Sunday, August 29, 2004

TAGS books

What's in your bag?

What I thought yesterday was a good idea has me struggling over the whole revelatory ethic.  This entry proves the struggle's status for now.  For a few months, I've been fielding questions from family and friends who ask, "Now what exactly will you be doing at Syracuse?".  Teaching, reading, writing, thinking, walking, biking and so on.  And maybe the better question is what I'll be carrying around with me while I'm doing all of that other stuff.  So the meme goes: What's in your bag for these sixteen weeks? (Fine.  It's not a meme until somebody else does it, too, but this is by all means memable.) And so

I'm toting around lime Tic-Tacs, a small bottle of Advil, a 64MB jump drive (in need of upsizing, I think), a few electronic gadgets, a Sharpie marker, a Guadalupe charm, office and house keys (but no car keys!...wait, what's this?...a valet key for the Honda in my bag? Wha?), a file thick with collected papers relating to this and that, a piece of chalk, two dry-erase markers, a legal pad, (for one day only) a pile of 40 syllabi for two sections of WRT105, and a shifting array of articles to accompany what follows for the semester of study: 

601 Introduction to Scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric
Handa, Carolyn, ed. Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook ( 2004)
Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays (1998)
Wiley, Mark, Barbara Gleason, and Louise Phelps, eds. Composition in Four Keys: Inquiring into the Field (1996)
Marable, Manning. The Great Wells of Democracy: The Meaning of Race in America (2003)
Gilyard, Keith and Vorris Nunley, eds. Rhetoric and Ethnicity (2004)
Smitherman, Geneva and Victor Villanueva, eds. Language Diversity in the Classroom: from Intention to Practice (2003)
Selfe, Cynthia L. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty First Century: the Importance of Paying Attention (1999)

631 Twentieth Century Rhetorical Studies
J.L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words ( 1975)
R. Barthes, Mythologies ( 1973)
Judith Butler, Excitable Speech : A Politics of the Performative ( 1997)
Terry Eagleton, Idea of Culture ( 2000)
Frantz Fanon , Black Skin, White Masks ( 1991)
Michel Foucault, Order of Things : An Archaeology of the Human Sciences ( 1994)
Rosemary Hennessy, Materialist Feminism and the Politics of Difference (1993)
Lakoff, George, Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't ( 1996)
Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed ( 2000)
Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature ( 1985)

732 Critical Studies in Writing Curriculum
Ira Shor, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life (1987) 
A. Suresh Canagarajah, A Geopolitics of Academic Writing (2002)
Andrea Lunsford, Crossing Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies (2004)
Arjuna Parakrama, Language and Rebellion : Discursive Unities and the Possibility of Protest (1990)
[??] Lyons, Espejos y Ventanas
Gil Ott, No Restraints : An Anthology of Disability Culture in Philadelphia (2002)
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971) 
Ellen Cushman, Literacy : A Critical Sourcebook (2001)
[??] Deans, Writing Partnership

Note to sore back:  We won't be carrying everything at once. 

What's in your bag?

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 29, 2004 3:56 PM to Slouching Toward

I like the chance to see course reading lists like this. It gives me a sense of what university departments may be valuing currently.

I'll make the same gentle dig that I offered Jeff Rice a month ago about his reading list. There's not much sense here that most composition in America is taught in community colleges. Now Ira Shor usually gets cited as someone who deals with CCs, but Ira and I have sharp disagreements about the soundness of his analysis 30 years ago. He never looked at the California system when he developed his critique, borrowed from people like Burton Clark who based his "cooling-out" notion on one college (San Jose City) that was not exactly typical in 1968. Whatever the value of that critique 35 years ago, I think it's irrelevant now.

Look at books by Howard Tinberg and Mark Reynolds. There's a growing body of teacher-scholarship among two-year college scholars, but it's a rare university comp program that acknowledges that material.

Posted by: John at August 30, 2004 8:09 PM

Oh, let me add that I don't know all the sources in the 732 course, so if I've mispoken in previous post, pillory me appropriately.

Posted by: John at August 30, 2004 8:12 PM

These are important, provocative comments, John. Your assertion about "a rare university comp program" makes me wonder about the degree to which *any* university comp programs take up hearty and thorough (even course-long) considerations of the CCs and comp. It could be a problem of reading the FY curriculum as tidy and transferable, glossed within a pervasive round-peg, round-hole logic.

I think we'll be talking about CCs in the 732 course, but the reading list (which consists of several articles and shorter reads not represented here) might do more with it.

I'll try to post some of my thoughts as I read Shor's _Critical Teaching & Everyday Life_. I know _When Students Have Power_ from my MA program, but I'd like to hear more about these issues as well as the contention among CC folks that universities should (and should not, perhaps) presume CC composition to be within their purview.

Posted by: Derek at August 31, 2004 8:45 PM

Let me offer some thoughts on your last concern.

Let's say that lots of university scholars see "composition" as a field, a discipline of inquiry worthy of development within the usual frameworks for academic disciplines.

Given that assumption, why wouldn't theorizing and critique include all the places and programs where composition happens?

Two premises may be at work to explain the current situation. One is that university people believe that their speculative work--reading various philosophers, rhetoricians, comp theorists--creates the universe of knowledge about composition which community college compositionists simply enact since they were trained at some university somewhere in some language-related field (though often not rhet-comp). My experience is that most university comp scholars simply believe that top-down, study-theory-and-apply-to-practice methods cover everything worth doing. Also, you don't have to do anything empirical--just use the library and go to conferences.

The second premise assumes that CC comp courses differ in no essential or important way from university courses, so what is true for the U must be true for the CC. Again, this is an assumption. University folks don't test it out by actually looking. The problem with this view lies in important differences in the way a CC English department evolves compared to the way a U department evolves. University departments remain highly differentiated in status with clear hierarchical arrangements. The WPA model common in many large universities is not designed for practicioner research. TAs stay with a program only a few years and are mostly beginning teachers. You don't have the conditons for knowledge building from practice. CCs hire only fully professionalized faculty (though far too many have adjunct status). Every full-time faculty member is a compositionist. The program develops through collaborative efforts of perhaps 20 or 30, sometimes more, composition faculty. My campus, full and part time, has close to 80 English faculty (and another 40 or so ESL faculty). No individual runs the writing program.

Whether the CC approach has merit or not is not the question. It differs materially from the U model. Given that reality, anyone claiming to theorize about composition should take account of CCs. They don't. Bruce Horner and Min Zhan Liu write a lot about Basic Writing, 80% of which occurs in CC's. They don't mention them, they don't have CC cites in their bibliographies. That's the norm, not the exception.

I have been pointing this out at national meetings for close to 10 years, and I'm now convinced that U based comp scholars have developed a tin ear on the topic. The usual response is to express empathy with CC profs for their heavy load or to tell an anecdote about having taught classes in CCs somewhere along the way. Neither of those responses addresses my criticism.

OK--so I've really taken off here. I think I'll take this to my own blog now, include my comments here and add some more references. You can see this topic is one of my hot buttons.

Posted by: John at September 2, 2004 6:21 PM

I want to engage in this conversation, but I'm still not sure I have anything grounded or thoughtful to contribute (and it's been quite a week). The top-down notion is really interesting to me for a couple of reasons. In my own thinking (which might be very much the sort of thinking that is to blame for the case of neglect and misunderstanding), I see disproportions between CCs and research universities as something much bigger than individual composition specialists who willfully scorn this or that level of education or theory-heads who shrug at the FY classroom realities. The status ranges from institutional positioning (thinking public/private, funding and endowments, localized missions, admissions practices, news mag rankings), where material conditions, constraints, program designs, etc., are only locally realized. After just three weeks, I know far more about the here and now Syracuse than I knew from months and months of wondering about the abstract, 1300-miles-east Syracuse. Maybe this applies to the CC/U rupture in some useful way.

I don't want to start off on the problems I see with lit-minded folk (MAs, English trained with little or no comp familiarity) teaching freshman comp as something necessarily and permanently braided with humanism and texts traditionally categorized as canonical literature. Can of worms! I'm considering this issue while I'm reading Sharon Crowley's _Composition in the University: Polemical and Historical Essays_, and when she says, "The [FY] course is taught by permanent faculty only at two-year colleges and the odd liberal arts college or public university that still retains a primary commitment to undergraduate teaching" (4), I keep thinking that rhetoric is the gateway or the bridge, that rhetorical agilities (a phrase I can't get out of my head), is the base justification for the FY course in a place (albeit a rare place) where we can imagine writing and reading as broadly as we want to, provided students are *doing*, *making*, *performing*, *agile*. It's much easier for me to come at considering futures rather than the loaded, winding legacies of mostly trial and error composition at all the various levels of education. And while I don't want to be daft with those legacies, neither do I want to become so entranced by studying them that I'm obliged to carry them forward in professional perpetuity. I'm going to post this as a comment, John, even though it doesn't (as I reread it) seem to do a very good job of conversing with your comment. Mea culpa!

Posted by: Derek at September 2, 2004 9:10 PM

My comment isn't as nearly as thought-provoking, relevant, intellectual, or important as the dialogue you're having with John right now--but I did want to tell you what's in my bag :).

Crayons. The New Work Order (Gee, Hull, Lankshear), Emotional Design (Don Norman), and Technical Communication (Markel) [all texts I'm using to teach 307]. Index cards. Loose (and variously bent) paper clips. Clipboard. Daily notebook. Whiteout. And my iBook, wrapped in a baby blanket.

Notice the lack of: pens or pencils (Hannah ALWAYS ganks my writing utensils!)

What I really wanted to mention was: this post reminds me of a book by Tim O'Brien called The Things They Carried. It's fabulous--about Viet Nam soldiers and, well, the things they carried, the various weights (literal, figurative) of those things, etc. Not that you have any time to read fiction. :)

Posted by: madeline at September 3, 2004 12:06 AM

Maybe I can observe your class (I have to look in on three class sessions for 670); the mix of texts you're using sounds really good. And yes, O'Brien--great connection. I've heard a lot about _The Things They Carried_, but I never picked it up. I hadn't considered it when I put this entry together.

Say, when you mentioned crayons, I thought of the fun.ny site linked over at Culture Cat earlier this week: Spider-Man Reviews Crayons.

Posted by: Derek at September 3, 2004 7:27 AM

OK. I'll do my bag and then get to the other discussion: a ruled pad full of notes for ongoing projects, copies of The 9/11 Commission Report and Colm Toibin's The Master (fiction based on Henry James), 3 Zip drives, addressbook, checkbook, the Dec 2002 CCC with a copy of my vita inside, a Bedford/St. Martin's catalog, a Post-It notes pad, a pencil and a ballpoint (my actual pens are in my pants pocket, always at the ready).

I agree that the situation of compositionists in many universities has them struggling with larger lit departments, lack of full funding for FYC (I've heard some university colleagues say that FYC is a cash cow on their campus, where here at De Anza we are the loss leader), and lots of other political concerns. So when I suggest getting involved with CCs, it seems like something too far removed from the important issues on the university campus.

But in most states, university funding is pitted against CC funding. And in most states, composition is underfunded. But the TA form of subsidy in the university is seen as different than the adjunct faculty form of subsidy in CCs. Those formal differences make it hard to talk across institutional lines, but the result is that what could be a strong political alliance--everyone who teaches FYC in a given state, since it's the largest single block of discipline-based faculty in any state--has no chance of forming.

If all the FYC folks allied with all the high school English teachers in a given area, we'd Move Mountains (the title of Patti Stock and Eileen Schell's book on adjuncts in composition). [And if you run into Eileen, say hello from me.]

But we can't get there until we think of new ways of conceptualizing the field of composition. That's why I argue the importance of practicioner-researcher models because they cut across all institution types.

I'll also be continuing this discussion on my blog because Jeff Rice has had a substantial response on his blog.

Posted by: John at September 3, 2004 7:37 PM

I'm not at all well read in the good work that's been done on the labor crises, comp bosses (often in English Departments), and the failed attempts of contingent faculty to mobilize. I wish I were. I, too, like the practitioner-researcher model, but I worry that the FY course is unreasonably prescriptive at many schools, forcing the practitioner-researcher into boxy pedagogies, unimaginative redundancies, and the lived patterns of a weary servant.

The political alliances you mention seem plausible. I want to look into failed efforts at widespread unionization and labor representation (but now it's on a list of a million things to do, up from 39,999 a few days back). Few people know this about me, but I was successful in organizing and petitioning a department-wide labor grievance when I presided over the English Graduate Student Association at my MA institution. It was *very* satisfying to realize the power (in solidarity) available to stand up to a dodgy administrative maneuver. To everyone's surprise, our stance held. I suppose this is much easier to do at a local site. Can't imagine where to begin when it comes to regional or national mobilization.

All of this from "what's in your bag"...a filled bag, indeed. I'll tell Eileen hello on your behalf when I see her.

Posted by: Derek at September 3, 2004 9:43 PM

"the FY course is unreasonably prescriptive at many schools, forcing the practitioner-researcher into boxy pedagogies, unimaginative redundancies, and the lived patterns of a weary servant"

Exactly why we need every source of critique we can muster. Let's say the word started getting around to both high school students and their parents that the teaching in the first two years was a lot better at CCs than at the university (I've seen some of this here locally)--if students eligible for the university started enrolling in CCs by choice that might get the attention of university decision makers to improve the first year experience, which almost always centers on the composition requirement.

In any event, before we can do much on a large scale, we need lots of innovation at the local level. And it seems natural to create conversations among institutions that share lots of students, or "feeder schools" and "fed schools".

One account of that occurred right there in Syracuse. My fellow John Carroll alumnus, Gerald Grant, who was in the sociology of education, got involved in a project with a local high school and wrote a book about it titled "The World We Created at Hamilton High", Harvard U Press, 1988.

Posted by: John at September 4, 2004 9:34 PM

Grant's work sounds similar to a new initiative in the Writing Program here where service-learning sections and writing consultants (I think) have partnered with Levy Middle School in East Syracuse. I don't know much about it, except that it's happening, and lots of folks involved seem enthusiastic about the plan.

Of course, that doesn't touch the feeder/fed question or the rationale for students' choices for post-sec education. I'm not sure how one would pool that data, but I think it would be interesting if more CCs reconciled their localized (and oftentimes vocationalized) missions into viable associate's degrees in writing or a related concentration. Maybe this is already in place at some of the CCs. Would programs of study in writing beyond the FY course improve conditions in CCs and four-years?

Posted by: Derek at September 5, 2004 7:37 PM

At De Anza, we have a certificate program in Technical Communication that goes well beyond FYC. At Foothill, they have an extensive Creative Writing curriculum, as well as a highly regarded Writing Conference held the end of every June (it was created by my good friends Ann Connor and the late Dick Maxwell). So many CC's have various writing offerings beyond FYC.

I think the value of inter-institutional conversations would be to get us out of the 5-paragraph chase your tail syndrome. Why do high schools emphasize writing algorithms? Because SATs and college entrance tests require them. Why do universities require these assessments? To encourage high schools to emphasize writing. We've trapped ourselves in a big circle jerk and then individually bemoan our Outkast state. [That's a Jenna Bush allusion.]

The work on assessment by Kathi Yancey, Irv Weiser, Brian Huot, and others shows the way to create methods that value a range of kinds of writing, helping students see writing as personally valuable. That's why I went crazy when I heard that a local principal cut off student access to Xanga, where over a hundred students were writing voluntarily.

Since the 1890s, the university has set the agenda for the high school curriculum. Crowley's proposal has certain attractions, but frankly I see it as quixotic. We need to attack the structures that lead so many institutions to teach poor composition courses. That starts with SAT and that whole industry. Writing is a humanistic art with many practical applications. That should be the rationale for our writing curricula, not the idea of narrowly preparing you to produce one or two types of academic prose.

Posted by: John at September 5, 2004 8:09 PM

Funniest thing, John: in 732 today, much to my surprise, a student started talking about a course he had with Gerry Grant in Sociology. The student is in SU's Critical Foundations of Education program. He talked about the project at Hamilton HS. It was great. I'd *heard* of it.

Oh, and yes, I agree that Crowley's jousting with her polemical approach. Scrapping the FY writing program would help teacher-practitioners focus on research interests and would also relieve comp directors of the managerial impossibilities of overseeing huge programs. But I'm not convinced (yet...still more to read, in fairness) that a switch would bring about a paradigm shift at other kinds of ed institutions, like high schools, where comp is no less problematic.

Posted by: Derek at September 7, 2004 10:49 PM

Small world, eh? Network networking to real world networking. The 4 C's panel I've organized is called "The New Collegiality." So far that's the greatest impact I've seen from academic blogging--bloggers connect across geographic and institutional boundaries in ways that previously were rare and occasional.

Here's what I see about the big picture in composition. Much of the radical proposals to eliminate and modify it come from major universities that already get the best prepared high school students. While high school writing programs would do well to address more kinds of writing, eliminating FYC at Duke, Princeton, Michigan, UCLA, Stanford, etc. would not be a big problem. you could offer elective writing courses and high achieving, motivated students would take them.

The real need for FYC, in my view, is for the much larger group of young people who don't really get serious aroound language and learning until after high school. These students arrive at less selective state universities and at community colleges and really need significant work in adult reading and writing. And it's in those circumstances--working on literacy with adults who really need it--that we can learn the most about effective composition pedagogy.

Coming to you from The Ugly Mug in Soquel Village--this is truly a busman's holiday, but hey, I'm having fun.

Posted by: John at September 8, 2004 8:12 PM

We've been thinking through the abandoned requirement from a couple of different angles, and frankly, I think it must come with a full-scale curricular overhaul in the university if it is to make any noticeable impact. Then I woke up.

The abandonment proposition has been around for a while, and I'm not convinced that some institutions aren't piloting compromised blends of courses as ways of complicating disciplinary boundaries and the labor-managerial burden (where comp ties to a particular discipline, or where cohort communities take matching sets of courses for the first year of study, or where bona fide WAC initiatives involve instructors across the curriculum in writing pedagogy). Too, I'm not sure that the requirement is as universal as we assume it to be. In fact, comp's variability from level to level, program to program looks very, very different. At two of the schools I've worked, upper division requirements were put in place because transfer students came with FY credit and also with grossly disparate preparations.

So I say full-blown curricular overhaul. Toward what? Not sure yet.

Posted by: Derek at September 9, 2004 11:16 AM

Here's one of the fundamental shifts we operate in: school has traditionally been about finding answers to questions posed by teachers (back to Socrates). But the web--as well as our libraries and databases-- now provide more answers than any of us can handle. So the shift needs to be toward a question curriculum from an an answer curriculum. If our goal is to teach how to decide what's worth questioning, what a good question looks like, and how you can assess the quality of answers to those questions, then I think we'd do a lot of things differently. We sure wouldn't worry about 5 paragraph essays and spend inordinate time and energy on catching plagiarism. We'd see writing as inquiry.

Posted by: John at September 12, 2004 3:37 AM