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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Knocking on Heaven's Door

I have been feeling as if a dark cloud has been following me. I have spent my teaching life doing what I can to pass on the magic and love of writing to my students. As a WPA, I have made that magic and love the cornerstone of the programs I have directed--although I must admit, I have become more aggressive in my campaign in the later stages of my career--when I haven't cared about whether I remained hired or fired.

Several incidents and articles have precipitated the dark cloud. I have heard arguments lately: we can't exempt students because we will lose sections. Translated: we'll lose revenue. I have done a rough calculation: at my university, we make approximately 20,000 per section by requiring a first-year writing course and hiring part-time teachers to teach it. And about 15,000 for full-time non TT track teachers.

I have been reading articles in Composition in the Age of Austerity. Thanks, Tony & Nancy for putting that together. It's not as if I haven't known what's been going on--but writers in this collection have made the vaguely obvious concrete.  Our claim about the necessity of first-year writing is troubled at best (see Crowley). The current logic about teaching writing-about-writing is simply pandering to the administrative bloat: I know I'm not the only one who has noticed the self-referentiality in the logic underpinning the claim that all students should know about logos, ethos, and pathos. Spare me.

Composition in . . .  documents our/my complicity. That's the dark cloud. I know that as a teacher I do my best to ignore the ridiculous claims people in our field make in order to professionalize ourselves--and the equally ridiculous language in which these claims are made. I am particularly incensed by compositionists who claim that this course is so important that all students need to take it--and then concede to hiring part-time teachers at slave-wages to teach it.

When Eileen Schell documents administrative bloat in that collection, I think of an organism that feeds on itself. I don't have it quite, but it's like this: the higher level parts feed on the lower levels parts in order to grow, to bloat. After a while, the organism implodes.

3 comments:

  1. I haven't read this book yet (though I'll be looking for it at the CCCCs, I think), and I certainly have a lot of sympathy about problematizing the universal requirement for first year writing, especially given the labor conditions. But I have to disagree quite a bit with this:

    "The current logic about teaching writing-about-writing is simply pandering to the administrative bloat: I know I'm not the only one who has noticed the self-referentiality in the logic underpinning the claim that all students should know about logos, ethos, and pathos. Spare me."

    How is this pandering? If anything (at least where I work), it's the opposite because a first year writing course that focuses on the discipline of rhetoric and writing is not the "service station" for fixing students' writing that a lot of administrators typically want. I think that every student (and every person generally) should have a handle on the basics of rhetoric, and that includes logos, ethos, and pathos for sure.

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  2. Hi, Steve. Thanks for your note. I hope I'll see you in Houston & we can chat about this. Yes--the labor issue certainly brings into question the ethics thinking a course is so important that we should require it--but not important enough to hire a full-time teacher. The cash-cow logic has been well-deserved.

    On the second issue: I really suspect any argument that OUR discipline is so important that it should be required of everyone. At Drexel, it has been required with no method of exempting other than if a student earns a 4 or 5 on the AP. I think you might appreciate the problem and sniff the smell of money that may have driven such a claim of how important our course is.

    Yes, WAW is better than the service station logic--but that was a pretty low bar. I respect that you think everyone should be required to know about the basics of rhetoric. I simply disagree. I don't think there is anything wrong about knowing those basics--but requiring that knowledge is a different matter. I know quite a few people who do not have that knowledge (including both of my children, one a biology professor, the other a very high level engineer) and are getting along quite well without it.

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