Composition Pedagogy

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A Drupal Shortcoming

I don't dislike many things about Drupal, but one of them is the fact that, when I create a collaborative book, I can't put it in categories in the taxonomy. Here's a redundant link to my series of blogging handouts for my Fall 2004 section of Rhetoric 1101 so that someone who clicks on my "Teaching" or my "Blogging" categories can find it.

Blogging: The Semester in Review

I've been wanting to share all my weblog-related handouts from my Rhetoric 1101 course this semester in case anyone wants a concrete sense of exactly how we used the weblog and in case anyone might find the materials useful. Overall, I feel that the course blogging went very well, given what my goals for the weblog were. My goal was not so much to have a weblog that was painfully obviously just for a grade (i.e. forced blogging); instead, I hoped for something that read like a community weblog of twenty-two first-year college students writing about what was on their minds, loosely guided by the principle that the content ought to be tied in some tacit way to rhetoric. In other words, I wanted the weblog to serve one of my central pedagogical objectives, namely to facilitate a close community ethos in the classroom, and I wanted the weblog to be a place to apply and synthesize the rhetorical principles we were discussing in class (ethos, pathos, logos, informal fallacies, etc.). I offered weekly topics (evaluation forms I'd passed out in a previous class suggested that such topics would benefit students who were having trouble thinking of something to write about), but I encouraged the students to blog about other topics if they liked, which they often did. I drew from the web and from what other bloggers were writing about and tried to offer a broad range of topics and a number of selections each week, and sometimes I riffed off what the students brought to the blog and made topics based on their thoughts and questions.

Reflecting on the experience, I am even more convinced that it's best to, if at all possible, have one weblog for the whole class rather than individual weblogs. All the posts are in one place, which makes it easier for the instructor as well as more interesting for the students, who see new posts and comments every time they hit the site. I believe the novelty piqued their curiosity and caused them to visit the site more often, which is what we all do, right? I know I'm more likely to go to a site that is updated frequently. Also, and I know many won't like this, but I would argue that if the central objective of the weblog is to build a learning community, it works well to grade based on level of participation only and throw out the rubrics. I didn't have any requirements for the posts in terms of word count, linking, or appropriate language; I wanted to try an almost-unregulated space that would allow for a great degree of freedom for different tones of voice and some experimentation. Below is the first handout I gave them. Of course a good bit of discussion and background information accompanied it, but these handouts are what they saw.

Sexist Responses to "Grading System Gets an F"

Much has been said about Ailee Slater's article in the Oregon Daily Emerald, including thoughtful comments on Dennis Jerz's weblog and Kairosnews. A generous, sympathetic reading of the column might emphasize Slater's obvious alienation from the university and interpret her virulence in that context. She is clearly troubled by the grading system, which exacerbates an already stressful environment that ranks and disciplines minds rather than nurturing them. She writes, for example:

perhaps a decrease of focus on grades will actually lead to more fair admission policies. Time not spent calculating grades could be used by teachers to write recommendations for the students who have truly shown the ability to work hard and be motivated to educate themselves.

That being said, she foregrounds the university-as-corporation, student-as-customer model ("If I'm paying someone to do my housekeeping, I'll be the one to tell the receiver of my hard-earned money exactly how well they did. Shouldn't it be the same with education?"), which hurts her ethos, and even worse, she comes across as being oblivious to and dismissive of considerable issues of privilege and access that affect student performance (my emphasis):

Students who work hardest would be surrounded by similarly ambitious and intelligent peers; as for teachers, their time could be spent concentrating on exceptional students who want to learn, rather than wasting resources grading the sub-par work of students who didn't care enough to do a good job in the first place.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, but: Some students are much more well-prepared for college than others. Students whose parents can afford, for example, music lessons, summer enrichment day camps, tutors, book-of-the-month clubs, private schools, computers, the internet, etc. and who have the leisure time necessary to take children to museums, to read to them, and to help with homework (which implies that the parents would need the necessary education to provide such help, which implies that they would likely have had access to similar resources) are better prepared for college, and their performance is more likely to be interpreted as "exceptional." I object to Slater's argument for those two reasons.

Now, I've been looking at the comment forum at the Oregon Daily Emerald, and one poster mentioned that Slater was getting ripped apart at Fark. I've only occasionally visited over there, and the times I have, I've enjoyed all the PhotoShopping fun. However, this time, I was troubled by some of the comments I read. I don't mean to single out Drew Curtis by any means; these comments could have been left in any forum, unfortunately. I've seen this before; one example that comes to mind is the comments at the forums when Linda Bensel-Meyers openly criticized the University of Tennessee's athletic program and the tutoring the athletes were receiving, claiming they weren't getting a proper education and that, basically, they were being treated like pieces of meat, a means to an end (revenue from ticket sales). "I bet she weighs at least two hundred and fifty pounds," one poster at said about Bensel-Meyers. These are only some of the comments about Slater:

"She was not accepted at the University of I'd Hit It.

/admissions officer"

"I was really hoping it would be one of the much cuter girls I met... I'll ask if they know this one. The creature that wrote this is pretty scary, not to mention inept."

"Please, this was my excuse in high school. College is the big leagues, biatch, come up with something better.

Also, we regret to inform this biatch that she was not accepted into U of I'd Hit It West, as well."

"I thought unattractive female college newspaper columnists only wrote about their sex lives. What gives?"

"That's OK, there's dozens of boobie bars that will be waiting for her after she drops out."

"From her pic, can we guess that she is not sleeping for her "A"s?"

"This chick redefines the meaning of fugly."

"Look at her face right now

What's that in her mouth?

Is it a big wad of gizz?

Yeah, i think so too."

Would comments about Slater's appearance and speculation about her sexual practices have been made had she been a man? Maybe, but I've seen them repeatedly over the years in reference to women (and yeah, I know I've only provided one other example, but perhaps others will point to more). Am I being a strident, knee-jerk feminist? It certainly wouldn't be the first time, probably not the last either. Should I just lighten up? Seriously, I really want to know.

What About Blogs? A Literature Review Introducing Nascent Pedo-Blogs to the Blogging World

Check out this piece by Nicole Converse Livengood of Purdue University, written for Linda Bergmann's Writing Across the Curriculum seminar. It's a good prolegomenon-style essay, especially for people who don't know a lot about weblogs and would like to explore their potential uses in writing classes.

"and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses"

I love Joni Mitchell so very much. I wish I could listen to her all day today, but duty calls and writing deadlines abound. Oh well, today in class we're going to be discussing Mr. Kang Goes to Washington, and I'm looking forward to it. I hope it will be a good way to reflect on election rhetoric at a certain level of remove, being that it's Clinton/Dole and not Kerry/Bush.

Easing back into it

I'm with Michelle: This break has spoiled me too. As always, I had so much fun at home. I hung out with all my friends and spent a good deal of time with their children too, which I enjoyed immensely. I love children's entelechial smiles, scowls, pouts, frowns, and passive, vacant, along-for-the-ride expressions. But more than that, I love the way they observe and listen to everything, then grab you-never-know-what out of the heteroglossia and pull it together to form their own bright, funny, utterly unpredictable remixes.

I'm also with Prof. B. in my readiness for the semester to be over.

Should I assign Deirdre McCloskey's The Secret Sins of Economics (PDF, via Tyler Cowen) in my first-year composition class (not this semester, of course)? Or would that be too cruel? There's a lot to discuss: the style, while self-indulgent, is innovative, and McCloskey addresses opposing views actively and directly. I guess I've had the urge to assign experimental discourse lately; next Wednesday we'll be discussing Nomy Lamm's "It's a Big Fat Revolution," and I'm even toying with the idea of assigning This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself. Right now I'm trying to explain metacommentary and self-referentiality in research papers -- what those are, how much is too much if one's not deliberately using them as style devices, etc., so these things are on my mind.

Composition Pedagogy and the Teaching Philosophy Statement

I've been preoccupied with revising my teaching philosophy statement. I had one that I wrote during my

master's program, but I've lost the file, and I'm sure I'd cringe if I could see it now, anyway. I've

attended these kinds of workshops

on how to write a teaching philosophy statement, but I remain unsatisfied with the statements they advise

us to write, and indeed with how a lot of people not associated with these workshops advise graduate

students with regard to teaching statements. Often the teaching statements I'm talking about are more like

leadership statements, consisting of not much beyond

href="">first-order principles

; they're mostly "what I do in the classroom to accommodate diverse learning styles"

and not very philosophical at all with regard to rationale. I'm interested in creating a

discipline-specific teaching philosophy statement (and maybe that's one of the problems with the teaching

philosophy statement workshops I've attended: They're trying to teach people in many different disciplines

how to write a teaching philosophy). One key variable here is the fact that in my department, there's an

emphasis on a high level of consistency across sections of first-year composition. In fact, at each of the

three schools where I've taught, there have been certain books, topics, and genres I was required to

assign, and I guess it'll be that way wherever I go in the future too. My point is, I don't know how much

of my teaching philosophy is going to be a retroactive justification of what I already do, and how much

will be a vision of what I'd do were I given free reign (and what would I do? I don't exactly know.).

Before I haul off and write a teaching philosophy, I have to think through the have-to/would-do issue and a

few others. Here I'm trying to survey writing pedagogy from a distance and figure out what I'm aligning

myself with, what I think is worthwhile and effective. I'm only raising questions and problematizing terms;

no answers here, sorry. First, there's the murky idea of "good writing." What's that? What definition do I

agree with? I only bring it up because it's an obvious goal of rhetoric courses, which reminds me: If

possible, I want to have a coherent teaching philosophy I can implement in first-year composition, public

speaking, and technical communication classes. What is "academic discourse," and is it an acceptable term

to use? Sometimes I get the sense that it's verboten. "Academic discourse" has been criticized for being

disconnected from experience and the personal and being positioned outside of students' grasp, both in

terms of accessibility and potential for authority and ownership. It has been characterized as language

that is hegemonic and elitist, marginalizing women, students of color, and working-class students. Some

have questioned its value in the "real world" for students who don't plan on going to graduate school.

Okay, so we have the tricky terms good writing and academic discourse. I'm going to hit pause

on those for the time being and turn now to what I consider the most important question my teaching

philosophy statement should answer: Why? What do I think is the architectonic principle guiding

college-level writing? Is it to prepare students to get a job and enter a corporate setting? Is it to

prepare students to be informed, ethical, articulate citizens of the polis? Are these two mutually

exclusive? (No, not at all, a point made quite well by

href="">one of Krista's mentors


If the goal is to help students become informed, ethical, articulate citizens of the polis, this goal can

be embodied in any number of assignments and curriculum designs, such as: letters to the editor, service

learning projects, visual rhetoric assignments such as posters, flyers, etc., research papers on current issues, new media work like


about the

city, raps in the style of


' "Why"


href="">Nas' "I


and the work on sentimental discourse that some of my friends in literature are doing (which is

great stuff, and I have an aside on it). I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. Even the

much-maligned "critical pedagogy" works in the service of the citizen goal, as does the personal essay,

which I'll readily admit despite

href="">my reservations


it, and I know I'm being a real crabcake in that thread. :) Which curriculum designs and assignments do I think are the best suited to meet the larger goal?

These are the questions I'm thinking about so far. I know I'll need to speak to the implementation

of the philosophy with descriptions of exercises I do in class, and I need to discuss other issues too, such as authorship, collaboration, audience, and my use

of weblogs, which I intend to foreground. Any thoughts to help me? I'd appreciate them.

Aside on Rhetoric and Sentimental Discourse

[This post is an aside to another post on composition pedagogy.]

I've been in conversations lately with students of literature who are studying the political impact of the sentimental novel. For some time, I'd listen to them talk about their work, but I was still confused; I still couldn't quite see the connection between the political and the sentimental. I thought about it some more and finally summoned an example from among the literature I've read that cleared it up for me: It's like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, no doubt a sentimental novel that had a huge political impact on the abolitionist movement, in no small part because the sentimental discourse and affective bonds portrayed in the novel helped readers to identify with Tom. I realized how connected this work on sentimental discourse is with Burke's theory of identification, how identification as Burke theorizes it is the mechanism through which sentimental discourse does its work:


a. As different than persuasion: consubstantiality (compensation for
division; still within the terms of the logology).

b. As a concern which more fully involves non-public modes.

c. A new definition for Rhetoric? The generation and fulfillment of
expectations through the use of symbols (forms)

Rooted in the notion of substances (physical objects, occupations, friends, activities, beliefs, values)

which we share with those with whom we associate. Sharing substances makes us consubstantial with others.

There are various possible substantial connections among and between interactants. Our symbolic ways for

marking consubstantiality are
identifications, upon which rhetorical action is based: "you persuade a man only insofar as you can talk

his language by speech, gesture,
tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, IDENTIFYING your ways with his." Here, identification is a

supplement to persuasion. Burke puts this more strongly--he might say that identification replaces


d. Three ways to use identification

i. as a means to an end

ii. to create antithesis (against some common foe)

iii. unconsciously and/or out of the conscious awareness of sender and/or receiver

I'm impressed. This is something I'd be interested in bringing into my pedagogical practice somehow. Last Spring, I took a modern rhetorical theory seminar with Art Walzer, who one day in class speculated on how different the study of rhetoric would be if identification, not persuasion, were the focus. The idea has stuck with me, and I'd like to see how scholars of sentimental discourse take it up, whether they do so in an explicitly Burkean framework or not.

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