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Lynch, Paul. Writing as Spiritual Exercise. CE, July 2018. Posted 08/17/2018.

Lynch, Paul. “Shadow Living: Toward Spiritual Exercises for Teaching.” College English 80.6 (2018): 499-516. Print.

Paul Lynch writes about a state of mind experienced by some seasoned writing teachers that he equates with Thomas Newkirk’s “emotional underlife of teaching” (qtd. in Lynch 500). Drawing on Paul Kameen’s depiction of this state of mind in Writing/Teaching, Lynch describes it as a point at which a well-developed set of teaching practices ceases to make classroom practice meaningful (499-500).

Further exploring this phenomenon, Lynch considers Bill Readings’s contention in The University in Ruins that teachers who see themselves as a “rhetor rather than magister” find that their “mastery” of teaching practice may not mesh with the need, as a rhetor, to “redefine pedagogy as ‘a relation, a network of obligation” rather than as a platform from which to dispense knowledge (qtd. in Lynch 500; emphasis original). Recognizing the contradictions between the accumulation of professional expertise and an understanding of teaching as relational leads, in Lynch’s view, to questions like Kameen’s “What am I doing here?” In Lynch’s view, teachers cannot easily resolve this contradiction and should consider instead, in Kameen’s words, “living in the shadow of [the question’s] imperative” (qtd. in Lynch 501; emendation in Lynch).

Central to the kind of mastery composition specialists commonly value, Lynch proposes, is faith in reflection as a means of becoming a critically aware teacher. Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s discussions of reflection, Lynch writes of the assumption that reflection can aid teachers just as it can students by allowing them to “consciously and therefore critically reflect on their own success and failure with an eye toward improvement” (502). Such reflection commonly involves exploring one’s experiences through writing. Donald Schön, in The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, further develops the view that by combining “technical knowledge and practical experience” (503), experts like teachers can assemble a set of responses to the problems they encounter.

Lynch turns to critiques of reflection as a means of resolving the problem of the “emotional underlife” teachers may encounter. From Kenneth Burke he takes the concept of “trained incapacity” to argue that a teacher faced with a loss of faith in his or her professional practice may resort to reflection as an attempt to increase mastery, which may make responses to complex relational engagements “automatic” (Schön, qtd. in Lynch 504) and, in Lynch’s view, a grounds for “boredom, burnout, and breakdown” (504).

Casey Boyle similarly suggests that reflection as commonly understood “operates on a destructive subject-object distinction” that assumes that people can separate their “agency” from the environment in which it is created and perpetuated, examining their actions rationally to improve them based on technical assessments of success (505). Lynch also draws on Robert Yagelski’s views, in Writing as a Way of Being, that written reflection as often practiced sees writing “simply as a way to record and express one’s experience,” whereas writing can also be viewed as “an experience in and of itself” (507).

Lynch proposes that the feelings expressed by Kameen and Newkirk “cannot be addressed by a reconsidered lesson plan or a revamped pedagogy” (507); indeed, in his view, resorting to these strategies compounds the problem. He suggests instead the use of writing as a form of reflection as experience that he calls “spiritual.” Spirituality, in his view, need not be specifically religious but can serve as a way of “liv[ing] in the shadow of questions that do not seem amenable to reflective thinking” (507-08) and thus avoiding the need for control that may lead to “demoralization,” defined as a feeling that, for the teachers in question, moves beyond frustration that old ways no longer work to an awareness that “they’ve lost any sense of which ways might” (505).

Lynch draws on Foucault to propose a regimen of “care of the self” (qtd. in Lynch 508) that includes “practices through which subjects might shape themselves” (508). This self-formation addresses character through, in Debra Hawhee’s words, “intensive attention and discipline, painful repeated exercise” (qtd. in Lynch 509). Among the exercises that promote self-re-shaping is a form of writing related to the development of “[p]hilosophic wisdom,” which, for Lynch, is not about acquiring topic mastery but rather “a matter of living a certain way of life” (509). This view counters the view that Lynch, via Foucault, attributes to Descartes, in which the self can be held apart from the knowledge it acquires, with the result that the knowledge does not affect “the structure of the subject itself” (qtd. in Lynch 510).

Similarly, Lynch cites the philosopher Pierre Hadot, for whom the “study of philosophy in the ancient world was more concerned with how the student lived than with what the student knew” (510). As an example of how writing furthered such a “spiritual program,” Hadot and Lynch reference the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which they present not as exercises to portray experience but rather to engage more deeply with it (510-14). The spiritual exercise of writing for this purpose allows Aurelius “a chance to examine his conduct” each day (511) and to prepare himself for “the challenges of . . . daily living” (512). Aurelius’s view, quoted by Lynch, is that

The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen. (512)

In order to develop this stance, Lynch proposes, philosophical wisdom requires engaging rather than lamenting “the writer’s daily struggle (shadow boxing) against himself” (512). Lynch sees this kind of self-formative writing as important in the effort of “dwelling within a network of obligations,” which teachers must accept if they are to survive their encounters with the emotional underlife (512).

Contending that more experienced and capable teachers are among the most prone to confront this emotional quandary, Lynch concedes that reflection as most often understood can increase knowledge, but argues that knowledge alone is not sufficient (513). The kind of written reflection as spiritual exercise practiced by Aurelius and other philosophers, he asserts, can offer a way “to practice interdependence” rather than increase control (513). He argues that such exercise may bolster what Hawhee calls “a pedagogy of association” (qtd. in Lynch 514), that is, a pedagogy based on relationship and obligation:

Why would our students want to associate with us? And how will we be formed by the association? These are the kinds of questions that we might answer by practicing writing as a spiritual exercise. (514)


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Moe, Peter Wayne. William Coles and “Themewriting” as Epideictic. CCC, Feb. 2018. Posted 03/02/2018.

Moe, Peter Wayne. “Reading Coles Reading Themes: Epideictic Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 69.3 (2018): 433-57. Print.

Peter Wayne Moe presents a reading of The Plural I: The Teaching of Writing by William E. Coles, Jr. Published in 1978, The Plural I narrates a course Coles taught in the fall of 1965-66 at the Case Institute of Technology (434). In Moe’s view, Coles’s course and his representation of it illuminate the relationship between writing pedagogy and epideictic rhetoric.

Moe notes that reviewers of Coles’s book found it counter to “the dominant traditions and pedagogies shaping composition” and thus “hard to read, hard to place, hard to value” (434). Moe hopes to “recover, and find value in” Coles’s contribution to the field (435).

Moe explores scholarly definitions and judgments of epideictic, many of which denigrate this rhetoric as superficial stylistic display that reinforces a community’s received values and therefore stifles critical inquiry (436). Moe contrasts it with “pragmatic” rhetorics that result in actions, like rhetorics of the “courtroom or senate” (435). He cites scholarship arguing that the role of the audience in the epideictic is not to act or “be persuaded; rather, the audience observes” (438). In doing so, an audience participates in epideictic as often defined: as bestowing “praise and blame” (438).

Scholars cited by Moe note that the “display” characterizing epideictic lays out “the shared values of a community”; etymologically, Moe shows, the term means “showing forth”; it is the rhetoric of “making known” (436). Moe argues that in performing these functions, epideictic becomes “the foundation from which a rhetor can praise and blame” (436). He contrasts the view that this showing forth sustains shared values with the contention that, in fact, epideictic can “reshape shared values,” and he argues that this reshaping is what Coles achieves in his use of this form in his writing classroom (437).

Moe cites Dale L. Sullivan to present education as fundamentally epideictic because it works to teach reasoning skills fitting particular contexts and “to instill in the student sentiments or emotions appropriate within the orthodoxy which the teacher represents” (Sullivan, qtd. in Moe 437). However, in Moe’s reading, Coles did not represent orthodoxy but instead pushed against it, using “little more than [the] praise and blame [of] student writing” to generate “sustained inquiry” capable of critically resisting banality and conformity (438).

Moe writes that The Plural I tracks the weekly assignments of a required first-year composition course, Humanities I (434). The chapters consist of these thirty assignments, several student papers mimeographed for discussion (ninety-four in all), and Coles’s account of each week’s classroom discussion (439). There was no textbook. According to Moe, “Coles dramatizes the classroom conversation; he does not transcribe.” Coles insisted that in these narratives nothing was made up (439).

Tracing Coles’s lessons through selected examples, Moe writes that Coles began by assigning an essay asking students to differentiate between amateurism and professionalism. The resulting essays, Coles declaimed, were “[t]riumphs of self-obliteration, . . . put-up jobs everyone of them, and as much of a bore to read as they must have been to write” (qtd. in Moe 440). In Coles’s view, these efforts represented what he called “Themewriting,” in which students displayed their understanding of what a teacher expected them to sound like (440).

Moe argues that this rhetorical choice represents students’ conception of the “shared values of this community, this classroom, and this teacher” (440), in which they draw on familiar patterns and commonplaces, believing that the community honors writing that, in Coles’s words, is “well-organized. It’s Clear, Logical, and Coherent. It’s neat” (qtd. in Moe 441). Coles asks questions that push students to challenge the voice of the Themewritten essays, ultimately creating consensus that “no one talks the way this paper sounds” (441). Moe depicts Cole creating a game of Themewriting in which students discover their ability to convert any set of terms‑for example, “man, black, and TNT” (442)— into a formulaic set of moves that are both “inevitable” and “moralistic” (443).

Coles’s project, Moe contends, is to push students to think about what they are doing with language when they act on these assumptions about “what makes good writing” by undermining their confidence in these apparently sacrosanct shared values (443). Among Coles’s stated intentions is the development of a “common vocabulary” (qtd. in Moe 443) that will provide new ways to characterize writing (443). Developing this vocabulary, Moe argues, “serves an epideictic function, uniting the class in their practice of praise and blame” (443).

As part of this vocabulary production, Coles encourages the adoption of metaphors like “sky-writing” or “mayonnaise” to capture the characteristics the class assigned to Themewriting (444). Among these metaphors are the names such as Steve, or Suzie, a “character who ‘isn’t a character at all’ because she is composed solely of clichés” (Coles, qtd. in Moe 445). Coles finds, however, that students fall back too glibly on these critical terms, using them to avoid grappling with stylistic nuances that suggest deeper struggles with language (446).

As the class nears its end, Moe contends that students discover that “avoiding the rhetoric of cant” is nearly impossible, and that articulating “‘another way of talking’” has been the difficult goal of Coles’s method (Coles, qtd. in Moe 447). Their loss of confidence in Themewriting and the challenges of finding a new understanding of what language can do upset students and left them feeling as if, in Coles’s words, “‘readiness with’ a certain kind of language is the same thing as a ‘loss of words’” (qtd. in Moe 448). However, Moe points out that students begin to notice how they manipulate language to create “a stylistic self” (449):

The “self construable from the way words fall on a page” is integral to Coles’s teaching. He clarifies that such a self is “not a mock or false self. . . .” The assignment sequence in The Plural I seeks to bring students to an awareness of how language constitutes this stylistic self and how one might use language in light of that awareness. (439)

Moe argues that writing teachers read student work as epideictic, reading it against the shared values of a community, not so much to be persuaded by arguments as to respond to the writer’s display of his or her use of language to create a particular stylistic self. He states that “persuasion, if it does occur, is a product of display—how well the student shows forth the various conventions of the discourses he or she hopes to enter” (451). This display is the ground on which persuasion “and other rhetorical acts” can take place (451). He argues that the value in Coles’s pedagogy is that he impels students to understand more precisely what they are doing when they partake in this display. Once they have recognized the shared values of the community, they become capable of “resisting them, rewriting them even, through praise and blame” (452).


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Griffiths, Brett. Preparing Two-Year College Faculty to Think Institutionally. TETYC Sept. 2017. Posted 11/14/2017.

Griffiths, Brett. “Professional Autonomy and Teacher-Scholar-Activists in Two-Year Colleges: Preparing New Faculty to Think Institutionally.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 45.1 (2017): 47-68. Print.

Contributing to the issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College dealing with the preparation of two-year-college faculty, Brett Griffiths discusses the importance of preparing these faculty to advocate beyond the classroom for pedagogical practices grounded in the expertise of writing professionals and the field of composition. Recognizing that two-year faculty face the challenges of “our current teaching context,” which includes “the mass production of knowledge for profit, globalization of economic relationships,” use of contingent labor, and success measured solely by completion (47), Griffiths notes that these faculty are often not empowered within their institutions to act as advocates for theoretically valid teaching (60). Her study examines how two-year faculty in three institutions constructed their professional identities in ways that either helped them position themselves in leadership roles or, conversely, “unwittingly undermined” their potential as leaders (49).

Griffiths studied ten faculty, most holding MAs, from colleges chosen for their differing demographics (“urban, suburban, rural”) (50). In each case, she collected teaching artifacts, observed and videoed a class session, and conducted interviews. Her coding procedure resulted in more than 175 codes; she provides examples in appendices (52). Her goal was to distinguish teachers’ classroom actions, such as “planning the curriculum, conducting a class-length lesson, [and] grading a paper,” from the “pedagogical rationales” driving choices and addressing constraints (50). The specific focus of the cases reported was the “influences on an instructor’s teaching and the tensions they experienced between teaching choices and perceived expectations” (52). This focus allowed her to distinguish how teachers coped with these tensions.

Griffiths draws on the work of “sociologist and professional identity scholar” Magali Sarfatti Larson to consider how professional identity can be consolidated. Sarfatti Larson, she writes, delineates two components of professional authority: “a monopoly of competence,” which means that writing professionals are perceived as most qualified to determine what counts as good practices, and “a monopoly of credibility,” which means that these professionals are believed to implement these practices well (48). Griffiths contends that two-year faculty must be prepared to position themselves to make these monopolies more visible within their institutions and communities.

The author draws as well on Sarfatti Larson’s claim that “control over the regulation of . . . knowledge” is essential to establishing professional authority and autonomy (49). She distinguishes between “control over technique,” which involves specific activities “associated with knowledge of the field,” and “control over scope of service,” which addresses “the knowledge, protocols, and professional theories that shape . . . practice” (49; emphasis original). For Griffiths, this theory indicates that the professional autonomy to affect policy beyond the classroom is built on the ability to develop, assess, and revise professional knowledge and to convey “the value of that knowledge to a broader community—our institutions and the voting public” (49).

Griffiths’s study examines how her participants positioned themselves in relation to “scope of technique” and “scope of service” and how that positioning affected their effectiveness as leaders and advocates for sound teaching in their institutions. Her findings lead her to classify the instructors as either “independent contractors” or “teacher-advocates” (55). She arrived at this distinction through interviews in which many instructors described their freedom to do what they wanted within their classrooms and the tensions that arose when their classroom practices did not accord with departmental directives (56).

Interviews with instructors working from a “negotiated syllabus” revealed considerable disagreement over many components of the syllabus and their program’s overall design. Griffiths records a determination, in the words of one instructor, to “subvert” elements of the program’s requirements with which he did not agree (qtd. in Griffiths 57). Instructors in this group engaged in “workarounds” and even used “fake” materials to appear as if they were following the departmental requirements when in fact they were teaching according to their own understanding of best practices (57, 58). Disagreements included varying approaches to teaching grammar, the number of required essays, and whether a modes-based curriculum was appropriate (57).

Griffiths notes that these choices made by instructors as “independent contractors” deliver “two narratives for the course outcomes” to the students (54) and, in the case of tensions over the inclusion of “style” as an outcome that no one had been able to define, result in a sense of “normlessness” that, in Griffiths’s view, undermines claims to professional competence and credibility (56-57). She also found that in giving feedback, instructors tended to further provide mixed narratives by applying the departmental rubrics despite their claims to disavow them (55).

She writes that at first she joined these instructors in imagining that they were engaging in “victories of composition soldiers against the omnipresent oppression by an education overlord” with little understanding of teaching practice (59). But she claims that the “freedom” and “independence” these teachers assert differs from professional autonomy as Sarfatti Larson explains it (56).

The independent contractors, Griffiths states, avoided debating and defending their positions with colleagues, choosing instead to “teach outside of the department expectations while appearing to adhere to them” (58) and permitting colleagues the same perceived freedom. However, Griffiths argues that such tactics left instructors working within a system that frustrated them; a teacher who chooses this version of “freedom” “opts out” of more broadly based efforts to improve experiences of both teachers and students alike (56).

Griffiths contrasts these faculty with “autonomous teacher-advocates” who, rather than teaching “as if” they supported departmental outcomes, “assert[ed] control over scope of service to evolve those outcomes based on contemporary research in writing studies” (60-61). The majority of these teacher-advocates taught at a specific institution, which both encouraged and required them to become active, collaborative participants in designing and implementing outcomes and policies (60-61). One instructor at another of the institutions stepped forward on her own in a less-than-inviting environment to direct a textbook review (62).

The author highlights the importance of graduate preparation if faculty at two-year colleges are to embrace these more active roles (62). Most of the faculty she studied “had very limited engagement with the meta-discourses of the profession . . . or with the language of their labor contracts,” and no “clear sense of what footing they possessed to exert change” (62). The failure of faculty to develop this kind of awareness, she writes, “will likely continue to limit the status and autonomy” of two-year-college instructors (63).

She stresses the “responsibility” of moving beyond the apparent freedom of the classroom to the larger context in which instructors should be willing “to assert—sometimes uncomfortably—within their departments and institutions an articulation of the shared norms and practices” that have been developed and promulgated by the discipline (64).

 


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Choo, Suzanne S. Cosmopolitan Literature Education in Singapore. RTE, May 2016. Posted 08/31/2016.

Choo, Suzanne S. “Fostering the Hospitable Imagination through Cosmopolitan Pedagogies: Reenvisioning Literature Education in Singapore.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 400-21. Print.

Suzanne S. Choo, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, advocates for “literature education” as a means of fostering “ethical cosmopolitanism” in students as a response to increasing pressures from globalization.

Choo documents a decline in the perceived value of literature in the United States and the United Kingdom as fewer students enroll in the subject (401, 418n1) and attributes a similar decline in Singapore to a number of factors tied to economic incentives that favor science, technology, engineering, and math (401). Choo argues that debates over the value of literature provide a chance to “reenvision the teaching of English literature” to highlight its power to offset tensions created by globalization (401).

Choo finds the state of English-language literature instruction in Singapore instructive because of the city’s colonial history and its implementation, beginning in the late 1980s, of a “national literature curriculum” (403) leading to national examinations on prescribed literary texts and practices. Examining the place of literature education as a part of Singapore’s response to globalization alongside classroom practices that may counter these top-level policies provides what Choo, following F. Vavrus and L. Bartlett, describes as a “multilevel vertical case study analysis” (405). Such an analysis, in Choo’s view, allows researchers to “contextualiz[e] local school practices within pressures occurring at the national levels, as these are in turn influenced by global forces” (405).

Choo and colleagues examined 1,593 questions from the national literature exam, coding them according to “question type” and “question content.” Types included questions addressing “plot, character, setting and atmosphere, style, and theme” (406). The researchers considered three levels of content: whether the questions measured “interpretation”; “aesthetic analysis”; or

students’ capacity to evaluate the text’s stylistic representation of others and the ideological values it contains, as well as their capacity to connect the text to the real world in order to engage with its ethical concerns (ethical evaluation and engagement). 406

Choo’s study, over a six-month period, gathered data from “six to eight classroom observations” and “one-hour pre- and post-observation interviews” (406). Four teachers from two “integrated program schools” participated. These schools were “high-performing,” with populations composed of “the top 20%” of scorers on a high-stakes exam (407). Teachers in such schools, Choo contends, have more freedom to design the kinds of assignments that serve needs other than those dictated by national economic interests (407).

To examine the national literature curriculum, Choo advocates for a “cosmopolitan” ethos, but distinguishes between two kinds of cosmopolitanism. Strategic cosmopolitanism focuses on the economic gains associated with global connectedness and the creation of a “skilled labor force” (408) and is “nation-centric,” concerned above all with a state’s competitiveness in global markets (402). In such a view, education is seen as an economic “investment” (403). In contrast, ethical cosmopolitanism promotes a sense of relatedness among diverse peoples and is “other-centric,” valuing the well-being of all as world citizens (403).

Central to the ethical cosmopolitanism that Choo supports is the development of what Jacques Derrida called a “hospitable imagination,” which enables “openness to others without conditions” (404). Choo argues that the study of literature can encourage this ability to see through the “lens of others” (405).

She reports that an interest in English education arrived with the desire of the colonial government to inculcate British cultural values in Singapore’s citizens (407). After independence in 1965, literature was devalued in favor of English-language education, which was seen as a necessary tool in Singapore’s efforts to depict itself as a player in the global economy (407-08). By the 1980s, however, the “creative industries” began to be seen as important in Singapore’s economy, and teaching “aesthetic sensitivity” became a means of ensuring both cultural and symbolic capital, as students were required to demonstrate both the ability to discern aesthetic value and a familiarity with the canonical texts of Western culture (408-09).

Literature education in this climate focused increasingly on detailed studies of the style of certain prescribed texts and authors like Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. National exam questions dealing with students’ ethical engagement with texts disappeared in favor of “[p]assage-based questions” that required students to show their knowledge of the texts (409). In Choo’s view, this pedagogy is “grounded on New Criticism’s adherence to an isolationist approach . . . in which students remain in the lifeworld of the plot, character, and language of the fictional text” (411).

Curricula designed by the four teachers disrupted this isolationist approach by

  • having students read a canonical text like Animal Farm alongside a modern text like N. H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, which depicts the life of Afghan asylum seekers in the post-9/11 United States. This comparison foregrounds how Animal Farm can be linked to issues of “discrimination and bias” (“Tanya,” qtd. in Choo 412).
  • disrupting views of culture as fixed to ethnicity, history, or place by assigning authors like Amy Tan and Jamaica Kincaid, who write about their experiences with cultural “displacement, clashes, and mixing” (413). This curriculum encourages students to examine ties to local communities while opening themselves to “affinity with multiple others” with whom aspects of a fluid cultural identity may be shared (413).
  • challenging stereotypes by having students read the required text, Frankenstein, alongside a short story, “The Moon above His Head,” by Yann Martel, which raises questions, both textually and extra-textually, about how representation, for example in media, affects perceptions of others (415). This approach opens discussion about how others can be ethically depicted and how students’ own perceptions develop by “the continual destabilizing of fixed interpretations of the other” (417).

In Choo’s view, these teachers’ work in supplementing required training in aesthetic appreciation with ethically rich literary exploration demonstrates that “literature education powerfully mediates encounters with foreign, exiled, and alienated others” to “propel an appreciation of collective humanity” (418). This appreciation, she argues, can counter the instrumental force of strategic cosmopolitanism and is uniquely available through the literature classroom.

 


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Arnold, Lisa. International Response to Rhet/Comp Theory. CS, Spring 2016. Posted 06/14/2016.

Arnold, Lisa R. “‘This is a Field that’s Open, not Closed’: Multilingual and International Writing Faculty Respond to Composition Theory.” Composition Studies 44.1 (2016): 72-88. Web. o2 June 2016.

Lisa R. Arnold discusses the responses of teachers at the American University of Beirut (AUB) to canonical texts of rhetoric and composition theory, in particular “Language Difference in Writing: A Translingual Approach,” by Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur. Arnold notes that in Lebanon, where translingualism is an “everyday reality” (80), the question of how to accommodate and value multiple language practices can resonate very differently than it does in the presumably monolingual North-American context in which the theory was proposed.

As the first director of the AUB writing program, Arnold hoped to provide faculty with professional development opportunities (75), at the same time responding to questions from scholars like Mary N. Muchiri and her colleagues and Christiane Donahue that ask composition professionals in North America to recognize “the diverse pedagogical traditions, methods of research, and values attached to literacy in non-U.S. contexts” (72).

As an “American-style university that is a leader in the Middle-East North-Africa (MENA) region,” AUB presents an opportunity for the study of such issues because it is “unique” among institutions outside of North America in having four “full-time, professorial-rank” lines for rhetoric and composition PhDs; the university also plans to implement an M.A. in rhetoric and composition (74).

In order to further faculty engagement with composition theory, the university offered a ten-session seminar during the 2013-2014 academic year. These seminars, attended by seventeen AUB faculty with varied levels of experience teaching in the program, explored a range of topics addressing writing theory and instruction (75). The final sessions each semester addressed teaching writing in the particular context of Lebanon/AUB.

Arnold attended all seminar sessions as a participant-observer and subsequently conducted interviews with fifteen participants, asking them to focus on what seemed “most relevant” to teaching and to the specific environment of AUB (77). Five faculty who had audited a previous graduate course on writing theory and pedagogy facilitated the sessions. Participants also completed an anonymous survey (76).

General responses indicated that faculty found rhetoric and composition theory to be “open,” “tolerant,” and “concrete,” engaged with students as individual writers (77-78). The issue of translingualism was among the discussions that inspired a range of responses (78), especially in regard to the question of how rhetoric and composition theory applied to teaching in Lebanon (78).

The Horner et al. article, which attendees read during the final fall-semester session, addressed the monolingual audience that presumably characterizes North American contexts. To this audience, according to Arnold, Horner et al. argue that rather than being treated as “an obstacle to be overcome,” difference in language should be viewed through a lens that “takes advantage of and appreciates students’ different strengths in English as well as in other languages and . . . reflects the heterogeneity of communicative practices worldwide” (79).

AUB faculty expressed interest in the theory but also voiced concerns about what it might mean in their context when implemented in the classroom. Many seminar attendees brought backgrounds in EFL or ESL to the sessions; Arnold reports general agreement that a “more flexible approach toward language difference” would be worth considering (79).

Concern, however, seemed to center around the degree to which a more tolerant attitude toward error might impact the need for students to learn formal English in order to succeed in the non-U.S. context (80). Arnold writes that in Lebanon, as in the African contexts discussed by Muchiri et al., universities like AUB are “highly selective” and “English carries a different value for its users” (80). She notes the concerns of “Rania,” who posits that British universities expect less expertise in English from students from “developing nations” who will presumably return home after graduation than from native speakers. Rania fears that allowing students flexibility in their use of English will become a process of withholding “correct English” in order to impose “a new form of colonialism” (81). However, according to Arnold, Rania subsequently appreciated the opportunities for learning offered by a translingual approach (81).

The response of “Rasha” similarly indicates ambivalence toward translingualism. Students either liked the opportunity to use Arabic or, in her words, “just hated it” (qtd. in Arnold 82), but she found that discussions of whether or not such multilingual practice was appropriate increased student engagement with issues of language use itself (82). Other examples demonstrate that students do translingual work regardless of the teacher’s goals, for example, using Arabic for group work (82). A number of the teachers drew on their own experiences as learners of multiple languages to encourage students to embrace the challenges involved in a multilingual context. Arnold reports that these teachers felt empowered by translingual theory to draw on language difference as a resource (84-85).

Teachers like “Malik,” however, highlighted the importance of providing students with the kinds of English skills that would serve them in their culture (83), while “Jenna” expressed concerns that the increased tolerance urged by Horner et al. would lead students to become “too confident” that audiences would understand translingually inflected communication: “[Students] get this false perception of abilities and skills which are not there” (qtd. in Arnold 85).

For Arnold, her experience working with writing instructors charged with teaching English outside of an English-speaking environment gives presence to the theoretical precepts of translingualism. She notes that graduates of rhetoric and composition programs may often find themselves taking jobs or providing resources to colleagues outside of the North-American context, and she urges these graduates to attend to the degree to which their multilingual colleagues are often already unacknowledged “experts in their own right” with regard to working with language difference (87):

[T]here is a complexity to literacy practices and pedagogies that practitioners outside of North America understand deeply, and from which those of us trained in a presumably monolingual context can learn. (87)

 


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Coles, Gregory. Reclaiming Derogatory Labels. CE, May 2016. Posted 05/31/2016.

Coles, Gregory. “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits.” College English 78.5 (2016): 424-46. Print.

Gregory Coles explores the process by which derogatory labels and terms are “reclaimed” by the groups to which they refer in an effort to undercut the power of the terms.

He explores four specific examples, “black,” “queer,” “nigger,” and “faggot.” The first two, he suggests, have been largely reclaimed such that their derogatory force has been weakened if not completely eliminated. He resists calling the varied uses of the second two terms a “failure” of reclamation; rather, he argues that they have been reclaimed differently, delivering in the process a different message than words that have been more thoroughly rehabilitated (436).

He grounds his examination theoretically in Kenneth Burke’s concept of the “terministic screen,” in which the way we describe the world through our language choices frames it in particular perspectives that close off or obscure other ways of seeing and thinking. Reclamation, Coles contends, takes advantage of the possibilities of “terministic rescreening” (426).

Reviewing previous work on Burke’s theory, he argues that much of the scholarship on terministic screens considers this feature of language use “static,” with the impact of the screening effect fixed; this research also portrays terministic screening as something to be deplored and overcome (427). Coles, however, argues that Burke saw terministic screens as a ubiquitous component of language use. Moreover, Coles maintains, in proposing the possibility of “secular conversion” and “exorcism by misnomer,” Burke theorized a view of terms used in screening as open to reinterpretation and novel uses (427, 428-29). In fact, Coles suggests, citing Ann George and Jack Selzer, Burke encourages us to see this kind of rescreening as an active engagement with the possibility of changing social attitudes through redirecting people’s “attention” and thereby creating new perspectives (428).

In developing his application of terministic screening, Coles addresses Burke’s dramatism, which casts language as action rather than as description. Coles uses this view of language as performance to argue that “[r]escreening is an adjustment not of what a word means but of what a word does” (430; emphasis original):

Insults become compliments. Far-reaching prejudices become inconsequential jokes. Linguistic demons become innocent old coats. (431).

This process, Coles says, can take place through replacing the oppressive language. However, he finds this option unavailable for many victims of such language, who lack the power to control the dominant discourse. Rescreening becomes the other option, as users attempt to “reclaim [a] word by causing it to select and deflect different portions of reality” (430).

The term “black,” Coles writes, carries a history of derogatory meanings. Its connotations of inferiority and undesirability framed the screen through which people of color were denigrated. However, Coles reports that the Ebony Fashion Fair that shifted attention from models’ clothing to their “performed ethnic beauty” and the “Black is Beautiful” movement allowed black people in the 1960s to redirect attention to new ways of understanding the word (432): “Although the definition of ‘black’ had not changed, its terministic screen had shifted, causing the discourse about blackness to change and black society to change accordingly” (433).

He also traces the path to reclamation of “queer.” For Coles, the derogatory force of this word lay in its insistence on the degree to which LGBT people diverged from the standards of the heteronormal culture they inhabited. Coles contends that members of the LGBT community were able to undercut the term by celebrating their difference and using it in contexts that emphasized the superiority of features of the queer lifestyle, for example through popular culture phenomena like the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (433). Such efforts changed “[q]ueer . . . from a derogatory term to a category term” (433-34).

Coles discusses limits on such reclamation, noting that some gay activists still find “queer” tainted with what Judith Butler calls “traumatic residue” (qtd. in Coles 434). Generational division over the use of such terms is one manifestation of the degree to which the acceptability of the term depends on context, so that, depending on who is using it and for what purpose and to whom, “the term may hold any of several meanings, or ambivalently occupy multiple meanings” (435).

In Coles’s view, whether derogatory terms have transitioned to category terms that non-group members can use in appropriate settings distinguishes terms like “queer” and “black” from terms like “nigger” and “faggot,” which are limited to in-group use (435). Coles finds it “too simple” to explain the difference by noting that the connotations of the latter terms were seen as much more negative than those of the more successfully reclaimed terms (436). He also contends that the role of such in-group use of such derogatory terms to signal solidarity does not fully explain the problem posed by the degree to which they have retained their unpleasant connotations even when used within the group (437-38).

To explore this question, Coles distinguishes between “redemptive reclamation,” in which users of “queer” and “black” retain the “semantic meanings” of the terms but convert those meanings to markers of positive traits, and “restricted redemption,” which may appear unsuccessful but in fact makes in-group use of the terms reminders of the history they carry, “challenging historical and ongoing prejudice by mockingly calling attention to it” (438). Moreover, according to Coles, the in-groups in question have successfully claimed the terms for such subversive use while denying them to out-group members, even those who would invoke their derogatory meanings (438). This restriction “may also serve as a testament to the unexpected power of the minority” (438).

Coles explores possible student reactions to discussions of various levels of reclamation. He argues that examination of these processes and the different results they produce can alert students to the power of language as an act and to the importance of context. For example, students understand how using an apparently derogatory term for a group within a group they belong to differs from the use of that same term by people who do not belong to the group (440). For Coles, Burke’s theories of dramatism and terministic screens can be used pedagogically to introduce students to these powerful performative aspects of language (440).

 

 

 


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Head, Samuel L. Burke’s Identification in Facebook. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 05/10/2016.

Head, Samuel L. “Teaching Grounded Audiences: Burke’s Identification in Facebook and Composition.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 27-40. Web. 05 May 2016.

Samuel L. Head uses Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification to argue for Facebook as a pedagogical tool to increase students’ audience awareness in composition classes.

Head cites a range of scholarship that recognizes the rhetorical skills inherent in students’ engagement with social media, particularly Facebook, and that urges composition specialists to take up this engagement with “very real audiences” (27) to encourage transfer of this kind of audience connection to academic writing (27-28, 29). Noting that, according to the National Research Council, new learning depends on “transfer based on previous learning” (qtd. in Head 28), Head contends that, while much scholarship has explored what Facebook and other digital media have to offer, “the pedagogy of transfer with students’ previous experience and prior knowledge of audience in social media requires more scholarly analysis” (28).

In Head’s view, among the skills developed by participation in social media is the ability to adjust content to different audiences in varied contexts (28). He offers Burkeian identification as a means of theorizing this process and providing practices to encourage transfer. Further analysis of transfer comes from work by D. N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon, who distinguish between “low road transfer” and “high road transfer.”

Low-road transfer occurs when a learner moves specific skills between fairly similar environments; Head’s example is the use of cooking skills learned at home to a restaurant setting. High-road transfer, in contrast, involves using skills in very different contexts. This kind of transfer requires abstract thinking and reflection in order to recognize the applicability of skills across disparate domains (30). Burke’s theory, Head writes, offers a means of evoking the kind of reflection needed to facilitate high-road transfer from the very different contexts of Facebook and a writing class (30, 31).

Head reports on Burke’s identification as a means of persuasion, distinguishing between classical rhetoric’s focus on deliberate efforts at persuasion and the “subconscious” aspects of identification (32); without identification, according to Dennis Day, persuasion cannot occur (cited in Head 31). Identification allows communicators to show that they are “consubstantial” with audiences, thus “bridg[ing] division” (31). This process invokes shared values in order to win audience adherence to new ideas (32).

Head explores aspects of identification theory, including “cunning” identification in which the values shared between audiences are not genuine but are rather created to generate persuasive identification and therefore work to the extent that the audience believes them to be genuine (32). In particular, he notes analysis by George Cheney that discovers “three main strategies” in Burke’s theory: “[t]he common ground technique,” which focuses on shared aspects; “[i]dentification through antithesis,” or the establishment of a “common enemy”; and “[t]he assumed or transcendent ‘we,'” to create group allegiance (qtd. in Head 32). Current scholarship such as that of Tonja Mackey supports Head’s claim that components of identification inform regular Facebook interaction (33).

Head reports on Facebook’s algorithm for determining how users connect with friends. This process, according to Eli Pariser, creates a “filter bubble” as Facebook attempts to present material of interest to each user (qtd. in Head 33). Head suggests that students may not be aware that this “filter bubble” may be concealing more complex combinations of ideas and information; introduction to the theory of identification in the classroom may make them more alert to the strategies that both link them to like-minded audiences and that direct them away from more challenging encounters (33).

Postings by an anonymous “example Facebook user” illustrate the three Burkeian strategies pointed out by Cheney as they inform a Facebook timeline (34). This user establishes common ground by sharing photos and posts that reflect a religious affiliation as well as an interest in fantasy that connects him to many friends. He establishes a common enemy by posting and then collecting likes in opposition to “mandated health care” (34). Finally, he generates a sense of the “transcendent ‘we'” by appealing to group membership in a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experience (34). These examples, in Head’s view, demonstrate the degree to which identification is a natural component of Facebook interactions.

For Head, the transfer of this inherent identification to an academic environment involves explicit instruction in the theory of identification as well as reflection on the students’ part as to how these actions can be applied in more formal or novel settings. Students can recognize the strategies and moves that constitute identification in their own Facebook interactions and then can locate similar moves in other types of writing, finally applying them consciously as they connect with academic audiences (35).

Head contends that more teachers need to use platforms familiar to students, like Facebook, to teach rhetorical skills and awareness; he urges teachers to share their experiences with these media and to publish analyses of their findings (36). He reports that his own students enjoyed beginning their rhetorical curriculum with a medium with which they were already engaged, using their own work as a starting point (35). He concludes with a schedule of suggested assignments for making the tenets of identification visible in Facebook and transferring awareness of them to academic projects (36-39).