Revolution Lullabye

January 14, 2011

Slevin, Depoliticizing and Politicizing Composition Studies

Slevin, James F. “Depoliticizing and Politicizing Composition Studies.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary.” Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991. 1-21. Print.

Slevin argues that the unethical labor practices in composition (primarily the reliance on underpaid part-time adjuncts to teach most required college writing courses) is a major problem for the field. He contends that part-time instructor’s low pay, poor working conditions, absent contracts, and lack of benefits contribute to low morale, which in turn affects students, departments, and the university at large (3). He rejects the argument that the hiring of part-time instructors is a result of poor economic times and downturn in student enrollment; instead, he claims employing marginal faculty is a choice universities make in part because of the literature/composition split in English department history, which makes the academic field of composition – and in turn those who teach it – the underclass in powerful English departments. Slevin maintains that the labor situation and the perception of composition in the academy will not change because those in the field think it should, say that it should, or write that it should. Instead, he argues that the field take up professional activitism and work towards these goals in the institution (15).

Notes and Quotes

problem with course catalogues – they detail the number of courses but not the sections. So first-year writing is just one course, but we overlook that it could be 70% of the sections taught in the department.

composition textbooks – how a lot of knowledge about writing and writing instruction is published to the field – is not looked as scholarship by the rest of the academy.

“We should no longer hide from ourselves or from others that our profession, as it is now practiced in this country, rests on, is based on, a foundation of despicable inequality…It is not a peripheral, temporary problem that is somehow going to go away by itself” (2).

June 9, 2009

Ellsworth, Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review 59:3 (Aug 1989) 297-324.

Ellsworth argues that teachers that believe in critical pedagogy must confront and accept unknowability, that knowledges and voices in the classroom are partial, contradictorary, and irreducable. This complexity does not negate the purpose of a critical education. Rather, accepting that complex cultural and historical issues cannot be solved in the classroom refuses to allow for oversimplification, which in itself continues to perpetuate cycles of domination and repression. The teacher must acknowledge that they have a historical, political, and cultural perspective and stake in the dialogue and discussion and allow students to name what they want to be empowered to do. Their social subjectivity makes it impossible to completely understand students’ experiences and experiences and to steer them towards discovering their “true” inner voice.

Quotable Quotes

argument: “Key assumptions, goals, and pedagogical practices fundamental to the literature on critical pedagogy – namely, ’empowerment,’ ‘student voice,’ ‘dialogue,’ and even the term ‘critical’ – are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination.” (298).

“What diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299)

“All knowings are partial, that there are fundamental things each of us cannot know.” (310)

problem with the “generic critical teacher” (310)

Notable Notes

goal of empowerment is too abstract (good of society?) – no clear, identifiable purpose

May 8, 2009

Rose, Authors and Owners

Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993.

Copyright is a modern phenomenon, rooted in both the development of capitalism and the pervasive concept of the individual author/genius. These two forces – economic and philosophical – drove the development of copyright law in early modern England, starting with the 1710 Statute of Anne. Rose uses historical court cases, bills, Parliament and legal records, essays and broadsides arguing about copyright from the era, and other histories of copyright law to write his history, which focuses on the development of copyright law in 18th century England. Rose explains the evolution of copyright from a printer’s privilege that acted as a form of government censorship to an individual author’s free and independent right to his property, which was deemed original due to his personality. Copyright reifies both the individual author and the individual work/text, is equated with real estate/landed property, and is used to distinguish between public and private works. Though copyright now is extended beyond literary texts and prevents the rapid, affordable circulation of texts (what it was supposed to protect and allow for), it’s not going away any time soon because both our economic system and our vision of our selves as individuals are so tied up in the system.

Quotable Quotes

“Copyright is not a transcendent moral idea, but a specifically modern formation produced by printing technology, marketplace economics, and the classical liberal culture of possessive individualism” (142)

Why don’t we “abandon copyright as an archaic and cumbersome system of cultural regulation” (142) – explains why we can’t

“The institution of copyright stands squarely on the boundary between private and public” (140)

“The attempt to anchor the notion of literary property in personality suggests the need to find a transcendent signifier, a category beyond the economic to warrant and ground the circulation of literary commodities” (129)

“The House of Lords bore witness to the radical instability of the concept of the autonomous author. After all, authors do not really create in any literal sense, but rather produce texts through complex processes of adaptation and transformation. Literary property is not fixed and certain like a piece of land…All forms of property are socially constructed and, like copyright, bear in their lineaments the traces of the struggles in which they were fabricated” (8)

Notable Notes

the modern marketplace as the “circulation of signs”, like paper notes instead of hard currency (129)

three levels of public/private covered by copyright: 1. unprotected commons v. privated protected 2. unprotected ideas (like patents) and protected expression 3. unprotected fair use and protected

copyright is cartography, not geography – a perspective, an orientation to look at the world (141)

perpetual v. limited copyright

comparision of copyright to patents (14 year limit) – is authoring like inventing? Hierarchy of mental and manual labor, mechanical v. divine inspiration, ideas v. expression

18th century emergence of paternity metaphors…plagiarism (kidnapping)

copyright is actually a compromise – either authors should have perpetual or not, so a limited term seems arbitrary

English booksellers holding on to guild system (Stationers’ Company) vs. Scottish printers wanting to compete in a capitalist model….

16th century- texts as actions (needing censorship), society bound by fidelity, patronage
18th century – texts as objects (someone’s property), society ruled by capitalism

dual concepts of property and propriety…why copyright was necessary

Donaldson v. Becket (1774) – copyright not perpetual

John Locke

move to establish authorship beyond the materiality of the pen and ink. What does it mean to author a work? To own a work? What do you author or own? Removing the work from the social fabric from which it was made reifies the author (88)

April 29, 2009

Williamson, The Worship of Efficiency

Williamson, Michael. “The Worship of Efficiency: Untangling Theoretical and Practical Considerations in Writing Assessment.” Assessing Writing 1(1994): 147-174. In Assessing Writing. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 57-80.

Williamson argues that educators must adopt a different educational model – that of the craft workshop – in order to create an assessment theory and practice that breaks the hold of the god-terms of efficiency, fairness, and reliability. Williamson traces how the concept of efficiency led assessment and educational practices during much of the 20th century, resulting in invalid assessments only based on one data point, assessments grounded in standardized tests that allowed for the development and dominance of factory and bureaucratic educational models. He points to other assessment practices, like those in France, rely on interviews and non-standardized assessments given by the teacher, who knows the curriculum and students best. If teachers are to be treated as the professoinals that they are, Williamson argues, they should be given the right and the responsibility to develop and give assessments to their students.

Quotable Quotes

“we will need to begin to trust teachers” (78).

“the privilege of true professionalism” (79).

“For the most part, students are assessed, labeled, and placed in school curricula on the basis of their scores on succeeding standardized tests…these tests remain one of the single most important indicators of a child’s future” (67).

“efficiency has governed both the theoretical and practical developments in assessment” (69).

Notable Notes

development of psychometrics to allow for an objective, outside scorer – this is reversed in the craft workshop model with teacher in charge

child-centered assessment v. system-centered assessment

libertarian assessment

history of shift from oral exams to written exams to multiple-choice testing (Arthur Otis)

efficiency is a key American cultural and social force

craft workshop model (Shedd and Bacharach; Schon’s reflective practicioner)

assessment as a contextual, dynamic, continuous, reflective process

assessments with multiple data points converging = valid

March 7, 2009

Selfe, Toward New Media Texts

Selfe, Cynthia L. “Toward New Media Texts: Taking Up the Challenge of Visual Literacy.” In Writing New Media. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, et al. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2004. 67-110.

A good first step in incorporating and teaching new media texts in composition classrooms is through focusing on visual literacy in print and digital texts. Composition teachers, because many are not formally trained in the applications associated with many digital new media texts (Dreamweaver, desktop publishing, photo editing), feel like they don’t have the expertise to teach and guide students in composing new media texts. The assignments Selfe offers connect visual and alphabetic literacies (which composition teachers are more comfortable with), use rhetorical approaches, not entirely Web-based, and position the teacher and the students as co-learners. Though teachers will probably feel outside their comfort zone at first, Selfe argues for the importance of bridging to visual literacies and to begin to question the privileging alphabetic texts in our society and in the structuring of our writing programs and pedagogies.

Quotable Quotes

“By adding a focus on visual literacy to our existing focus on alphabetic literacy, we may not only learn to pay more serious attention to the ways in which students are now ordering and making sense of the world through the production and consumption of visual images, but we may also extend the usefulness of composition studies in a changing world.” (72)

Notable Notes

faculty feel like they lack the necessary skills to teach new media literacies, to help students compose with it – the faculty has an illiteracy that they have to come to terms with, will “force us to acknowledge gaps in our own literacy sets” (72)

change “author” to “composer/designer” and the reader to “reader/viewer”

assignments include a visual essay, visual argument, visual exhibition, and a text re-design and re-vision for the Web

composition studies needs to continue to be relevant to our students, so we have an obligation to learn about them and use them (new media literacies) in our classrooms as we ask our students to compose

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