Revolution Lullabye

August 24, 2012

A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs

“A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs.” WPA 35.1 (Fall/Winter 2011): 148-166.

The symposium, which features five short essays, is presented in response to “The CWPA Mentoring Project and Survey Report” published in the fall/winter 2010 issue of WPA. This particular symposium focuses on the mentoring needs and experiences of new or beginning WPAs at non-R1 institutions, demonstrating the range of challenges faced by WPAs at American colleges and universities.

Joyce Olewski Inman, “Reflections on Year One as an Almost-WPA” 149-152

Inman is completing her PhD and simultaneously serving as a WPA at that institution, against the advice of her mentors. She points out how difficult it is to seek mentorship in her role as an “illigitimate” WPA, citing the rhetoric of CWPA resolutions that call for WPAs with terminal, specialized-in-composition degrees.

“I am hopeful it will lead to additional reflection on how our field might become more accepting of the fact that ideal circumstances rarely exist and more conscious of the ways our own rhetoric may be dismissive, not supportive, of WPAs who find themselves in these less than ideal situations” (152).

Kathryn Johnson Gindlesparger, “Snapshot of a Tenure Decision” 152-155

Gindlesparger is a full-time WPA in an admininistrative, not tenure-track faculty, line, and she writes about the benefits and consequences of converting her line into a faculty one. She specificately cites the relative freedom and safety of an administrative position and describes how the culture of a writing program is changed when its control moves from a full-time administrator to multiple faculty members taking on small administrative roles. She calls on CWPA to expand their mentoring to WPAs who are not on the tenure track.

Darci L. Thoune, “The Pleasures and Perils of Being First” 156-159

Thoune explains her position as the first-ever WPA at her institution, describing the challenge of creating a centralized program in a formerly decentralized non-tenure-track instructor system. She explains how one of her primary objectives was to learn about the culture of the department and program, something she did in part by observing classes. She explains how many of her early initiatives at professional development failed, but through those and attending the WPA conference, she decided to implement different, more successful ways to create commonality in the program and manage the many decisions she had to make as a WPA.

Collie Fulford, “Hit the Ground Listening: An Ethnographic Approach to New WPA Learning” 159-162

Fulford discusses how she used ethnographic approaches (especially listening and observing) to learn about the culture of her new department, a HBCU.  She explains, though, that there came a time where she had to stop listening and start speaking, start participating as a member, not just an observer, in the department and college community.

Tim McCormack, “Boss of Me: When the Former Adjunct Runs the Writing Shop”  163-166

McCormack discusses the difficulty in transitioning from an outspoken advocate of adjunct rights to becoming the WPA who did not always have to the power to do the things he thought as an adjunct a WPA should do.  He discusses how he has learned the complex context a WPA works in, and although he has been able to come to terms with some of the decisions he has had to make, he’s uncomfortable with the dissonance with the progressive stance our scholarship often takes about contingent labor and the day-to-day administrative decisions about contingent faculty WPAs need to make.

“My WPA role at the college has evolved from my unquestioning righteousness in support of adjunct faculty to a more nuanced understanding that includes making decisions based on what is good for the writing program and our students.”

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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

April 25, 2009

Varnum, Fencing with Words

Varnum, Robin. Fencing with Words: A History of Writing Instruction at Amherst College during the Era of Theodore Baird, 1938-1966. Urbana: NCTE, 1996.

Varnum presents a counternarrative to the mainstream history of 20th century composition instruction through her archival investigation of the Amherst freshman writing program directed by Theodore Baird from 1938 to 1966. Her history, unlike other histories written in the field, has three distinct differences: first, she spends much time looking at how outside social and political forces (institutional, national, and global) affected the pedagogy in Amherst’s writing courses; second, she depends on the archives of the program (assignments, student papers, memos, reports, as well as interviews) instead of textbooks and journals to sketch a picture of what was happening in the classrooms; and third, she brings to light a much-misunderstood era of American composition, one that is usually conflated and simplified to be “current-traditional.” Baird’s first-year writing courses were designed by the entire team of teachers (everyone used the same collaboratively-written assignment sequence), and student writing, not textbooks, were the centerpiece of the course. Baird believed that writing was a process of self-discovery, a process through which unexpressible (and unknown) truths could be expressed. Varnum’s history does not sugarcoat or reify Baird’s administration or pedagogy, pointing out that his high-priest attitude was decidedly masculine and top-down, perceived by some students and fellow faculty to be a bully who ran a “boot camp” course.

Quotable Quotes

“The tendancy among composition historians has been to look at practice in the classroom, or at the materials and ideas presented there, without acknowledging the larger forces that created the classroom itself” (7).

Notable Notes

great model for dissertation

Baird’s constant metaphor of running orders through chaos (taken from The Education of Henry Adams and science, philosophy, Burke, Richards that he read)

the Amherst course was taken by all freshman at the same time with the same assignments so that each assignment was a campus-wide event.

focused on conflict, constant questioning and revision

saw student writer as individual who possessed his own voice, the goal was to free that voice and the imagination; break them of writing what he dubbed “the Perfect Theme” (41) influenced heavily by The Education of Henry Adams

Baird’s ideal was to create a community of teachers

all the work that went into teaching and planning the course (assignments were re-invented each year) took away the time the instructors and professors could do their own research

how do policies and politics outside the classroom affect what is being taught?

impact of WWII, GI Bill, co-education, change in American university system, Civil Rights, move towards general education requirements

Varnum interviews professors who taught with Baird, 7 alumni of the program, looks at student papers, essay contest winners, uses letters she writes to Baird and recieves from him, assignment sequences (in appendix)

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