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Dubisar, Abby M. Mother-Based “Buffer” Rhetorics. CE, Jan. 2018. Posted 02/11/2018.

Dubisar, Abby M. “Mothers Against Gun Violence and the Activist Buffer.” College English 80.3 (2018): 195-217. Print.

Abby M. Dubisar responds to a call to recognize, value, and study “knowledge production by women” (195). She finds that rhetorical studies has not paid adequate attention to such knowledge production, especially that by African American women (195, 211, 213). In order to show how attention to rhetorical work by African American women can illuminate important strategies to serve the needs of communities and causes, Dubisar provides a case study of the group Mothers Against Gun Violence (MAGV) in Syracuse, New York (195-96).

Dubisar’s focus is “mother-based buffer rhetorics” (212). She defines “buffer rhetorics” as “embodied position[s]” that can appeal to wide audiences; as “a networked tactic” that both allows interaction with audiences and serves as a “unifying” force within communities responding to grief; and as “a stance that ranges from presence to direct action, able to be mediated online as well as in person” (196). She finds these rhetorics at work in a number of contexts, “as activists strategize ways to put themselves between public audiences and perpetrators and their victims and mourners” (196).

Dubisar presents the work of mothers of slain gun-violence victims to demonstrate how buffer rhetorics enable activists to lay claim to effective rhetorical identities and keep issues publically visible (211). Dubisar’s project grew from the 2008 Ray Smith Symposium: Feminist Rhetorics for Social Justice, in Syracuse; she took notes on MAGV speakers and went on to investigate media coverage of MAGV (196-97).

The author connects her study of MAGV with other rhetorical scholarship that examines the use of “maternal activism” (197) to further struggles for social justice. “Public mothering” has been studied for its ability to foster identification across racial and contextual boundaries (199). In Tamika Carey’s words, mothering rhetorics are “rhetorics of healing” (qtd. in Dubisar 198) that can appear in public spaces and in social and public media as well as in fiction and nonfiction (198).

Founded in 2005 by Helen Hudson after her stepson’s death by gun violence, MAGV illustrates how, as a buffer rhetoric, the rhetoric of public mothering functions to intervene with the younger audiences most likely to be affected by gun violence at the same time that it empowers activists as “liaisons” between grieving families, affected communities, and institutions like police and hospitals (200). Public mothering assures young audiences that they are cared for and valued (197), while “[i]dentifications in mothering and expressions of love for children, even grown children” draw in “disengaged white audiences” who may tend to blame family dynamics for violence and crime (201). In Dubisar’s view, risks that the use of motherhood as a persuasive strategy will “essentializ[e] mothers as a monolithic group” (198) can be overcome by careful use of the trope.

Noting Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch’s understanding of rhetoric as “embodied social experience” (qtd. in Dubisar 200), Dubisar explores the embodiment inherent in MAGV’s activism. She illustrates this embodiment with the example of vigils that reclaim spaces where violence has occurred, pictures of people holding hands as “physical touches of care,” and an image of Hudson hugging another grieving mother, an action that “protect[s] people from the camera’s gaze and exposure to others” (202).

Dubisar sees such “invitation[s] to grieve” as encouraging more embodied action as community members, especially young people, are moved to speak up when they see signs of imminent violence (202). Members of MAGV also interject their physical presences into events and make themselves visible through speeches and videos. Dubisar provides the example of Lepa Jones, president of MAGV, who was featured in a 2015 news story and video in Syracuse and again in a video interview in 2016 (203). Dubisar argues that Jones is able to translate her presence into an appeal for solidarity, casting community members as “family” who have shared embodied experiences (203-04) and standing in for young people who may be cast as the cause of violence by white audiences (205). These efforts, Dubisar writes, allow MAGV participants to “make a mourning stance an activist role” (204), one that can remain visible beyond specific moments and events (211).

Dubisar further discusses how MAGV action creates networks, both to share comfort and to reach young people “who need support and to hear the message that they are loved and appreciated” (206). This networking extends to public office and to participation in other service organizations such as the Trauma Response Team, which calls on MAGV to step in between the many actors involved in a violent event, like families, hospital personnel, police and sources of financial support (206).

Involvement in these networks as mother-based rhetors generates authority and expertise as well intervention that contrasts with that of officials and social workers (207). Noting that such action cannot completely combat the extant “systemic racism and pro-gun legislation,” Dubisar contends that the group’s rhetorics of care provide “essential” connections among diverse groups who are working to limit gun violence (207).

The work of MAGV, Dubisar states, is also “mediated” in that it expands through media and mediates in that it actively enters spaces where young people are likely to congregate to assure them that they are loved (208). She illustrates the media influence that derives from the group’s mother-based rhetoric with a public-service video narrated by Hudson and other members. This 38-second video, “Dead is Forever,” which was shown widely in the area in venues where young people would see it, spoke directly to youths, urging them to see themselves as the children of mothers who would suffer if they were killed. The public-service announcement, which claimed space between “a police-produced antiviolence PSA and a news report about gun violence,” urges young people “to identify with their moms in a new way” by imagining themselves as capable of “pleas[ing] their mothers and mak[ing] them proud” (210).

Dubisar cites the embodied, networked, and mediated work of maternal spokeswomen like the mothers of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown to illustrate specific examples of the “range of strategies African American women invent and adapt, both when asked to respond to violence and to sustain attention to an issue” (213). These strategies, in Dubisar’s view, deserve increased attention from rhetorical studies as forms of knowledge production by women.


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Duffy, John. Virtue Ethics in Writing Classrooms. Jan. CE. Posted 02/20/2017.

Duffy, John. “The Good Writer: Virtue Ethics and the Teaching of Writing.” College English 79.3 (2017): 229-50. Print.

John Duffy argues that compositionists should embrace a form of the moral philosophy called virtue ethics as a basis for the teaching of writing.

He proposes that the ethical is as much a dimension of good writing as the “rhetorical, the linguistic, or the aesthetic” (229). Ethical decisions, he writes, are inherent in building a relationship with an audience, a major task undertaken by all writers . When a writing teacher encourages students to evaluate sources for their reliability or to examine counterarguments, Duffy contends, he or she is actually asking students to make ethical choices (230). Each choice is a partial answer to the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”, which to Duffy is primarily an ethical question. Learning to make such choices, he argues, is how a student becomes a “good writer” (230).

Traditionally, Duffy writes, ethical systems were seen as either deontological—governed by a priori rules and principles—or consequentialist, dependent on the outcomes of actions (230). More recently, scholars have turned to “postmodern ethics” as an alternative. Duffy contends that “none of these frameworks . . . provides an adequate account of how writers define themselves ethically” (230).

The contrasting system of virtue ethics, he argues, is “both old and new,” dating at least to Aristotle and expounded explicitly in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (230). Duffy quotes a definition by Rosalind Hursthouse: “a virtuous person is a morally good, excellent, or admirable person who acts and reacts well, rightly, as she should—she gets things right” (231). This concept, Duffy believes, can be translated into “rhetorical virtues,” or “discursive practices” that become “rationales for making ethical decisions in the writing class” (231).

According to Duffy, scholars who have turned to the virtue ethics as alternatives to deontology and consequentialism have noted that the traditional moral theories have become “unintelligible” or “incoherent” for a number of reasons, for example their grounding in pronouncements of God or their tendency to cobble together disparate theories with “incommensurable moral claims” (232). A neo-Aristotelian ethics, in contrast, focuses on a larger sense of how to live, with a supreme happiness, eudaimonia, as a culmination in that it is not a context-specific happiness such as one might experience after an instant of good fortune but rather a sense of “living well throughout the course of a lifetime” (233).

For Aristotle, Duffy maintains, achieving such a practice of happiness depends on fulfilling a telos—a purpose or “function”—with the “distinctively human function” being “rationality, the ability of humans to exercise reason” (234), in particular using “phronesis, or practical wisdom” to arrive at “the right course of action in a specific set of circumstances” (234).

Much current thinking about virtue ethics, Duffy states, applies such reasoning to specific fields, such as medicine, education, or law (235). The kind of virtue that can be enacted ethically in such situations, Duffy stresses, is learned through “instruction, practice, and habit”; it is not innate (235). “Rhetorical virtues,” then, become “discursive practices of virtue,” for example, expressions of “honesty, accountability, [and] generosity” (235).

Duffy addresses three specific objections to the concept of virtue: “its associations with an exclusively Christian doctrine, with right-wing ideology and with the historical oppression of women” (235). Despite its history as a component of Christian thinking, he contends, the idea of virtue appears in other contexts such as classical Greek culture and in other religions. Moreover, important virtues such as “open-mindedness, tolerance, and humility” do not rely on a religious endorsement to be valid (236). According to Duffy, the equation of virtue ethics with “character education,” which shifts responsibility for oppression to individual deficiencies rather than to systemic causes, is a political “appropriation” of the concept; a “virtue ethics framework” can be separated from such uses and even used to counter them (236).

Finally, Duffy counters the connection of the word “virtue” to an oppressive depiction of virtuous women as those who meet gendered domestic ideals with examples of feminist scholars who have presented “feminist virtue theor[ies]” to show that “the history of a term is not necessarily predictive of its future” (237). He points to the historical trajectory of the word “rhetoric” as a parallel example of a term that has carried many meanings throughout its evolution (237).

Duffy offers practical, theoretical, and cultural reasons to incorporate the concept of virtue into writing classrooms. He argues that compositionists already teach rhetorical virtues when they teach argument, in which the making of claims, the provision of evidence, and the openness to counterarguments create contexts of mutual trust and accountability between writers and audiences (238). For Duffy, teaching writing falls under Alisdair McIntyre’s definition of “practices,” that is, “coherent and complex forms of socially cooperative human activity” (qtd. in Duffy 239); virtues arise as practitioners work toward “excellence” (239). Duffy contends that writing teachers share “a loosely defined set of practices” that have been subjected to the open critique necessary to the “ongoing project” (241) of developing an ethics (239).

Theoretically, he argues, deontology cannot supply a sound rhetorical ethics because of its dependence on received wisdom; rhetoric is most necessary, he writes, when such a priori pronouncements cannot offer a clear path (240). Consequentialism fails because ethical writing will not always achieve its goals (241). Culturally, rhetorical ethics should offer a corrective to today’s corrosive public discourse; postmodern ethics, which has guided many in composition studies, has, in Duffy’s view, offered important challenges to the oppression and injustice committed in the name of “universality” and “foundation” (243), but the “skepticism and critique” that it supports must be augmented with “the language of the virtues” which can “address the possibilities of opening dialogues, finding affinities, acknowledging interdependencies, and talking to those strangers we most fear and mistrust” (244).

The practice of rhetorical ethics, Duffy concludes, must be developed locally to serve the specific contexts students encounter; citing John Gage, he encourages classroom practice that locates students in situations in which they must “exercise practical wisdom, or phronesis” (244). Acknowledging that the kind of rhetorical ethics inherent in rational argument may not always be adequate or may fail when no common ground is possible, Duffy argues that students can learn from exemplars “[h[ow . . . a good writer [would] resist such conditions” (245). Even if other forms of communication are needed, Duffy contends, composition should honor the contribution of “rhetorical virtues” like those found in ethical argumentation to the definition of a “good writer” committed to the goal of “creating [a] better world” (246).


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Davila and Dickinson. Place as Racist Ideology. Comp. Studies Fall 2016. Posted 12/4/2016.

Davila, Bethany, and Hannah Dickinson. “At a Distance: The Encoding of Place in the University.” Composition Studies 44.2 (2016): 94-115. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Bethany Davila and Hannah Dickinson present a case study of the rhetorical effects of references to place in higher education, in particular capital-P Place, which they argue takes on the role of a totalizing marker that sustains racial inequalities.

Their study grows out of other research in which they interviewed students and instructors at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor about various aspects of college writing. Two interviews, one with an African American student and one with a white, male adjunct instructor, stood out for the researchers because of their visible use of place and Place to construct student identities (96). Davila and Dickinson analyze these two interviews to understand how the invocation of place can insert oppressive ideologies into discourse, often despite the intentions of the speaker (101).

They cite the relationship between the “prestigious” University of Michigan and the neighboring city of Detroit as an example of the way place functions as Place to influence the understanding of race at the university. Detroit, which is 83% African American, with a poverty rate of 39%, contrasts with UM, where only 4.65% of the students are African American; the poverty rate in Ann Arbor is 22% (95). Davila and Dickinson note that a ban on affirmative action has exacerbated this disparity (95).

Both low-come students and African Americans, they write, “perhaps especially those from Detroit, may see UM as unwelcoming” (95). A campus movement, Being Black at the University of Michigan (#BBUM), works “to increase awareness about racial inequality” on campus; the movement elicits many statements attesting to discomfort among UM African American students (96). The authors find references to Detroit particularly indicative of how place becomes Place and guides narratives of identity.

They cite the collection City Comp: Identities, Spaces, and Practices as an example of scholarship that explores how cities affect relationships, noting that whether the view of the city comes from inside or outside its boundaries affects the type of narrative that results (97). Their analysis draws on Michel de Certeau’s tropes of the “voyeur” and the “walker” as illustrating two types of interaction with urban contexts (97). The voyeur is “situated at a distance” (98); in de Certeau’s words, the view of the voyeur “makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 98). In contrast, the walker is immersed in “the everyday practices of the city” (98), a relationship evoked by a number of scholars in rhetoric and composition who have studied Detroit (98).

Davila and Dickinson argue that talk about Detroit in many public venues, rather than being an accurate representation of the city, in fact works “as coded language, disguising racist ideologies” (99). They find such discourse to be a form of “white talk,” which they define as language that allows Whites to present themselves as talking about something other than race when they are actually making racist claims. Such talk, the authors contend, allows Whites to avoid the consequences of overt racist speech and to ignore the history of racist oppression that acknowledgment of race as an issue would expose (99).

While Place participates in these erasures among Whites, they argue that it functions in the interview with the African American student as well to establish identity and “reinforce racial inequality” (100).

In Davila and Dickinson’s report of their interview with the white male instructor, they note that he makes “a potentially productive teacherly move” (102) in noting that not all African-American students are alike, but his comments characterize students from Detroit based largely on the fact that they are from Detroit. Asked to “describe the students you pictured in your mind while reading these papers” from Davila’s study, “Simon” attributes the work to “Detroit African American” (102). In his elaboration, he characterizes these students as having “puppy dog energy” but being “really far behind. . . . at the bottom of the pack” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 103). The authors see such depictions as “racist ideologies disguised as commonsense understandings of Detroit” (104). In their view, Detroit becomes a code word for a particular set of assumptions about African Americans.

The authors’ analysis finds Simon attributing the deficiencies he detects in the students’ work to a poor educational system supposedly characteristic of Detroit and to the “culture” of the city, which Davila and Dickinson see as Simon’s attempts to elide the racist implications of his remarks with more acceptable “structural” explanations (103). Such elisions, they argue, provide the city with agency and deny such agency to the residents, who are damaged by what Simon calls “the unique tragedy happening in Detroit” (qtd. In Davila and Dickinson 105). This characterization of the city not only allows Simon to deny that his views have to do with race but also removes agency from residents of Detroit, who are at the mercy of the city (105).

Interviewing “Sean,” the African American UM undergraduate, Davila and Dickinson see him as the “walker” as opposed to Simon, the “voyeur” (107). In Sean’s discourse, the authors find indications that Sean also imparts agency to the city, but considers himself “unique” because he can cite Detroit experiences that set him apart from other African American students (107-08). According to Davila and Dickinson, Sean refuses to surrender his own agency to the city; he describes actions he took to “get out of Detroit” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 108).

The authors read Sean’s responses as evidence that, in Sean’s mind, relationships with Detroit “can be negotiated” (109; emphasis original); in their view, Sean feels that “to use one’s common sense and to keep one’s cool” are ways to manage the city’s power (109). They note that Sean associates passivity with Ann Arbor, where, they write, students may “adopt the kind of complacency that is possible in a location of privilege” (109). In contrast, Sean describes himself as “open or calm” and imbued with an agentive “aggressiveness” that allows him to function in his unique place (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 109). Unlike Simon, Sean positions Detroit as the “inside” space, and UM and the suburbs as outside, overturning the commonsense definition of Detroiters as “marginal” (110).

Davila and Dickinson argue that like Simon, Sean uses Place as a means of talking about particular kinds of African Americans, potentially shutting down more nuanced discussions of race and oppression (110-11). They further posit that despite Sean’s alternative representations of Detroit, Simon’s are “more powerful . . . in shaping Detroit-as-Place” because of Simon’s location within the “university power structure” (111) and its kinship with “common outsider understandings of Detroit” (111).

The authors urge more awareness of the ways in which knowledge about where students are from drives assumptions about identity in classrooms. They advocate deliberate effort to generate “alternative perspectives” by listening to students rather than to commonsense assertions about place and to be alert to the ideological underpinnings engendered when place becomes Place (112).


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Scott, Tony. “Unseeing” political economies in composition. CCC, Sept. 2016. Posted 10/27/2016.

Scott, Tony. “Subverting Crisis in the Political Economy of Composition.” College Composition and Communication 68.1 (2016): 10-37. Print.

In a special issue of College Composition and Communication on the impact of economics on writing education, Tony Scott examines the impact on composition studies of a disconnect between scholarship and practice. Scott argues that this disconnect has its roots in the prevalence in the current culture of “neoliberalism,” a mindset in which economic forces promote a permanent climate of fear and crisis. This climate relies on fear to facilitate the privatization of areas of daily life that were once part of the social and political domain.

To understand how norms of fear and crisis influence writing education, Scott recommends the use of “political economics study” (12). This methodology “examine[s] dynamic relationships between political processes, institutions, work, affordances, and everyday assumptions, relations, and behaviors” (12). It seeks to understand “how particulars relate to whole ecologies” (12).

As an illustration of how political economics influences relations between the particular and the whole, Scott adopts the metaphor of “unseeing” from China Mieville’s novel The City and the City, which depicts two populations living in immediate proximity to each other without “seeing” each other and recognizing the differences that define them (11). In Scott’s view, scholarship in composition “unsee[s]” the material conditions on which it depends and with which it co-exists (29).

Scott cites sociologist William Davies, for whom neoliberalism functions through “the pursuit of disenchantment of politics by economics” (15; emphasis original). This disenchantment takes the form of “direct, government-facilitated, private sector intervention into public services and social domains” (13). In such an economic environment, “market logics” and the view that markets can recognize and facilitate the most effective measures in all areas of daily life become the norm (14). Scott cites composition scholarship dating back to arguments by John Trimbur in 1991 that writing education risks succumbing to privatization because of factors like its reliance on powerless contingent labor and the size of the market it offers to for-profit enterprise (14).

According to Scott, neoliberalism promotes crisis in order to suggest that only the technocratic expertise of market experts and economists can re-establish stability. He contrasts the “classically modern model” of economic cycles, in which periods of stability rotate with downturns that will be corrected through innovation and critique (27), with neoliberalism’s need for a “perpetual” sense of “competitive uncertainty” in which “precarity” imposed by the elimination of various social support systems guarantees that individuals will see themselves as isolated, beset, and in need of a competitive edge, especially in monetary terms (28).

In this view, the resulting constant call for austerity attenuates social structures while empowering technocrats who argue that market forces are best positioned to control crises (28). An overall effect, Scott contends, is that neoliberal solutions to crisis supersede “more fundamental critique and change” that might challenge “status quo free market capitalism” (28).

Scott contends that composition studies has accepted the pervasiveness of crisis, citing its prominence in recent conference agendas, for example, the theme of “Risk and Reward” at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Scott argues, however, that such agendas provide “no explicit identification of what people fear or why” (20; emphasis original). Crisis begins to look like “its own exigency” (20).

Through an examination of arguments by scholars like Bruce Horner and Elizabeth Wardle, Scott locates the power of this mindset in debates about the role and value of disciplinarity. In his 1991 discussion, Trimbur worried that professionalization and academic status would lead compositionists to become “deeply implicated in the reward system, division of labor, and meritocratic order that have privatized literacy” (qtd. in Scott 13). Scott sees Trimbur’s concern borne out in the ongoing “exchange value” of publication and research (19). In Scott’s view, this meritocratic impulse has increasingly led to the isolation and disempowerment of scholars and experts in writing education, whose authority, Scott maintains, threatens the incursion of private forces into public domains (21). Although graduate students continue to receive the “official” curriculum that promotes ideas, theory, and theory-driven research, this work constructs scholars as “self-entrepreneurs” (18) at the same time that, in Horner’s words, they are

increasingly losing control over the means to the production of knowledge—now accomplished in ‘partnership’ with business and industry—and its circulation, in publications and in teaching” (qtd. in Scott 21).

Scott argues that graduate students simultaneously receive an “‘unofficial’ education” as they experience teaching as TAs and contingent faculty (18-19). The importance of this distinction, for Scott, is that the scholarship that provides exchange value in composition does not “see” the material landscape in which teaching actually occurs. This dissociation leaves the everyday practice of teaching open to the introduction of more and more commercial influence as technocratic ways of providing and measuring learning, for example through competency-based assessment, steadily remove teachers from the learning equation (17).

Scott’s premise is that scholarly conversations about the direction of composition often do not recognize how the material circumstances in which the scholarly ideas must be enacted are not configured to accommodate those ideas. For example, while characterizing Byron Hawk’s proposal that composition studies should “recover vitalism” in order to create “new ways of seeing invention and pedagogy,” Scott expresses concern that Hawk’s “study makes almost no mention of composition’s institutional contexts or terms of labor” (23).

Similarly, he sees in Sidney I. Dobrin’s proposal that writing studies divest itself of responsibility for pedagogy a path toward irrelevance. Scott contends that composition’s connection to pedagogy provides the support apparatus for research like Dobrin’s, which, without grounding in a realistic view of political economy, would appeal only to “a small, cloistered realm of rhetorical scholars” (24). Scott cites Wardle to point out that composition further endangers its authority through the use of non-credentialed teachers like graduate students, suggesting to policy makers that expertise is not needed to teach writing (21, 22).

Thus, Scott argues, composition scholars seem preoccupied with the crisis embodied by austerity and precarity but have not adequately come to grips with what is happening in classrooms as market forces take over teaching.

Composition does need disruptive new ideas, and those ideas can be fundamentally transforming when they engage composition work at the ground-level economies where it is actually being performed. (29)

Scott recommends more research on the effects of commercial software like plagiarism-detection programs and attention to the outsourcing attendant on increasing globalization, but he also advocates the development of pedagogies that unite teachers and scholars not only in promoting innovative ideas but also in implementing “the just, ethical work and learning environments that would need to be in place for them to be realized” (33).


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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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Giordano and Hassel. Developmental Reform and the Two-Year College. TETYC, May 2016. Posted 07/25/2016.

Giordano, Joanne Baird, and Holly Hassel. “Unpredictable Journeys: Academically At-Risk Students, Developmental Education Reform, and the Two-Year College.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.4 (2016): 371-90. Web. 11 July 2016.

Joanne Baird Giordano and Holly Hassel report on a study of thirty-eight underprepared students negotiating the curriculum at a “small midwestern campus” that is part of a “statewide two-year liberal arts institution” (372). The study assessed the placement process, the support systems in place, and the efforts to “accelerate” students from developmental coursework to credit-bearing courses (374). The institution, an open-access venue, accepted 100 percent of applicants in 2014 (372).

Giordano and Hassel position their study in an ongoing conversation about how best to speed up students’ progress through college and improve graduation rates—the “college completion agenda” (371). Expressing concern that some policy decisions involved in these efforts might result from what Martha E. Casazza and Sharon L. Silverman designate as “misunderstood studies of ‘remedial’ student programs” (371), Giordano and Hassel present their study as reinforcing the importance of a robust developmental curriculum within an open-access environment and the necessity for ongoing support outside of regular classwork. They also focus on the degree to which placement procedures, even those using multiple measures, often fail to predict long-term student trajectories (371, 377).

The researchers characterize their institution as offering a “rigorous general-education curriculum” designed to facilitate student transfer to the four-year institutions within the state (372). They note that the two-year institution’s focus on access and its comprehensive placement process, which allows faculty to consider a range of factors such as high school grades, writing samples, and high-school coursework (375), mean that its developmental writing program is more likely to serve underprepared students than is the case at colleges that rely on less varied placement measures such as standardized tests (374). The thirty-eight students in the study all had test scores that would have placed them in multiple developmental sections at many institutions (374).

The institution’s goal is to reduce the amount of time such students spend in developmental curricula while supporting the transition to credit-bearing coursework (373). The writing program offers only one developmental course; after completing this course, students move to a two-course credit-bearing sequence, the second component of which fulfills the core writing requirement for four-year institutions within the state (373-74). A curriculum that features “integrated reading and writing” and a small-group “variable-credit, nondegree studio writing course” that students can take multiple times support students’ progress (373).

Examination of student work in the courses in which they were placed indicates that students were generally placed appropriately (375). Over the next two years, the researchers assessed how well the students’ written work met course outcomes and interviewed instructors about student readiness to move forward. Giordano and Hassel then collected data about the students’ progress in the program over a four-year period (375).

Noting that 74% of the students studied remained in good academic standing after their first year, Giordano and Hassel point out that test scores bore no visible relation to academic success (377). Eighteen of the students completed the second-semester writing course. Acknowledging that this percentage was lower than it would be for students whose test scores did not direct them into developmental classes, the authors argue that this level of success illustrates the value of the developmental coursework they undertook. Whereas policy makers often cite developmental work as an impediment to college completion, Giordano and Hassel argue that this coursework was essential in helping the underprepared students progress; they contend that what prevents many such students from moving more quickly and successfully through college is not having to complete extra coursework but instead “the gradual layering of academic and nonacademic challenges” that confronts these students (377).

The authors present a case study to argue that with ongoing support, a student whose scores predict failure can in fact succeed at college-level work (378-79). More problematic, however, are the outcomes for students who place into more than one developmental course, for example, both writing and math.

For example, only three of twenty-one students placing into more than one developmental section “completed a state system degree of any kind,” but some students in this category did earn credits during the four years of the study (380). The authors conclude from data such as these that the single developmental section of writing along with the studio course allowed the students to succeed where they would ordinarily have failed, but that much more support of different kinds is needed to help them progress into the core curriculum (381).

The authors examined the twenty students who did not complete the core requirement to understand how they “got stuck” in their progress (381). Some students repeatedly attempted the initial credit-bearing course; others avoided taking the core courses, and others could not manage the second, required writing course (382-83). The authors offer “speculat[ion]” that second-language issues may have intervened; they also note that the students did not take the accompanying studio option and their instructors chose a “high-stakes, single-grade essay submission” process rather than requiring a portfolio (382).

In addition, the authors contend, many students struggled with credit-bearing work in all their courses, not just writing and reading (383). Giordano and Hassel argue that more discipline-specific support is needed if students are to transition successfully to the analytical thinking, reading, and writing demanded by credit-bearing courses. They note that one successful strategy undertaken by some students involved “register[ing] in gradually increasing numbers of reading-intensive credits” (384), thus protecting their academic standing while building their skills.

Another case study of a student who successfully negotiated developmental and lower-level credit-bearing work but struggled at higher levels leads Giordano and Hassel to argue that, even though this student ultimately faced suspension, the chance to attend college and acquire credits exemplified the “tremendous growth as a reader, writer, and student” open access permits (384).

The study, the authors maintain, supports the conclusion, first, that the demand from policy-making bodies that the institutions and faculty who serve underprepared students be held accountable for the outcomes of their efforts neglects the fact that these institutions and educators have “the fewest resources and voices of influence in higher education and in the policy-making process” (384). Second, they report data showing that policies that discourage students from taking advantage of developmental work so they can move through coursework more quickly result in higher failure rates (387). Third, Giordano and Hassel argue that directed self-placement is not appropriate for populations like the one served by their institution (387). Finally, they reiterate that the value of attending college cannot be measured strictly by graduation rates; the personal growth such experiences offer should be an essential component of any evaluation (387-88).


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Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. English Textbooks in Cameroon. RTE, May 2016. Posted 07/01/2016.

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. “Textbooks, Literacy, and Citizenship: The Case of Anglophone Cameroon.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 378-99. Print.

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw reports on a study of English-language teaching materials in Cameroon. She addresses textbooks from four periods of recent Cameroonian history: the colonial era of the 1950s and 1960s, the postindependence period of the 1980s, the postcolonial years reaching into the early 2000s, and the “era of globalization,” which the country is now experiencing (381).

To investigate the colonial context, Yenika-Agbaw reviewed the Oxford English Readers for Africa (OERA), which, published in the 1930s, was a “staple in the curriculum” (379). Beginning in the postcolonial period, educators moved to “alternative textbooks,” including the Evans Cameroon Primary English series (ECPE), the Primary English for Cameroon series (PEC), and the Basic English for Cameroon series (BEC) (379). Yenika-Agbaw notes that the PEC and BEC are “current” (379).

Yenika-Agbaw chose these texts for analysis from lists of the most commonly used textbook series in Cameroon. The head librarian of the Penn State Education and Behavioral Sciences Library helped her obtain these lists as well as a copy of the OERA. She owned the EPCE and visited Cameroon to purchase the series topping the lists, PEC and BEC (384-85). She read all the materials, selecting “nonfiction” sections that addressed citizenship and national identity (385-86).

Yenika-Agbaw’s questions involve how educational materials in the Anglophone Cameroonian language-arts curriculum constructed students’ identities as members of Cameroonian culture and as citizens. Her theoretical focus derives from postcolonial theory as developed by scholars like Henry Giroux, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha, and others (382). This scholarship analyzes texts to posit that colonialism and its outgrowths over time “produce a culture of hybridity” in which historical and evolving forces influence each other (382).

Yenika-Agbaw also cites work by M. V. Tlostanova and W. D. Mignolo that sees “the problem of the twenty-first century” as one of “dwelling in the borders” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 382; emphasis original). Such “border dwellers,” this scholarship proposes, have the opportunity to address the inequality underlying colonialism.

Yenika-Agbaw argues that Cameroon’s trajectory through multiple colonial relationships and its deep multiculturalism, evinced in part by the existence of more than 200 languages, make it a rich source for study of the effects of colonialism. She notes tensions between resistance to what B. T. Kishani calls “languages of dependency” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 380) and the social capital inherent in the use of these languages (380). She draws on the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o to position her research in the study of how language conveys values and identities (380).

Yenika-Agbaw uses content analysis to draw inferences about the development of Cameroon’s educational practices from a reading of the textbook series in light of their contexts (382). She notes only two other scholars who have addressed textbook use in Africa (383). Her work, she states, differs from that of these researchers in that she is interested in the cultural messages in the four texts rather than “the linguistic expectations of well-intentioned professionals” about such topics as grammar and usage (383).

Her analysis of the country’s transitions reveals a trend of moving from outright adulation of British and European culture to a more nuanced awareness of Cameroon as a unique, independent country. The OERA, used during the colonial period, encourages students to admire European products and points to Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan as models of exemplary accomplishment (387). Citing Bhabha, she argues that during this colonial period, “[l]earning how to speak/read/write in English is thus synonymous with learning how to be British and earning one’s place in the British empire,” as well as in Europe with its material goods (387).

The ECPE, used during the postindependence phase, introduces village and family life as essential components of a Cameroonian citizenry. Cultural sites such as a “Handicraft Centre” are also presented (388). However, Yenika-Agbaw finds that British and European “famous people/inventors” continue to dominate lessons. Europe is presented as a place students should hope to visit (389). Thus this textbook series bridges colonial commitment to European supremacy and an emerging awareness of the distinctive nature of Cameroonian citizenship.

Yenika-Agbaw locates PEC, still in use, in the postcolonial era. This series addresses the global environment through a unit on the United Nations and its multinational peacekeeping efforts. The text explicitly presents Cameroon’s “National Day” as a marker of the country’s independent status. However, it also invites continued affirmation of the nation’s British heritage with a section on Cameroon’s involvement in the Commonwealth games (389-90). Students are encouraged to admire a wealthy South African male and two famous Western females, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Serena Williams (391). Yenika-Agbaw sees this mixed focus as “a struggle to assert Cameroon’s independence from colonialism while working with the tools inherited from this sociopolitical legacy” (391).

According to Yenika-Agbaw, BEC, also still current, expands the global context by asking students to consider their personal impact on “nature” and by introducing the complexities of refugees affected by the Rwandan crisis (392). These discussions are juxtaposed with sections on Cameroon’s official “Youth Day” and with presentations on Cameroonian Christmas celebrations. Yenika-Agbaw proposes that this text offers the possibility of “multiple citizenship,” in which students can identify with a global community while still identifying as members of their own country (392).

Yenika-Agbaw traces two persistent themes through the four series. A notion of “white male supremacy” dominates the early texts; the later texts work to transcend this focus, but can only do so by featuring women who are not from Black Africa, wealthy individuals with little to teach young Cameroonians about their own place in modern culture, and a Western version of Christmas not “typical” of Cameroonian practice (394).

Drawing again on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Yenika-Agbaw posits that the authors of the textbooks, even when they are Cameroonian, may be influenced by their roles as “the first generation of Educated Africans,” entrenched in the legacies of their “Eurocentric education[s]” (395). A continuing view of Europe as an appropriate cultural model, she contends, may be “the price former British colonies pay” in seeking the perquisites offered by fluency in English (395).

She urges educators to remember the power of educational materials to affect students’ sense of their own place in world cultures and warns against a definition of citizenship that “innocently disenfranchises children within their continents and countries of origin and this leaves them culturally and literarily uprooted” instead of providing them with the tools to navigate a diverse world (396).