The Illusive (Allusive?) Dr. Connors… A Response to Alexis’s Post

Alexis discusses in her post Mountford’s review of Connors’s work as well as the references we see to Connors elsewhere in the readings. Alexis sums up her post with the following, “In the end, I do agree with Mountford and other critics when they accuse Connors of essentialism and although the feminization of composition does exist, you cannot paint with such broad strokes.”

We understand from Mountford, Bartlett, and the other writers who reference him, that Connors made a distinct error in essentializing the presence of women in the history of rhetoric and composition. The problem I have here is the fact that we have not read any of Connors’s work. We learned a lot about Connors through these other sources, but we have not had the opportunity to draw our own conclusions about his work. Many of the readings this week were reactions by varying degrees and those reactions can certainly construct a probably fairly accurate representation of his work. However, it is hard to stage a dialogic argument with Connors without actually reading his work. In the end, we are dealing with the constructions presented to us.

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Gendered Occupations: Response to Savannah’s Post

Savannah discussed in her blog the issues of ‘feminization’ that came up in the week’s readings. What does it mean for a field to become ‘feminized’ and to what extent does this have a specific connotation of ‘feminine’ in the gendered sense of the term?

I’m reminded of the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own when she steps into a library and is immediately turned away because “ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.” (8) We speak of the ‘feminization’ of rhetoric as a marginalization practice, and yet one cannot help but identify the gendered issues at play, especially in the earlier years. (This is particularly evident in Lynn Bloom’s essay.) Woolf was turned away because she was a lady. What role could women possibly have in a library setting? Why was the librarian so hasty to eject her from the scene?

Consider Woolf’s criticism later in the book, “Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis” (34). As women moved into the university setting and participated in the theory and pedagogy of rhetoric and composition, so too do we see a backlash from men in the field striving to protect their own superiority — their historically masculine realm of rhetoric. Like Woolf with a letter of introduction, women could participate as composition instructors under the guidance and curricula designed by their male counterparts. This early bifurcated practice is perhaps the origin of the guiding principles behind what became identified as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ practices. So, perhaps there is a movement away from ‘feminization’ as a specifically feminine activity. Perhaps we could give it the new term ‘marginalization’. While gender obviously still plays a role in marginalization and characterization of certain practices, I’d suggest that there are others at the site of the margin now.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1989. Print.

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Vernacularization as Feminization

Laura Bartlett discusses in her essay, “Feminization and Composition’s Managerial Subject” the vernacularization of Rhetoric and Composition as feminization (262). Referring to Susan Miller, Bartlett points to the shift in the nineteenth century from the historical, masculine study of classical rhetoric to the inclusion vernacular language and literature. She states that “study of the English language, by virtue of its being the mother tongue, was “other” to the exclusive province of classical studies” (262).

So there is a shift not only to composition as a form of articulation and practice of argumentation and logic, but this movement towards conducting that study in English rather than Greek and Latin. Greek and Latin were the province of the educated man up until this point, just as rhetorical study was the province of the male-centric university. Bartlett explains this language binary as tying into the gender binary of feminized and masculinized labor practices. Abstract, intellectual practices were reserved for men and “mechanical” work was for the women. In theory, this should mean that women are well suited to the role of composition instructors, while men have the intellectual ability to teach literature or rhetoric in more abstracted terms.

This notion of the ‘feminization’ of rhetoric, while not explicitly tied to gender, became clear in Lynn Bloom’s essay. Bloom was caught up in this binary of women’s roles in academia versus men’s roles in a way that complicated the discussion feminization and even trangenderization of Rhetoric and Composition instruction roles. Bloom’s series of anecdotes demonstrates the movement from one end to the other and problematized that journey.

We see these roles and issues play out in TTU’s ‘First Year Writing’ program too. While we do not have the extreme problems exemplified in Bloom’s essay, the top-down mechanization of composition instruction is definitely present. We, as instructors, are caught in the feminized role of rote instruction with prepared syllabi, set textbooks, and even a standardized software system designed for accumulation of statistical information for the more theoretical work of the WPA in a masculinized role. One comes to ruminate on the merits of the system and its usefulness for the individual student, for whom the system is not ultimately tailored. While stressful in its way for all involved, I do wonder if the standardized system in place, which inevitably feminizes the role of the instructor in terms of the constructs set by Bartlett, is beneficial to all of us — students, instructors, graders, and the WPA. There are obvious benefits and weaknesses in the system, but I suppose I have not been a participate in that system long enough to make an informed decision as to whether it is a truly viable method.

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The Deathbed of Literary Theory – Response to Chad’s Post

Okay, I was particularly amused by the description of Literary Theory as a teenager.

As a funded lit student, I too am deeply concerned with the state of the English Department! So long as Rhet/Comp continues to be intrinsically tied to the other disciplines that compose an ‘English Department’, the study of literature is supposedly safe. However, one might argue that Rhet/Comp should be able to select more graduate students for funding. Perhaps that shift could continue incrementally until the rest of us are obliterated. (Or perhaps Linguistics would maintain its stronghold in this scenario since it has what might be defined as ‘practical applications’.)

However, who is to say that reading or the application of literary theory can’t be ‘practical’? If Rhet/Comp broke off from the English Department entirely, should there not be a foundational, required critical reading course? Just brainstorming here. The point, albeit a naive and hopeful one, here is that the Humanities can be ‘practical’ and justified. I’m thinking specifically of the quotation pertaining to the post-Sputnik world in North’s essay. That extended quotation relates the ‘truth and beauty of society’ argument. If nothing else, the Humanities serves up culture. Of course ‘culture’ is not ‘practical’ in the straight, tangible quantification measured in income. So, I suppose the danger is derived from a devaluation of cultural capital and over-valuation of actual money within university systems.

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The Artificial Binary: Response to Ashley Edlin’s Post

In her blog post, Ashley discussed the trouble with binaries; essentially, binaries are artificial constructs by which we categorize information for the sake of contrast. Binaries by their very definition divide the world into two hemispheres that theoretically do not overlap. We all know that the world is too complex to adhere to strict, settled binaries. The gray area presents itself in all forms.

When we turn this messy Venn diagram of a world view to theory and practice, the recursivity of programs such as that which operates at Syracuse rears its head. The teaching of composition and rhetoric should be a recursive practice, whether or not we choose to apply the slightly onerous term ‘praxis’. I am not personally very knowledgeable about the state of the field, so I cannot say whether this blurring of theory and practice, which seems to be conducive to a better program and pedagogy in general, is common or still startling to the scholars in the field. However, in my own novice opinion, this gray area between the binary of theory/practice in a space worth exploring and exploiting for the sake of better educated instructors and a better classroom experience for all involved.

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The Theory/Practice Divide

The issue of theory versus the actual experience of classroom instruction in composition is addressed first by Stephen M. North in his chapter “composition Becomes Composition” (1). What quickly becomes evident moving from Kitzhaber (2) to North and then to Kopelson (3) is that the field of Rhetoric and Composition is in no way settled; rather, the field is in a nearly constant flux as it attempts to define itself. Kopelson, in fact, points out that many scholars in the field are becoming increasingly concerned that ‘Rhetoric’ is about to drop away from ‘Rhetoric and Composition’ (769). Even as these two topics get further away from one another, Kopelson further addresses the ongoing problem of the dividing line between theory and practice. This is especially evident when one takes Rhetoric and Composition as a section under the umbrella of ‘English’. Kopelson addresses this issue when quoting Ellen L. Barton’s essay “Evocative Gestures in CCCC Chairs’ Addresses”. Barton apparently argues that literary theorists are willfully ignorant to the theory of composition (Kopelson 768, Barton 245). Kopelson further states that literary theorists would “seem to have a vested interest in what we could teach them, and not only about “writing theory” but about teaching itself.” (768) In other words, literary theorists, as fellows under the umbrella, should have a real interest in the pedagogy and praxis coming from Rhet/Comp scholars.

This speaks to the issues I addressed in an earlier blog post. There is a clear friction here between the disciplines. Professors in any academic discipline, humanities or otherwise, should be engaged in pedagogy and should perhaps take a course in the theory of teaching in their own fields. Instructors do not innately know how to teach. We have a background simply from being a student. We know, from the perspective of a student, what a good professor looks like and how to identify a ‘bad’ professor. 

So, should instructors of FYC be expected to engage in and learn theory from the Rhet/Comp theorists? Obviously, the answer to this is ‘yes’. TTU in fact engages in the practice of teaching its FYC instructors in both practical and theoretical curricula. There is surely resistance at TTU, as with literary theorists (or creative writing students/professors) at any other university. Ongoing resistance and friction has led to what Kopelson refers to as a “testament to the perpetual devaluation of pedagogy itself.” (768) North even suggests that literature is “less easily amenable to the “scientific” modes of inquiry” (12). This suggests to me that there is an acknowledged divide in the English field and perhaps some resentment from literary theorists. These academics don’t necessarily want to be told how to teach their classes and therefore perhaps ignore the ongoing development and engagement with theory. 

Kopelson tells us that the “primary task of rhetoric […] has been the work of defining and redefining itself” (772). Perhaps some of the resistance from the literary theorists stems from this ongoing identity crisis. Our prior readings demonstrated that part of this ongoing crisis is the question of standardization versus non-standardization in the curriculum of First Year Composition. Rhet/Comp seems to suffer from deciding what exactly falls under its purview, how it should apply theory and where that theory should come from, how to wrangle teachers in other disciplines, and then also what the baseline curriculum for its freshman composition should be. Kitzhaber addressed some of these problems in 1963 and it would seem that these problems continue to persist in the discipline. 

 

1. North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper St.Clair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1987. Chapter 1: “compsition becomes Composition.” 9-17.

2. Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting Images; Or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” College Composition and Communication 59.4 (2008): 750-780.

3. Kitzhaber, Albert R. “4C, Freshman English, and the Future.” College Composition and Communication 14.3 (1963): 129-138.

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The state of the FYC Instructor and the Curriculum (Response to Mark Keats’s Post)

Mark posited the following interesting question in response to the readings, “if freshman composition is required of every student and thus defined as being a critical component of the college degree and the staple of the English Department, why is it that it’s often never taught by experienced professors or professors who actually want to teach it, who do research in it?” Why is it that graduate students and adjuncts teach this supposedly formative and important course that is required of freshmen when we have such limited experience both as instructors and generally with the subject matter? As was mentioned in class, many of us didn’t even take freshman composition. 

This lack of experience coupled with the constantly changing curriculum of the course seems incredibly out of alignment with the idea that the course is so important as a core freshman requirement. Kitzhaber’s lack of a conclusion in 1963 still resonates today. Not only is the curriculum for freshman composition constantly changing, but no matter where it ultimately ends up it cannot accommodate the high school backgrounds of each of its students. Perhaps there is not one specific solution that can be utilized in every freshman composition course. The challenge is in seeking common ground amongst the students who need the class in order to prepare for the kinds of writing expected of them at the university level. Should that course be grounded in the English department? The principles of analytical reading and writing are key foundations, but that does not necessarily mean that the course itself should be kept to only the one department. Perhaps we can restructure the course to fit into other departments too so that science majors can learn the principles from the perspective of lab reports, or the business majors can learn within the frame of business writing. I don’t think that there is any one specific answer, but it is frustrating to see that Kitzhaber’s concerns are still at issue fifty years later.

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