Sunday, September 5, 2004

It's Both A Pressure and Privilege To Be Here

Ken MaCrorie's Uptaught is funny as hell. We have about seventy pages of it excerpted for Tuesday's Curriculum and Pedagogy session.  It's particularly interesting for how he pits Percival the computer as essay-reader against the robotic, mechanistic professorate.  MaCrorie (of I Search notoriety) comes around to a method of spurring invigorated self-discovery toward students' notice of voice, intellect, conscience--blended.  But he's ingenious for the way he parodies the field, for the way he cracks on the serious posturing among those who "preach Engfish."  


Engfish teachers pass around to each other what they call "bloopers" made by students in their papers.  They post them on bulletin boards.  They send them to teachers' magazines , which publish them as humorous material to fill empty spaces in their pages.  Three of the commonest slips are:

1.  His parents were having martial trouble.
2.  He took it for granite.
3. The boys were studing in the lounge of the girls' dormitory.

In the column heading of a recent issue of an English teachers' state association newsletter appeared the words CALENDER. In the graduate school I attended the English Department distributed to faculty and students a notice containing the word GRAMMER. These bloopers were not posted or printed in magazines as filler. (72)

Okay, so MaCrorie's a hoot.  WTF's the point?  We're reading this as a lens on the compositional redirect--stuff in the early sixties that carved out a space for composition as the modern behemoth spillway in higher ed--the conditions (Dartmouth Conference and NCTE's The National Interest and the Teaching of English) as the incubus for what's since taken root.  And in another class, it's Sharon Crowley's Comp in the University that takes up the stance (through polemicals and historicals...mostly excessive historicals!) that we oughta cut the FY course loose. Perhaps. We. Should.  To the sea.

I find the National Interest rationale especially interesting in light of the resulting material strains felt by teachers who were by and large destroyed (critically) in the NCTE's report.  Stop it!  Material conditions suck (onward).  That's clear.  That hasn't changed.  Teacher shortages, class sizes, resources, technologies ("Composition, literature, and language are taught more effectively in rooms which permit the storage of books and papers, as well as the use of recordings, tape recorders, and other audio-visual aids," goes the NTCE doc.) all were named in 1961 as musts for the bedding of National Interest and the Teaching of English.  The whole "send it in motion" pretense makes me think about the Russian space program, particularly all of the animals that went, unknowing, into the beyond.  Poor Laika. Poor comp.

But material strains and abominable labor practices--it seems to me--are only a few of the problems deserving attention (and leading us to seriously consider Crowley's plan--note, I'm only halfway through b/c the book hasn't arrived yet...only a six-chapter tease), and in the mini-paper (called Crowley: A Response) I'm about to write, I plan to call out the top-down tenure and promotion meritocracy as one more of the fundamental constraints defining the field as we know it.  In a field so notably self-conscious about its legacy of inferiorities in English Departments and plodding with the cement shoes of a broadly perceived service ethic, burdened additionally by what Donna Strickland dubs the managerial unconscious , composition--of all fields (and, why not?, others too)--needs ways to re-imagine the safeguarded meritocracies , especially in an era where over-stocked archives and gobs of peer-reviewed information (spilling far and wide, disciplinarily vast) make entrance into the field drowningly ominous for all who approach.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at September 5, 2004 6:00 PM to Dry Ogre Chalking

Here's a thought. Maintain the FYC requirement, but only offer the number of sections possible at full-time pay rates. Let students wait years to get their requirement. Then if students and parents get unhappy, let them pressure boards and legislatures for proper funding. I say go at the issue head on. It can't be finessed. We've already proven that.

Posted by: John at September 5, 2004 8:14 PM

I've taught this book a few times and students love it b/c of how it rags on English teachers.
Btw - check out the line about Mr. Rice not being a kidding man...I love that (he means Warren Rice who wanted to abolish fyc, but I like to think of it as myself...)

Posted by: jeff at September 7, 2004 1:27 PM

Learned today that I'd unwittingly read ahead for next week when I picked up MaCrorie. We only pulled from a few pages of it, but I can tell the rest is worth reading. Good note, too, about Mr. Rice's rep, especially since we're sizing up Crowley's argument in another course.

Posted by: Derek at September 7, 2004 10:53 PM