Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition.” College English 53.8 (1991): 863-885.

Phelps investigates what the field values and the theory/practice tension in the discipline and in the academy. She argues that theory does not necessarily govern practice: that practice can be critical and tacit and that activity produces knowledge. She extends a teacher’s critical reflection and practical experimentation outside an individual classroom or teacher by explaining how practical wisdom can be cultivated in a teaching community. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program as her site of research.

Notes and Quotes

explains what theory has to offer practice, and what practice has to offer theory

“The resistance of a wise practice to theory redeems us from the danger of claiming to predict or dictate human life rather than trying to explain or understand it. Practical wisdom reminds us that theoretical systems are never exhaustive or adequate to phenomena, and thus undercuts their totalizing tendencies. This is the humbling discipline that practice has to offer theory, in return for its freedom” (884).

teacher-talk and lore – these are often confined to an individual’s own classroom experience. She expands this through program, curriculum development to talk about how knowledge is produced in a teaching community.

practical knowledge depends on a immediate and deep back-talk, reflective cycle

Scholes, North, Stenhouse

“Making things and performing actions both require ‘calculative’ reasoning, under similar conditions of relativity and uncertainty. Interestingly, these are precisely the circumstances for reflective practice…they are the constraints under which human beings inhabit a world of choice calling for judgments based on inadequate knowledge and conflicting values. These circumstances of uncertainty, contingency, and conflict call for informal reasoning rather than the strict rules of formal logic and empirical proof” (876-878).

use as a counterpoint to interview experiences

December 30, 2010

Phelps, Praxis as Wisdom in Action

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Praxis as Wisdom in Action.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, St. Louis, March 1988.

Phelps addresses the practice/theory divide in the field and argues that at best, composition should be thought as phronesis, or practical wisdom (drawing on Aristotle, Gadamer, Dewey, and Freire.) She argues that the field needs to study the teaching of composition as a process, and to take the research of composition pedagogy seriously – that a teacher interprets a situation much the way a reader interprets a text. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program’s program of professional development (which emphasizes critical reflection and teacher-research) and Stephen North and Donald Scholes.

Notes and Quotes

uses coordinating group system to explain North’s “lore” and Scholes “practical knowledge”…what became Syracuse’s “teacher talk”

reflection-in-action; practice disciplined by knowledge

February 3, 2009

McComiskey, English Studies

McComiskey, Bruce. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 2006. 12-53.

Through an overview of the history of English studies and its increasing specialization, McComiskey argues against the decisiveness that specialization creates and puts forth a new model, integration, that will transform all the disciplines housed within English studies (rhet/comp, linguistics, English education, literacy criticism, critical theory, and creative writing) through the development of large, common goals created through both identification (Burke) and articulation (Stuart Hall.) He cites four major problems with splintered, specialized English departments: 1. they do not appear coherent to administrators or to students 2. the marginalized disciplines (non-literature) are gaining more attention and financial resources, causing more strife 3. the scholarship that emerges from specialization only speaks to itself, giving up on any attempt to make cross-disciplinary connections and create interdisciplinary methodologies and 4. the faculty pour their energy into upper-division speciality electives, depriving the lower-division courses of resources and relegating them to service status. McComiskey draws on Stephen North’s assessment of the discipline of English and points out the problems with his three proposed solutions (secession, corporate compromise (organize under a new term, like cultural studies or literacy), or fusion (intergrate all disciplines into one major and in all courses.)) McComiskey’s solution, integration, is to reorganize English studies as the discipline that studies the analysis, critique, and production of discourse. His book (this is the introduction to it) features six chapters, each about one of the disciplines housed within English studies: linguistics, rhetoric and composition, English education, creative writing, literature and literacy criticism, and cultural studies and critical theory. His goals are to educate scholars on the other fields so that they might come to identify (Burkean term) with their fellow faculty members in order to collaborate on productive, functional projects and build true relationships by working on common problems, showing that English is a useful, important discipline in society.

Quotable Quotes

“English studies can move from being a set of unrelated subdisciplines to a powerful collection of integrated (structurally separate but fundamentally interrelated) disciplines with a coherent and collective goal that does not compromise each discipline’s unique integrity. I propose that the goal of this integrated English studies should be the analysis, the critique, and the production of discourse in social context” (43).

New attitude: “English is useful.” (49)

“The history of English is the history of academic specialization” (26).

“For with radical specialization, as English studies has experienced in the last half century, we are no longer able to represent ourselves to university administrators as having coherent goals (other than the material fact that we work side by side)” (30).

Notable Notes

reimagine ourselves as a larger community of English studies – use Burke

great overview and history of the specialization and splintering of English studies from mid-1900s onward.

Cold War grants skipped over the humanities, led to the decrease in importance of humanities. English was “saved” by the service, practical discipline of rhet/comp.

New generation of rhet/comp scholars in 1960s and 1970s embraced composition and made it their object of critical study and rhetoric the foundation.

Dewey calling for the dissolution of knowledge and praxis in The Educational Situation (1901)

Secession leads to small, competing departments that are scruntinized by administration and more likely to be cut in budgets.

Those departments that already had secession happen must reintegrate into one large department.

Create a free website or blog at