Revolution Lullabye

June 17, 2009

Royster and Williams, History in the Spaces Left

Royster, Jacqueline Jones and Jean C. Williams. “History in the Spaces Left: African American Presence and Narratives of Composition Studies.” CCC 50:4 (June 1999) 563-584.

Any history that is written has important political consequences. Royster and Williams argue that African American contributions to the history of composition and rhetoric, beginning in the 19th century, have been largely ignored by the dominant historical narratives written in the field, which has resulted in a continued representation of African Americans as a marginalized Other, characterized by Open Admissions and basic writing. The research base for understanding the history of the field needs to be broadened, and Royster and Williams showcase this by presenting three cases of African Americans – Alain Locke, Hallie Quinn Brown, and Hugh M. Gloster – who contributed to the theory and practice of rhetoric and composition in the 19th and early 20th century. Royster and Williams also briefly trace the history of African American higher education, highlighting the importance of HBCUs in educating African Americans before the Open Admissions push of the 1960s.

Quotable Quotes

Questions to ask to recover marginalized histories: “For whom is this claim true? For whom is it not true? What else is happening? What are the operating conditions?” (581)

effect of dominant histories: “the other viewpoints are inevitably positioned in non-universal space and peripheralized, and the exclusion of suppressed groups, whether they intend it or not, is silently, systematically reaffirmed.” (565)

Notable Notes

resist primacy

conflation of basic writers with students of color

Morrill Act, HBCUs

students in histories are seen as generic, apolitical, without race or gender or sexuality

review of many of the histories of the field

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June 10, 2009

Shor, Critical Thinking and Everyday Life

Shar, Ira. Critical Thinking and Everyday Life. Boston: South End Press, 1980.

Shor explains in this book how he practiced liberatory pedagogy in his writing classes of working-class, Open Admissions CUNY students. His pedagogy draws on Freire, and he applies Freire’s theories to argue against the motivations for and the attitudes transcribed by American vocational education. His theory of critical teaching, “extraordinarily re-experiencing the ordinary,” (95) is Freirian in nature, based in dialogue grounded in the subjectivity of the students, collaboration, self-reflection, and indisciplinary inquiry and investigation. This book contains several of his pedagogical assignments, strategies, and experiments from working with his Open Admissions CUNY students, a program that was cut, ironically, right as teachers like Shor were beginning to learn how to best teach these students.

Quotable Quotes

vocational education “narrows human development” and is a “socialization against intellectual life, against feeling, and against autonomy.” (51)

Notable Notes

this kind of pedagogy is difficult, anxiety-filled for the teacher

working against the hegemoies of mass culture and false consciousness

April 8, 2009

Shaughnessy, Errors and Expectations

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Basic writers are not unintelligent; rather, their writing is riddled with errors because they are confused about the basic structure and patterns of sentences and academic prose. Shaughnessy defends her focus on the errors of basic writers by arguing that in order to teach basic writers, teachers must understand what the range of basic writing errors are, why students might be making them (shuttling between two different codes, second language issues, unfamiliarity with written English tenses, structures, and punctuation), and how teachers might help their students write better through addressing these errors (assignments and in-class exercises.) Shaughnessy’s drive is to demystify the common errors basic writers make (punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, syntax) so they can move towards expressing their complex ideas and thoughts in equally as complex and intelligent prose. Shaughnessy does not prescribe a curriculum or program, arguing that each basic writing program must be created for the context of the students’, teachers’, and institutional expectations and circumstances.

Quotable Quotes

Errors “are unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader” (12) Teachers shouldn’t ignore error or argue for theoretical conceptions of the relativity of error (diversity of linguistic structure) in a basic writing classroom because that type of approach dismisses two important points. First, students are hyperconcerned about error and want to know about it and fix their errors. Second, errors force a reader to extend more effort to understand the writer, an effort that not all readers make and thus results in a loss of communication.

Her book wants to cultivate “a readiness to look at these problems in a way that does not ignore the linguistic sophistication of the students nor yet underestimate the complexity of the task they face as tehy set about learning to write for college” (13).

“Far from being eleventh-hour learners, these students appear in many ways to be beginning their lives anew.” (291)

“College both beckons and threatens them, offering to teach them useful ways of thinking and talking about the world, promising even to improve the quality of their lives, but threatening at the same time to take from them their distinctive ways of interpreting the world, to assimilate them into the culture of academia without acknowledging their experience as outsiders” (292)

Notable Notes

Basic writing pedagogy must be taken up seriously as an area of scholarship, study

Context – early 1970s open admissions, City College (CUNY system), no guide for how to teach these students who had never before been in college, instructors just see a “chaos of error”

Data – hundreds of placement essays from entering students at City College 1970-1974

confusion and unawareness lays at the heart of the issue. Students need explicit instruction, need to be shown the patterns and structures, templates of writing sentences and academic prose passages.

need to fix errors without disrespecting the culture and language backgrounds of the students

Chapters: handwriting and punctuation; syntax; common errors; spelling; vocabulary; beyond the sentence; expectations

problem – does not adequately address linguistic differences, boils things down to looking at the errors in the student text without looking outside the actual paper, the larger history and social context

lots of pattern-practice, sentence-combining, learn how to express abstract thoughts and longer arguments

February 23, 2009

McBeth, Memoranda of Fragile Machinery

McBeth, Mark. “Memoranda of Fragile Machinery: A Portrait of Shaughnessy as Intellectual-Bureaucrat.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 31:1-2, 2007.

McBeth, the WPA for ten years at the City College of New York, reconstructs Shaughnessy’s role as an administrator through both the archived material of the program, containing her published and unpublished administrative documents, and interviews with teachers and administrators who worked with her at CUNY. In this recovery project, McBeth presents an alternate perspective on the work of Shaughnessy, explicitly showing how her administrative work informed her ideas about basic writing, development of writers, and literacy, and how her work in managing a large writing program gave her a place where she could conduct and gather data for her research. McBeth describes the work of WPAs positively, contesting the pessamistic attitude that WPAs are just managers over a large system marked by unfair labor practices. McBeth argues that WPAs are more than just managers: they are intellectual-bureaucrats who use their knowledge and expertise in rhetoric and their understanding of the production of writing to lead effective, educationally sound, and progressive programs.

Quotable Quotes

“The oft-tedious bureaucratic labors we will inevitably face may not deter us from the publish-or-perish work we need to complete, but on the contrary, may lead us to it. Applying our scholarly scrutiny and creativity to the administrative positions we hold may prove to make the WPA’s labors both more fruitful and possibly more rewarding (perhaps even pleasurable.)” (62).

The records “show the intersection between her academic life as a scholar, teacher, and administrator and, additionally, how those roles necessarily coexist and inform one another.” (62).

Notable Notes

shows how Errors and Expectations is more than a pedagogy manual – it is an administrative argument about how to teach basic writing students and structure a program that will meet their needs.

mid-term and end-of-term evaluations were a key resource and research pool for Errors and Expectations

February 8, 2009

Mutnick, On the Academic Margins

Mutnick, Deborah. “On the Academic Margins: Basic Writing Pedagogy.” 183-202.

How to teach and understand basic writers has developed from studying them through their errors (Shaugnessy), to in-depth cognitive research to understand how their thinking and writing practices, to finally seeing them in the larger political and social context, analyzing how they learn to appropriate and use academic language, and how academic language affects their home language and culture. Basic writing pedagogy is interested in how students from diverse cultures and backgrounds come into and work in the university, the relationship between language and meaning, linguistic theories of error, and the writing and learning processes of adults. New pushes in basic writing pedagogy include mainstreaming basic writers in “regular” first-year composition classrooms and developing competency requirements that aren’t tied to a particular university course.

Notable Notes

First forays: Mina Shaughnessy – CUNY Open Admissions; Horner “Discoursing Basic Writing”

Cognitive process studies: Perl “Unskilled”; Sommers; Lunsford “What We Know” – showed problems in analysis and synthesis

Social and rhetorical theories: Bartholomae Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts and “Inventing”; Gilyard Voices of the Self; Students’ Right to Their Own Language; Bizzell biculturalism; Tom Fox “Standards and Access”; Alice Horning “Teaching Writing as a Second Lanuage”

students on the social margins change through education but must develop their own consciousness, the new discourses they learn affect their home ones. Basic writing courses can transform the students, teachers, administration, and institutions

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 23, 2009

Shaughnessy, “Diving In”

Shaughnessy, Mina P. “Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook, 3rd ed. 321-326.

Citing that it is the teachers of basic writing, not the students, who need to change in order to succeed in the academy, Shaughnessy outlines four stages teachers of basic writing progress through in learning about basic writers and accepting the challenge of teaching them. The four stages, as Shaughnessy describes them, are Guarding the Tower (exclusionary policies and attitudes); Converting the Natives (trying old pedagogical techniques to help a few students who seem promising); Sounding the Depths (confronting the contradictions in the expectations of students’ many discourse communities); and finally, Diving In (committing to study and change teaching practices to answer the challenges of the new student populations.)

Quotable Quotes

“Are they aware, for example, after years of right/wrong testing, after the ACTs and the GEDs and the OATs, after straining to memorize what they read but never learning to doubt it, after “psyching out” answers rather than discovering them, are they aware that the rules have changed and that the rewards now go to those who can sustain a play of mind upon ideas – teasing out the contradictions and ambiguities and frailities of statements?” (324)

“The greatest barrier to our work with [basic writing students] is our ignorance of them and the very subject we have contracted to teach” (325)

“Diving in is simply deciding that teaching them to write well is not only suitable but challenging work for those who would be teachers and scholars in a democracy” (326)

“By underestimating the sophistication of our students and by ignoring the complexity of the tasks we set before them, we have failed to locate in precise ways where to begin and what follows what” (325).

Notable Notes

medical terminology used to describe basic writers

put onus on teachers, not students, to find the solutions.

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