the field of composition and rhetoric, a field that studies, examines, and produces the forms of writing people come into contact with and use in the academy, in the public sphere, and in the workforce. He likens the field’s obsession and concentration on the first-year course to a parent’s overattentiveness to an only child and contends that the field is far more rich and complex than required composition, and composition faculty, like faculty in other disciplines, should have the opportunity to teach courses in their expertise rather than exclusively the first-year service course. The consistent use of placement and proficiency tests justify the view that composition is not at the university because it has something to add to college-level curriculum but instead its role is to address a school-to-college transition crisis. Trimbur also contends that the focus of freshman English is almost exclusively monolingual, English-Only, and calls on the field to change the “First Worldism” of first-year composition.

Notes and Quotes

“I can’t think of any other academic field where a single course plays such a dominant role in shaping the work and subjectivities of its practicioners.” (9).

The “oversaturation” of the first-year course, the many goals of the first-year course: “Think for a moment of all the things that the first-year course is commonly being asked to do. It should help entering students survive in a hostile environment, crack the academic code, repair the damage done by high school English teachers, and enjoy writing. It should meet institutional needs by increasing retention and adding value to the ‘freshman experience,’ as well as certifying literacy levels and protecting the credibility of the undergraduate degree. Not only that, the course should meet employer needs for workers who can ‘communicate effectively,’ multitask, operate computers, and work on teams. It should respond to whatever literacy crisis is happening at the moment, negotiate differences in the ‘contact zone,’ denaturalize the media and mass culture, and stop the decline of public discourse by making a generation of slackers into responsible citizens who read the newspaper, vote, and participate in community service” (14).

“The first-year course simply begins and ends, and in some colleges and universities where students can test out on a placement exam, at least a portion of them just skip over it” (15). It is unconnected to any larger curriculum. Any other upper-divsision courses are not linked to the first-year course in a meaningful way.

Those who test into freshman English are a “stigmatized majority” (16) – they lack something. It’s better not to take the course.

figuring curriculum design as “a rhetorical practice to redistribute expert knowledge and expand the forums and languages available for writing” (24).

“To my mind, 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).

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

June 6, 2009

Trimbur, Composition and the Circulation of Writing

Trimbur, John. “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.” CCC (Dec 2000) 188-219.

Trimbur argues that compositionists need to focus on and teach about the materiality of production, delivery, and circulation. Without an understanding of how writing circulates, composition courses and their students stay isolated from society, either in a strange father-child in loco parentis relationship with their teacher or investigating cultural artifacts in a cultural studies classroom, but remaining a reader, reporter, and consumer of culture rather than a producer or active participant. Trimbur uses Marx’s Grundrisse to explain Marx’s term circulation (which Trimbur uses interchangably with rhetorical canon of delivery after he explains the terms), which understands the circulation as a dialectic hierarchal power move, a deliberate distribution of knowledge and information, a relationship between labor and those in charge. Trimbur shows how he teaches about the circulation of writing in his “Writing about Disease and Public Health,” when he asks students to transform medical journal information to public news stories, which shows them how information gets changed and presented (in specific, political ways) in circulation.

Quotable Quotes

“Marx wanted to explian the various moments in the circulation of commodities – the cycle of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption – not as a series of separate events taking place in a predetermined order over time but dialectically, as mediation in mutual and coterminous relations that constitute the capitalist mode of production as a total system” (206).

“The process of production determines – and distributes – a hierarchy of knowledge and information that is tied to the cultural authorization of expertise, professionalism, and respectability.” (210)

“We cannot understand what is entailed when people encounter written texts without taking into account how the labor power embodied in the commodity form articulates a mode of production and its prevailing social relations” (210).

“Negating delivery has led to writing teachers to equate the activity of composing with writing itself and to miss altogether the complex delivery systems through which writing circulates” (190).

Notable Notes

delivery isn’t just technical (document design, Trimbur says) – it is political and ethical, can be used to democratize and circulate ideas, expand public forums (190).

exchange value v. use value – academic work in public channels

February 7, 2009

George and Trimbur, Cultural Studies and Composition

George, Diana and John Trimbur. “Cultural Studies and Composition.” 71-91.

George and Trimbur argue that when composition instructors use cultural studies to organize their pedagogy, they are continuing the movement in the field from focusing on individual writers (process theory) to acknowledging the social and political context of the world the students are writing, thinking, and learning in. This politcal turn, proponents of cultural studies in the composition class argue, represents the diversity of the students, allows for rhetoric to be incorporated in the writing classroom, and accommodates the postmodern goal of recognizing and analyzing fragments and subsets of culture. Cultural studies began as a phenomenon in the UK in the 1960s with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, and the major New Left thinkers there (Hoggart, Williams, Thompson) looked to Althusser and Gramsci to destroy the power dynamic inherent in the high/low culture split and to begin investigating how people’s cultural practices in turn create the social order and class consciousness. This decidedly white, male, middle-class movement expanded with feminist and race critiques of cultural studies in the 1980s. Those in favor of using cultural studies as the content of a composition class argue that its use of popular culture is inviting to students, it teaches close analysis of texts and artifacts, and leads to civic and public writing. Those against it contend that a focus on cultural studies as a content in the composition classroom leads to a devaluing of writing itself, as the textbooks used don’t include a lot of student texts and the work of producing and writing isn’t foregrounded in the curriculum. Some also see cultural studies as an attempt for leftist teachers to politically indoctrinate their students.

Quotable Quotes

Shift: “emphasis from the personal experience of the individual to the lived experience of participants in the larger culture” (83).

“The arrival of cultural studies marks a wider resurfacing of political desire in academic work”, “a need on the part of American leftist academics to articulate a role for themselves in public formus and to cope (at least rhetorically if not actually) with the globalization of capital and its relentless war against working people and the poor” (72).

Problem with cultural studies pedagogy: “uncritical populist celebration of popular culture, in which the audience is ‘never wrong’ and the practice of everyday life is persisently resistant to the dominant culture” (84).

Notable Notes

Lidna Brodkey 1st year course, “Writing About Difference” at the University of Texas, recounted in “Federal Case”

Cultural studies in composition on the scene in the late 198s, 1990s

Sources about foundational cultural studies theory: Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy; E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class; Raymond Williams, Culture and Society and The Long Revolution; Stuart Hall “Two Paradigms”; Althusser; Gramsci; Lawrence Grossberg “The Formation of Cultural Studies”; Johnson “What Is Cultural Studies, Anyway?”; Baudelaire, Paris Spleen; Engel, Conditions of Working Classes in 1844; Frankfurt School; Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor; Bourdieu; Habermas; Barthes; deCerteau; Walter Benjamin; Women Take Issue: Aspects of Women’s Subordination; Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack

Cultural Studies and Composition: Raymond Williams, The Future of Cultural Studies; Gere, Long Revolution; Ohmann, Graduate Students; Trimbur, Writing Instruction, Cultural Studies, Articulation Theory, Radical Pedagogy; Berlin, Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures; Schilb, Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition; Faigley, Fragments of Rationality; Berlin/Vivion; Fitts/France; Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone; Sullivan/Qualley, Pedagogy in the Age of Politics.

Critiques of cultural studies: Richard Miller, As If Learning; Joseph Harris, Other Reader; Frank Farmer; Susan Miller, Technologies; Hairston, Diversity, Ideology, and the Teaching of Writing.

January 19, 2009

George, “From Analysis to Design”

George, Diana. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.” CCC 54.1 (Sept. 2002) 11 – 39.

George explores how the relationship between the visual and the verbal has been explored and defined through fifty years of composition history, arguing that the visual needs to be more fully incorporated in composition classrooms, not just as a prompt or an aid, but an intregal part of the design of an argument. She discusses three approaches composition teachers and scholars have taken with using visuals in the classroom: as essay prompts, objects for analysis, or as “dumbed-down” versions of more complex verbal arguments (32). Instead, taking the lead from the New London Group and scholars such as Wysocki and Trimbur, compositionists need to see the connection between writing and graphic design and embrace design as an important concept in the teaching of writing. Students interact with visual Web technologies on a daily basis, and in the work place, they will be asked to compose, design, and communicate both verbally and visually, and so our composition classrooms need to shift their notion of what constitutes an argument and teach students how to compose and design with and through visuals.

Quotable Quotes

“I am after a clearer understanding of what can happen when the visual is very consciously brought into the composition classroom as a form of communication worth both examining and producing” (14).

“It is important to point out that thinking of composition as design shifts attention, if onyl momentarily, from the product to the act of production” (18)

“The issue [of incorporating the visual in the composition classroom] seems to be less one of resources than one of emphasis, or, rather, relationship” (32).

“For students who have grown up in a technology-saturated and an image-rich culture, questions of communication and composition absolutely will include the visual, not as attendant to the verbal but as complex communication intricately related to the world around them” (32)

Notable Notes

good history of the role visuals played in the composition classroom, from the 1950s to the 1980s to today

Important references include Trimbur, Wysocki, New London Group, Johnson-Eilola, Faigley, Walter Benjamin, J. Anthony Blair.

requires a shift in the thinking of composition and argument beyond printed text – one of design, of broader communication.

what has the Web done to composition? will composition meet that challenge? will it morph? or is it a field designed to meet a specific need and purpose (Harvard, 1890s.)? is digital media destined to remain a subspeciality?

Read

Wysocki. “Monitoring Order: Visual Desire, the Organization of Web Pages, and Teaching the Rules of Design.” Kairos 3.2 (Fall 1998)

Trimbur. “Delivering the Message: Typography and the Materiality of Writing.” Composition as Intellectual Work. Ed. Gary Olson. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. 188-202.

Kress, Gunther. “Design and Transformation: New Theories of Meaning.” Cope and Kalantzis. 153-161.

Bernhardt, Stephen. “Seeing the Text.” CCC (1986) 66-78.

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