College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Wood, Tara. Disabilities and Time Management in Writing Classes. Dec. CCC. Posted 01/18/2018.

Wood, Tara. “Cripping Time in the College Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.2 (2017): 260-86. Print.

Tara Wood proposes that the field of writing studies can productively use the concept of “crip time” to rethink the ways in which normative assumptions underlie many routine activities in writing classrooms.

Wood’s qualitative study, conducted at a large Midwestern research university, began with twenty students with “registered disabilities” but expanded to include thirty-five students because of the interest her work generated (266). She notes that her final study population included not only students registered with the university disability office, but also students registered with other official offices who might or might not have registered at school, students who chose not to register, and students in the process of registering. Some registered students did not request accommodation (282n1).

Wood gathered more than “2,000 minutes of audio” and transcribed more than 200,000 words (267). She avoids identifying particular students by their disabilities, but her notes reveal the range of situations covered by her research (282-83n3).

The data allowed Wood to meet a primary goal of letting the students speak for themselves. She cites scholarship on the challenges of “speaking for” others, particularly groups that have traditionally been silenced or unheard; many scholars report a “crisis of representation” as they consider their own positionality in studies of such groups (265-66). Wood indicates that in some cases the wording of her interview questions shaped responses, but notes that the focus of her article, issues of “time,” was not a topic introduced by any of her questions; rather, it arose as a concern from the students’ own discussion (267).

Reviewing scholarship in composition on “the intersection of disability studies (DS) and composition studies” (261), Wood notes that writing theorists have long been concerned about access but, in some cases, may have assumed that the process- and discussion-oriented pedagogies common to most writing classes do not pose the same problems as do lecture-based classes with heavy test-taking components (261). Wood contends that such assumptions elide the myriad ways that time affects students with disabilities in composition classes (261). Wood’s premise is that “time” as structured in writing classrooms reflects largely unexamined ideologies of normativity and ableism.

Quoting Margaret Price, Wood says of “crip time” that it is “a concept in disability culture that ‘refers to a flexible approach to normative time frames’” (264). As an attitude toward time, it “avoid[s] rigidity and lower[s] the stakes of writing” (270). Wood distinguishes such an approach from the kinds of responses to disability most common in academic settings, which focus on individual and sometimes “ad hoc” solutions (263) burdened by connection with “medical and legal models” (262). Wood presents crip time as a more systemic, philosophical response to the complexities presented by disability.

For Wood, the assumption that individual fixes devised by disability-service offices are adequate is one of several flawed approaches. She found a subset of instructors who deferred to the expertise of disability professionals rather than expressing a willingness to negotiate with students (271). Similarly, she reports a “disability myth” that students given extra time for assignments will “take advantage of an accommodation,” creating a situation that isn’t “fair to other students” (263). In contrast, the study explores students’ conflicted responses to the need for accommodation and the “pedagogical fallout” that can result (269). Wood also discusses “the tacit curative imaginaries” that cast disability as a “disease or illness” (270) and its correction as “compulsory,” with “able-bodiedness as the ultimate, ever-desirable end” (264).

Wood’s account focuses specifically on two components of writing classes, timed in-class writing and time requirements for assignments. Her interviewees reported on how their disabilities made producing “spontaneous” writing within set boundaries (267) a source of serious anxiety, which, in the views of some scholars, has itself been defined as an illness that “teachers must ‘treat’” (270). Wood quotes Alison Kafer to argue that teachers must become aware that their normative expectations for “how long things take” are “based on very particular minds and bodies” (268). In Wood’s view, crip time applies a sensitivity to difference to such assumptions (264).

Wood further details how some participants’ situations affected their handling of assignment deadlines. Students with OCD, for example, might resist handing in assignments because they need to “make [them] perfect” (275). Some students reported finding it difficult to ask for extra time (274). Students recounted a range of attitudes among their instructors, with some willing to negotiate time frames and other less willing (274).

Wood cites Patricia Dunn to contend that students with disabilities often display “a sophisticated metacognitive awareness of how to navigate the strictures they face in the classroom” (272). Some students in her study explain their strategies in working with instructors to plan the timing of their assignments (276-77). Others set their own deadlines (279), while one plans for the inevitable delays of illness by trying to “get ahead on writing assignments” (qtd. in Wood 273).

Wood quotes Robert McRuer’s contention that “being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor” (279). She argues that such links between assumptions of normativity and the power structures arising from capitalist valuations of productivity make it imperative that instructors recognize how such assumptions impede access (280-81). Wood attributes to Paul Heilker the view that subscribing to crip time is a way of promoting “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (278), since a more flexible classroom structure permits “disabled students to compose in their own ways” (281), thus affirming important components of their personhood (278, 281).

Wood qualifies her recommendations by stating that she is not arguing against deadlines per se but rather asking that teachers be “mindful” about the power dynamic in a writing classroom and the consequences of rigid time boundaries (275). In this view, decisions about time can best be made by listening to students (281) and working collaboratively with them toward strategies that, in the case of one student, are essential to “sustain[ing] her presence in academia” (277).

Ultimately, Wood contends, awareness of the possibilities opened up by concepts like crip time enrich the democratic, inclusive environment that educators can support when they follow Tony Scott’s advice to examine the “ideological assumptions” underlying their responses to pedagogical challenges (qtd. in Wood 281).

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Kopelson, Karen. Workplace Guides for ASD Individuals. CE, July 2015. Posted 07/30/15.

Kopelson, Karen. “‘Know thy work and do it’: The Rhetorical-Pedagogical Work of Employment and Workplace Guides for Adults with ‘High-Functioning’ Autism.” College English 77.6 (2015): 553-76. Print.

Karen Kopelson examines workplace advice guides designed to help adults on the autism spectrum enter the workforce. She argues that, in the process of explaining how such adults can reinvent themselves to meet workplace demands, these guides underscore worker traits that fit a capitalist ideal, presenting ASD workers* as perfect embodiments of this ideal; they diverge from disability-rights agendas in advising ASD adults to downplay or even reject their identity as a disabled person; they participate in the American narrative of individual accomplishment and personal responsibility; and they disseminate an implicit but very visible rhetorical education in ways that shed light on tensions between composition and disability studies.

To illustrate these claims, Kopelson draws on Amazon rankings to select recent and/or prominent examples of these texts. With the exceptions of works by Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy, which she includes because of their prominence, she focuses on guidebooks published since 2010 in order to understand how the most recent research and terminology are presented and employed by these books (555-56).

Kopelson notes the disproportionate attention given to children with autism-spectrum disorders, suggesting that a recent proliferation of workplace guidebooks reflects the fact that once these “children grow up,” their lives will intersect with the larger culture, in particular the job market (553-54). The books, she contends, direct their arguments to multiple audiences: to ASD individuals and their health-care communities but also to employers, who may not recognize that the supposed deficits that accompany an ASD diagnosis are actually the kinds of qualities employers should value (554). Among these traits are the ability to focus, to be absorbed and satisfied by repetitive tasks, to concentrate on work rather than social interaction (558-60), to work long hours and accept “internal motivation” (560) in lieu of high wages, to remain loyal to an employer: in fact, to define themselves, as Grandin does, by the work they do (561).

In Kopelson’s view, the worker thus constructed is the capitalist “fantasy worker in possession of qualities valued most by contemporary workplaces” (571). At the same time, she illustrates through examples from several texts that in order to succeed in workplaces that continue to be structured around neurotypical expectations, ASD individuals must remake themselves, taking it upon themselves to “adapt” and “fit in” (564).

Kopelson includes examples from many of the texts under study that demonstrate the ways in which this adaptation is predicated on attention to the rhetorical principles of “imitation, delivery, invention, and, especially, to audience and context” (564). Foregrounding books by Barbara Bissonnette, Kopelson detects a pedagogic focus on eliminating the “hermeneutic deficiency” that makes autistic individuals struggle to “objective[ly] and accurate[ly] . . . interpret” situations and people (Bissonnette, qtd. in Kopelson 567-68). This exhortation to read workplace audiences accurately and objectively, Kopelson writes, seems at odds with Bissonnette’s insistence that “meaning comes from context” (qtd. in Kopelson 566). Bissonnette’s pedagogy involves providing examples and heuristics that ASD individuals can use to gauge audience and context as they work to overcome the “mindblindness” that dominant depictions ascribe to them and that reportedly prevents them from understanding others’ perspectives (559. 567-69).

In Kopelson’s view, larger issues emerge from her study of how rhetorical principles in line with much implicit composition pedagogy are used in the workplace guides. Among her questions is whether rhetoric is “inherently normative” (566), imposing pressure to match external standards of propriety, in the process engaging in the “the manipulation of subjectivity itself” (566). Kopelson, citing Paul Heilker and Melanie Yergeau, sees in this function a tension with a view more in line with those expressed in disability studies that “autism is its own ‘way of being in the world through language'” (qtd. in Kopelson 571). Kopelson compares this view of autistics’ methods of intersubjective interaction with other examples of difference in language and with efforts within composition studies to both expand students’ linguistic capacity and value their home languages (572). Kopelson further considers competing views as to whether mainstream rhetorical pedagogy like that practiced in the workplace guides can in fact transform ASD individuals in the ways Bissonnette and others envision or whether entirely new methods of rhetorical education must be invented to meet the needs of autistic students (570-71). Ultimately, Kopelson calls for more study and analysis to understand the intersections of ASD individuals with the larger culture, while urging composition scholars to recognize the realities that have fueled the proliferation of guides like Grandin’s and Bissonnette’s:

And so, while our field may be invested in such notions as “rhetorical accommodation” ([Jenell] Johnson 476, [qtd. in Kopelson 572]), or a “revised” and “expanded understanding of rhetoricity” ([Cynthia] Lewiecki-Wilson 157, [qtd. in Kopelson 572]), and while we may be committed to . . . facilitating access to languages of power while valuing languages of culture or nature, we need to be aware that pedagogies far more public and powerful than those of writing studies, or of higher education at large . . , conspire to ensure that neurotypical and other monolithic norms of language and selfhood are sustained. (572)

*Kopelson notes that the preferred choice of major disabilities-rights groups like ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) is “identity-first” language rather than the “people with” language often used by the guidebooks  (556-57; emphasis original).