Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Tail Wagging the Dog

I have had a series of conversations lately, and I have to write them out. One was at a PWPA meeting, the session focusing on research (papers) with aligned discussions about teachers working with librarians. The conversation went a little sideways in illuminating ways, one of the present librarians expressing with verve her frustration over being held to account to make sure that students were mastering the nationally adopted objectives for librarians: 6 or 7 reasonable goals that somehow have in the minds of the librarians been converted into objectives that the librarians through assessments were required to prove students in their universities have met.

The librarians were teaching lessons in the FYW classes with friction against the teachers because the lessons seemed disconnected from what the teachers were doing. The speaking librarian pointed out that she was being held to account; that her tenure (she felt) was linked to her ability to demonstrate her effectiveness(metaphor here).

My friend, Val, sitting next to me, said the tail’s wagging the dog. Ok—here’s where I’m going. The system, in its imperative to reproduce the existing social structure (a set of privileges), drowns players (actually, I think it’s more like waterboarding) so that they are just fighting for air to the point that they can’t think critically (forgive me—read my chapter in Going North, Thinking West on critical thinking) about their immersion.

I have had another related experience—and I ask for forgiveness here, because I’m imagining I know something that seems like contrarian knowledge. I don’t want to go too deeply into this, but let’s just say within a certain group, I seem to be ruffling feathers. This conversation can go in several directions, but I’m aiming for one.

One of the members of the group brought up Kuhn and thought experiments—this is also connected to Rawls, whom I seriously don’t like to read. A thought experiments invites “thinkers” to imagine everything they think they know they don’t know. So let’s try this:

In FYW courses (and more broadly, in writing studies), our strategies for teaching have been overdetermined by some assumptions that if looked at from another perspective seem, well, like believing the earth is flat because that’s what it looks like (or maybe like giving us a job).

So let’s try this as a thought experiment:
1.     Research papers and all the citation stuff (and plagiarism junk) is simply wasted instruction, helping to create a negative attitude toward writing in students and a negative attitude toward students’ abilities to write. Let’s imagine: in their post collegiate lives, most students will not be writing these weird things. They’ll never be citing or creating works cited again. And so …..?
2.     Let’s imagine that “argument” as a pure genre is also a discourse form in which students after they graduate will never again write. Any yet, it’s the dominant genre in FYW programs and in assessment protocols.  Can we do a little historiography and excavate how this “rhetoric” came to be? (as well as disadvantaging social groups not trained to this middle-middle- and upper-middle class way of thinking and writing? [another of my chapters in Going North)
3.     Let’s imagine that we don’t as teachers have to prove to external stakeholders that we have clear (let’s call this the positivist assumption) objectives and assessment structures that prove or disprove that we are or are not meeting them; i.e., that because we are writing teachers, we can be trusted to do our job.
4.     And let’s imagine that as writing teachers, we are devoted to imbuing in our students a positive attitude toward writing—that as a first among equals (Elliott, 2016 or so), that is what we are teaching—and not doing by the research and argumentative structure agenda.
5.     And that we do not have to teach our students how to survive writing assignments teachers in other disciplines (themselves drowning) prescribe (let’s imagine that instead of the 20 page research papers, which they hate to read, they use writing as a way of learning and communicating).
6.     And let’s imagine that attitude toward writing counts (largely ignored in almost all academic articles about teaching writing).
7.     Let’s imagine that we want our students to be writers for life, not just for getting through what we got through--and so think they need to get through.

A thought experiment. The point being, everything we thought was true wasn’t, one of the better definitions of critical thinking (John McPeck, Critical Thinking and Evaluation.)

Link to my latest song--kind of fits this post
Off the Trail

Thursday, March 30, 2017

My Dog Who Dies

I might start looking for a new dog now. Miles was such a lovely dog; can’t think of it now. Hard to handle the death of another. 

It's easier to handle my own. 

It's hard to handle perspective: the universe within which I and my dogs don’t matter; the world, within which idiots like Trump matter; my world, within which my dog who dies matters. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

On Reading Foucault Too Early in the Morning

Image result for image: black holeI woke up this morning around three. Played my guitar (new song) for a while; then picked up my bedside copy of Foucault's Archeology of Knowledge. This is about the third time I've tried to read it. I finally have got his rhythm and actually like his writing—and his thinking, the origin of deconstruction: the absence beneath words, really, the indeterminacy of words—I wrote undeconstructively about this in one of my early articles, "The Yin and Yang of Genres" (cute title, huh?).

Went back to sleep thinking about the indeterminacy of life.

Two of his great lines: the occulation of discourse (I worked on that for about a half hour.)

"I am trying to define the blank space from which I speak." (I got that right away.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Last Morning in Panama

The sky is turning a lovely orange-red now in a ribbon above the hills. Above the orange-red lies a ribbon of blue, and above that the sky fading into black studded with persistent stars. A rooster crows across the bay. Howler monkeys were growling in the canyon right below me a few minutes ago. The waves wash rhythmically onto the beach directly below me. A slight breeze drifts through the screens lining the length of my cabaña. New sounds of new birds waking up now—one chirping, the other whistling. I sit here writing with no worries on my mind, my children and grandchildren to love, sad about losing Sarah, Ali, Sammy, and Miles—but one simply has to take the sorrow that might come from love. The orange-red is turning to vermillion, fading. The sun is about to rise. And there again is the growl of the howler monkeys who have now traveled across the bay. This is my last morning (for a while) in Playita (next to Playa Venao), Panama. Very difficult to think of flying back to winter and the country of Donald Trump tomorrow. Okay, here comes the sun, the cirrus clouds rose threads across the sky—enough to make anyone believe in God.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

From Trump to Junk

I am still recovering from the Presidential election, devoting time to oppositional activities (see the t-shirt I designed on the left); thus my inactivity on this blog.  Because I am no longer teaching, my eyes have focused on America's political soap opera dominated by a hippopotamus who imagines himself a gazelle.

But I had an experience yesterday that I want to record (and perhaps think about) here.

I have unwillingly approached the age of metal joints. I am recovering now from a reverse shoulder replacement. If you don't know what a reverse shoulder replacement is, you are among the blessed.

Yesterday, I was at my weekly physical therapy appointment. I met a young woman, whom I shall call Anna, in honor of a good friend. Anna was an attractive, black-haired woman with alert eyes and an open face, slightly olive complexioned. Anna was an intern physical therapist. She had recently finished undergraduate school and was applying for PT graduate school. Her job as an intern was to keep me from damaging myself, an activity to which I am prone--thus, my operation.

Instead of closing my eyes and sailing into my emotional equivalent of cyberspace, I struck up a conversation. Ok--she was attractive, which had something to do with my chatty mood, in spite of the 85 years between us. Unsurprisingly, I started talking about the pleasure of writing.

Writing teachers like me have had this conversation countless times. I volunteered that I was a writing teacher, and she told me how she wanted to write, how she wished she could, but writing is so hard for her now.  She wondered what happened--she remembered when she loved to write.

No, I'm not making this up to prove the point that I'm endlessly making. This was our conversation. I encouraged her to start a diary and a blog. (I encourage all my students to do this).

She was listening to me. I think Anna might actually start one or the other, and she might rescue her pleasure in writing. She was clearly intelligent--there was no reason (well, one) why she shouldn't be writing.

I left, as readers of this blog would suspect, angry. Writing teachers are not solely at fault for the disservice they do to students, scaring their students away from writing when they would really want to be helping their students.

Many teachers feel trapped within the teaching situation--most teachers recognize this trap. They know their students are not enjoying the writing assignments they, the teachers, feel forced to make their students complete. Somewhere in their cerebral cortex or perhaps in their dreams, these teachers know they are betraying the larger cause, encouraging their students to take writing with them through their lives.

I am very sorry that Anna no longer likes to write. She wants to, but we took away her voice, maybe because we have lost ours. And we write that junk instead.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What Are Your Research Questions?

Although recently sidetracked by Trump, I have devoted this blog to pedagogical issues with a focus on promoting teaching practices that create positive writing experiences in our classrooms and consequently, positive attitudes toward writing. Although I may be in the minority among writing teachers in accentuating this link between experience and attitude, I know there are many in the field who appreciate this link and work to encourage a love of writing among their students (if not love, at least like). But there are a distressing number of teachers who to my mind inexplicably maintain a no-pain, no-gain theology.

If I were looking for a research/book project, I would investigate how in the face of so much educational research on motivation and learning (see Dewey, Britton et. al, Moffett, Tagg), writing teachers maintain what seems to me to be a counter-intuitive logic discounting or at least down-playing the effect of a student's learning experience on the object of learning.

As I have said before in this blog, a colleague and I have been working on developing a writing program and assessment project  predicated on the link between experience, attitude, and learning. As part of our project, we began to investigate the link between teachers' attitudes toward and experiences with writing toward how they teach writing. We might even generalize: teachers' attitudes toward and experiences of learning with how they teach.

My colleague and I understand that how teachers teach is also shaped by the rhetorical situation within which they teach: the physical, institutional, and political environments--e.g., an adjunct devoted to writing might be teaching in a basement within a program with ogres for wpas, chairs, and deans in Texas.

I have had some conversations within the past few days that made me wonder about a further relationship between researchers' attitudes toward and experiences of writing and their research.  I am assuming here that like teaching, no research (or researcher) is innocent. Perhaps writing studies researchers might ask themselves (and maybe reflect in writing) what their attitudes toward writing are and how those attitudes affect their research questions. I can imagine, for example, one dimension of attitude as a scale with writing for fun and writing as duty. How would one's location on this continuum affect the kind of research questions they asks (please ignore [or maybe not] the phallic implication)?