Response — Expressivism (September 9)

December 11, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I love, I love, I LOVE the Welch essay and the two essays by Elbow this week!  What do I love?  The way each goes against the established wisdom of the field. 

Of course we should always write for an audience.  (But who among us hasn’t been tongue-tied around a particular person or group of people?)

Of course we revise because we hate what we’ve written.  (How many people who have been published actually buy into this?)

Of course we should strive for thoughts that resolve contradiction and present thoughts with absolute clarity.  (Unless you’re trying to discover the structure of the atom.  Then, it’s illuminating if, like Rutherford, you discover that the result of an experiment is like firing a cannonball at a sheet of tissue paper, and watching it bounce off.)

These three essays do real counter-ideological work, exposing the constructed and far-from-“natural” nature of a few longstanding misconceptions in the teaching (and doing) of writing.

(Should we have read these guys during the week on Critical Pedagogy?  Hmm…)


Response — Rhetorics (September 16)

December 11, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Okay, now for something I really like about two pieces.  Both Booth and Hocks provide me with a nice framework to give students to use to analyze different kinds of texts.  Especially given that I’m new to the lexicon of rhetorical pedagogy, and to the idea of analyzing and creating multimodal texts, I am relieved that I don’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel.

And now for something out of left field:  should FYC students be exposed to texts like Booth’s, Berlin’s, Hocks’, and Halbritter’s?  In other words, how valuable is it to actually give students the work of the scholars from which we borrow?  Enough to do it, and risk showing them the inside of our bag of tricks?  I say yes–doing so would reinforce the idea that the person at the front of the clasroom actually has done WORK to become the expert he or she has been anointed to be.  (It would in fact simply remove some of that work from its hiding place in our bookbags.)

Responses to this idea are welcome.  (I should note that more than one custom composition textbook I’ve reviewed this semester uses material from English Studies scholars; Gerald Graff’s “Why Johnny Can’t Argue” is a favorite chapter in many such texts.)

Response — Cultural Studies (September 23)

December 11, 2008 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In a midterm project for another class, I appropriated Sirc’s description of Bartholomae’s struggles with Quentin.  That project was a play in which I re-imagined Bartholomae, Peter Elbow, Harriet Malinowitz, and Bruce Horner as characters, with Quentin (and his self-negating essay) as the catalyst.  My play had a happy ending:  Harriet helps David figure out what to do, suggesting he write a personal essay, rather than a stodgy, punitive, “academic” response.

Clearly, then, Sirc’s essay had the biggest impact on me.  But why?  Not just because he reveals the softer side of David B.  In fact, James Berlin would criticize Sirc–you’re priveliging punk when it elevates the idea of individual resistance at the expense of social resistance, he would say.

But I would disagree.  By exposing the relationship between punk and “pragmatic” approaches to composition, Sirc actually engages in social epistemic thinking.  So does Elbow, when he writes in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking” that “[e]valuation implies the recognition of different criteria or dimensions — and by implication different contexts and audiences for the same performance.”  (I added the emphasis there.)

In fact, Sirc succeeds where Berlin fails.  While Berlin (like me) posits a “happy ending” (just adopt social-epistemic thinking, and you’ll be immune from outside critique!), Sirc leaves his piece on a more unbalanced note.  Just how much are we supposed to trust his assertion that Quentin is both “poison” and “a flower in our dustbin”?

Reading Sirc’s piece, I’m uncomfortable, and (as Julie Jung might say) that is a productive feeling, indeed.

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Response — Feminist Pedagogy (October 7)

December 11, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

McKee’s observation that being out of one thing implies being in something else dovetails well with the observations in the “Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke” piece in TC:  accepting one identity seems to be, in part, about rejecting another identity.

I think the most valuable thing I took from these readings was Gibson’s assertion that being part of a traditionally “marginalized” group is, on a university campus, often a form of cultural capital, of power.  We deal with it all the time in that pesky personal narrative assignment that so many FYC courses lead off with:  students’ first question is often “What is the most strikingly unique aspect of myself or event in my life that I can write about?”  How many of us have drowned in the avalanche of “my parents are divorced” or “my grandma died” or “I have a rare condition” essays that result?

Lest anyone think I’m bashing people who belong to marginalized groups, full disclosure:  I live every day with Cerebral Palsy.  Imagine the last time you urgently had to go to the bathroom.  Now, imagine getting messages like that from your body, all day, every day.  Next, imagine thinking through that feeling.  That’s the kind of persistent over-the-shoulder feeling many people in racially, culturally, sexually, or ability-oriented minority groups feel, in one way or another, and it ain’t easy.

But what does my own experience as a person with CP, whose identity has been irrevocably shaped by that condition, teach me about difference?  Mostly, this:  that difference is an ideological concept, assuming a “nature” to things that is far from true.  Regardless of how you feel about the kinds of personal narratives students often grope for in a FYC class, the ideological basis for their selections could be an amazing classroom discussion.  Or even an assignment.

(Wait.  Did I just start to sound like David Bartholomae for a bit?  Crap.)

Response — Collaboration (October 14)

December 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The smartest thing I may have read all semester was the comment that individuals creating products and “coming together” at the end isn’t necessarily collaboration.  I think it points to something that may or may not have been written about, but that is extremely important if we’re really to mine the values and mitigate the problems of collaboration:  we’re steeped ideologically in a culture that values individual achievement.  (That is, the idea that individual authors develop ideas is seen as the natural order of things, even though it isn’t.)

What does this mean?  Quite frankly, that conflict almost has to be an inherent part of any collaborative effort.  Comfort with a “collaborative” process just might be a signal that what we’re doing is “getting together” in a way that is NOT collaborative at all.

Response — Basic Writing, et al… (October 21)

December 11, 2008 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I love Berthoff’s assertion that “students with language and learning disabilities” is pretty much a description of any beginning college student.  It suggests (I almost said “foregrounds,” but I don’t know that it does THAT) that the real situation isn’t one of deficiency, but of adapting to a new context.  I HATE Berthoff’s solution to use “a line down the middle of the page” as the one organizing principle in her class.  Why?  Students already know how to think in opposites by the time they get into college.  I think they need to be challenged in new and different ways.  (I almost said “more” here.  Why did I delete that?  Go read my teaching philosophy, especially the section about evaluation.)

I don’t have a solution, or a suggestion about how to do things differently–and I certainly think that Berthoff’s right–there are many things that students already know how to do, and a teacher’s task is often simply showing them that they know (often by giving them the vocabulary to name what they do in a way that makes what they talk about intelligible to others).

Let’s just say that what I DO have is an uneasy, but exhilarating (dis)comfort with ambiguity, conflict, and open-endedness.  And I think for about three-quarters of the excerpt we’ve read, Berthoff does, too.

Response — WAC and WCs (October 28)

December 11, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well, Anderson-and-colleagues challenged my (rather stale and inherited without question) ideas about writing’s utility across the curriculum.  I could turn around and argue that it’s the disciplines themselves that squelch the value of writing, by teaching teachers to use tests, to encourage formulaic writing, and well–discipline students more than teach them.  I could.

That response reveals my own anti-disciplinary bias.  I hate disciplines.  I’m not sure whether they encourage or respond to the student tendency to compartmentalize, but I think they’re bad for the university.  Part of this comes from my own first experience with composition, as a writing center tutor at a branch campus of the University of Washington:  there, the undergraduate curriculum was interdisciplinary, and my colleagues came from every concievable “disciplinary” focus:  business, nursing, writing, information technology.  That group was smart; so smart, that I’m not sure I’ll ever work or learn in a smarter place.  (Apologies to ISU, though I suppose the gauntlet’s right there on the floor, recording my challenge to you.)

I had a bit of a negative reaction to “Expanding the f2f.”  Here’s why–it takes an old, stale view about one-on-one conferences (i.e. that asynchronous conferencing that uses writing is somehow lesser, missing crucial communicative elements, harder, etc.)–and makes its suppositions about the value of AVT conferencing from that older, stale view.

The former Coordinator of the University of Washington, Bothell’s writing center did her Master’s thesis in this area.  She posited that asynchronous conferencing was its own genre, with its own conventions, advantages, and disadvantages.  I like that view–I feel as though it expands the conversation rather than shutting it down.

But as I write that, I note a contradiction:  I’m both arguing against disciplinarity, AND for it.  So maybe the real question is qualitative, and not quantitative:  When is disciplinarity helpful, and when does it shut down meaningful dialogue or ideas?

Response — Multimodal Pedagogies (November 4)

December 11, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In my MFA program, I once floated the idea of creating a “Choose Your Own Adventure” play.  In such a play, audience members would vote from time to time on what particular characters would do based on a list of predetermined choices.  (Sort of a “If you want Ross to tell Rachel he’s bisexual, turn to page 56,” but onstage.)  I was shut down by my playwriting workshop professor (also my thesis advisor):  no one would consent to memorizing that many lines that might not ever be said.

After I was accepted to ISU, I began to research the members of the faculty, including Dr. Kalmbach, on whose webpage I learned that hypertext (which I had previously thought of as a “fancy” programming language, like C++ or Visual Basic) was actually the idea of a text that was nonlinear.  I was astounded.  Choose Your Own Adventure books, magic 8 balls–my world abounded with hypertexts, and my own understanding of the term had blinded me to this fact.

Why, I wonder still, do we NEED to start with digital media?  Can’t we teach hypertexts without using a computer?  Can’t we encourage metadiscursivity without sitting at a keyboard?  Can’t we compose using visuals, sound, text, and texture, and not blog about it?  Don’t get me wrong–I love computers and what they can do for composition.  One of the frustrations I have for this class is that I haven’t been able to focus as much on the video and blog aspects of it as much as I’d like.


To paraphrase a recent contributor to Kairos, perhaps multimodal composition needs to more strongly acknowledge and value its potential in lo-fi domains along with its relationship to digital technologies.

Precis – Booth, “The Rhetorical Stance”

December 11, 2008 at 5:17 am | Posted in Precis | Leave a comment

Balance itself is always harder to describe than the clumsy poses that result when it is destroyed.


Without knowing what audience he writes to, what tone to adopt, or which arguments to choose to persuade that audience, even the most insightful thinker might write something unintelligible.  While some definitions of rhetoric make it so broad as to be the province of any class, and others narrow it so that it carries no practical application at all, defining rhetoric as “putting across” what one knows both accurately and so that one’s audience cares to listen makes rhetoric, at the least, a concept one can argue the pros and cons of teaching.  And before we re-design first-year writing (or other courses in rhetoric), we should stop to consider the common experiences we have all had, both positively and negatively, with writing and writing instruction.  In particular, one thing that I find I admire in most pieces of writing outside of plays, poems, and novels is what I will call the rhetorical stance—a balance between audience interests, available arguments about the subject at hand, and the voice and character of the speaker.


While perhaps not all problems can be traced to a lack of balance in the rhetorical stance, many can.  In particular, two forms of imbalance persist in the writing in our classrooms, and more importantly, in the thinking in our society.  The first, the pedant’s stance, involves a lack of attention to the audience involved, or sometimes to the idea of an audience at all.  The second, which could be called the advertiser’s stance or the entertainer’s stance, the needs of the audience are made so paramount as to (in the case of the advertiser’s stance) require constant polling and focus-grouping of titles, arguments, and methods of presentation, or (in the case of the entertainer’s stance) the obfuscation, revision, leaving out, or adding on of facts so that the audience views the writer in a positive light, regardless of the truth of the issue.


In the end, the true task teachers of rhetoric have before them is one of persuasion itself:  to get students to see the value in responsibly practicing the arts of persuasion.


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