Composition Pedagogy

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"Dear Adjunct Faculty Member:"

Burn. This one pretty much covers all the bases, except maybe the lack of office space. Link widely. I miss IA!

If you read nothing else tonight...

Please read Hungry for Air, by Deborah Stone. It is exquisite. The essay is a sustained juxtaposition of and reflection upon torture at Abu Ghraib, particularly "water boarding," and Stone's mother's battle with lung cancer. Stone's writing is a stunning illustration of the inseparability of the personal from the political:

There is something surreal about this juxtaposition of my mother’s end and global politics, about the way torture inspires humanity’s most compassionate moments and its most hate-filled engagements. It all makes you wonder: Does the concept of humanity hold any meaning whatsoever? Are we really all the same people?

[. . .]

In the last months of my mother’s life, I lived in two parallel universes, private and public. Both of them were under seismic stress. At a wedding reception in June, one of my political-science colleagues opined, with typical academic hedging, “We have to take seriously the possibility that torture might be the only way to get information.” No one commented on the fact that we were discussing torture-as-public-policy at a wedding reception on an idyllic summer day. No one knew that the victims they imagined as faceless bogeymen with unpronounceable names, I imagined as my mother.

[. . .]

On May 1, the day my mother first coughed blood, the major headlines were about President Bush’s meeting with King Abdullah II in the Rose Garden the day before. With his characteristic playground-bully, I-couldn’t-care-less detachment, Bush said he had told the Jordanian king that “Americans, like me, didn’t appreciate what we saw, that it made us sick to our stomachs.” As a citizen with no clout over American soldiers and as a daughter with no power over cancer, I wonder whether Mr. Bush felt sick to his stomach the same way I did when I first connected air hunger with water boarding and torture.

Just read the whole thing; these snips don't do it justice. I will assign this essay in the next writing course I teach. These are the kinds of connections we all want our students to make.

The "Money Follows the Student" Plan

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has proposed a plan to allot 2/3 of the state's budget for higher education to students rather than institutions, according to today's Daily (more here). The plan "would force the institutions to be more market-driven and accountable to the state and students."

Under Pawlenty’s plan, students’ decisions on where to attend college would drive reform and change the higher education marketplace, the governor said.

It would create a more dynamic marketplace in which institutions can respond to student needs better, he said. If the institutions have to compete more to attract students as a way to get funding, they’ll have to focus more on quality and keeping costs down, he said.

Institutions need to be more “customer-focused and customer-friendly,” Pawlenty said.

Yikes. My inner extreme cynic wonders if we'd have a situation in which the party schools would get more money and course easiness and teacher hotness would be taken more seriously as criteria. I'm not trying to advance that argument, don't get me wrong, but I do wonder. What do the rest of you think? If P.Z. Myers has blogged about the proposed plan, I'd appreciate a link. I haven't been able to locate a search box on his blog.

Assessing Weblogs in Writing Courses

I don't intend this post to be a response to Mike, but a recent post of his got me thinking about assessment of weblogs in writing pedagogy. I'm asked to give talks on the topic more and more often these days, and people always ask about assessment; I also get a good deal of questions about grading weblog posts in f2f conversation and via email. I'll make my argument for how best to assess weblogs a little later, but for now: What I say is, judging from the responses I get, not really what people want to hear, but I preface it by explaining that my method of assessment is specific to my goal for the weblog, which is primarily to enhance community in the classroom, but then they invariably end up learning a lot about audience and rhetorical practices by engaging in the conversation, too.

On Recommendation Letters for Students

I get asked to write recommendation letters (and to be listed as a reference) for former students quite often compared to my colleagues, it seems, but certainly not as often as David Galef, as he explains in his recommendation letter parody, My 57th Recommendation Letter This Week. Just read it and grin.

Via Jeremy.

Unconnected thoughts and gestures outward

I'm trying to get back into the flow of work and shake this out-of-sorts feeling I'm experiencing. Last night I got back from a far-too-short trip, a place and a person it always twists and bends my heart to leave. My prospectus defense is Wednesday afternoon, 1:00-3:00, and I'm anxious about that. I have writing deadlines looming and grading to do this weekend.

But enough about all that. The most important thing in this post is this link to a recent presentation by Samantha Blackmon, David Blakesley, and Charlie Lowe titled "Teaching Writing, Collaboration, and Engagement in Global Contexts: The Drupal Alternative to Proprietary Courseware." You should all read their slides immediately; they've really done a great roundup of problems with hegemonic course management software like WebCT and Blackboard, and they've done an even better job spelling out most of Drupal's features. When I try to talk to people about Drupal, I find myself not even knowing where to start. I guess what I need to do is rank my two or three favorite things about it, or, rather, two or three salient differences between Drupal and the major course management applications.

I got a brief mention in my college's newsletter (I'm under "People.").

Are Sam and I the only ones who will be knitting at CCCC? It makes no difference to me whether those in attendance knit or not; I just want to have a lively group there. Email Sam or me if you'd like to find out the time and place.

Speaking of knitting, you can get in touch with Betty Burian Kirk if you'd like to have a knitted item made of your dog's fur. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

I hate it when people confuse the words "reign" and "rein." I wish Brendan would devote one of his Writing Pedantry posts to this problem.

Summer Course on Leadership and Team Building

This summer, I'll be teaching "Group Process, Team Building, and Leadership." It's a course I haven't taught before, and I'm quite excited about it. The course description, from the catalog:

RHET 3266 - Group Process, Team Building, and Leadership (C/PE)
(3.0 cr; Prereq-1223 or equiv or #; fall, spring, summer, every year)
Group processes, team building from perspective of managers/leaders. Communication techniques in small group decision making process. Theories of team/small-group communication. Case studies. Group project for each student.

I'm already going mentally overboard in thinking about using wikis and weblogs in the course, readings on collaboration, etc. There's probably a specific textbook I'll be required to use, but I might have a course pack too. Any suggestions? I'd especially appreciate the newest, most innovative theories of effective management and leadership.

(I'm resisting the urge to show The Office, The Apprentice, and Office Space in class...)

Texts for a first-year rhetoric or composition course

Inspired by a discussion at the Blogora on dream curricula and by Kieran Healy's nod toward an interesting-sounding essay by Harry Frankfurt released as a book*, I'm wondering what books (or films, music, etc.) you'd assign in a first-year rhetoric or composition course, assuming you have total freedom to choose. I say a composition or rhetoric approach because I do think there's some difference between the two in that they're not completely interchangeable (not that you can't do both in the same course, though), a difference that the latest issue of Enculturation explores. Especially provocative is Sharon Crowley's Composition Is Not Rhetoric, which you should read if you haven't yet. Consider this claim:

The fact is that the situation of the first-year composition course, inside a universal requirement, staffed by a scandalously low-paid and contingently-hired faculty (no matter how capable and well qualified), renders intellectual sophistication a luxury. Furthermore, intellectual sophistication that immerses students and teachers in political and social critique, as a full-blown course in rhetoric would do, is dangerous for contingently-employed teachers, particularly in times like the present, when the prevailing regime of truth carefully monitors teachers to insure their intellectual conformity.

But back to my question: What texts would you assign in a first-year rhetoric and/or composition course? I'm thinking maybe A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, which I've assigned several times before, George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant! along with several of the articles that criticize Lakoff's argument, and if applicable, perhaps Frankfurt's book.

* I realize the essay isn't new, but I hadn't heard of it before and am now curious.

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