Dennis Ciesielski Re Elizabeth Wardle
From: Dennis Ciesielski
Elizabeth writes: “Yet that is what we seem to be doing—refusing a center, remaining unable to see ourselves as a unified group with a core focus and shared methods. Power is not bad, though I hear some compositionists talk like it is. When we have power, we can make positive change in the world related to writing. Yet instead of seeking this disciplinary power, we continue to allow ourselves to be defined by others. We seem to be like the battered woman who has been told who she is for so long that she can’t see herself as anything else. We have lots of research that tells us quite clearly that our systems of writing instruction should be very different and that what we have to share is, in fact, a body of knowledge worth sharing. Yet we continue to allow others to own our writing classrooms and make them into whatever the hot topic or trend suggests.” (See quote in context. Opens in new browser window.)
This is great stuff. I’ve been ranting on the reality of the content problem for some time now. One major reality is that only the people on this list and active members of CCC are going to enter into the debate/dialogue re FYC content. We’ll get a lot said, and a few good articles will emerge, but the academic world will, in general, continue to mosey along the same old trail. As Susan reminds us, FYC is the one most taught (and required) course in the university. Ironically, what should have become a power situation has become a diciplinary liability. Our territory is simply so large that it defies definition.
I sense a dilution metaphor here. Because the entire university has a stake in our outcomes, everyone feels the need to name us into a sense of their own requirements and desires. Regardless of our body of knowledge and the obvious “uber validity” (excuse the coinage) of our discipline, universities and colleges across the country will simply not recognize FYC’s profound place in higher education with the funding and professional respect we require. In much the same way that textbooks disregard resistant learners and address the ideal student, a lot of folks in our profession who work in larger research universities often forget about the “frontlines” of smaller university systems, small colleges, community colleges, that for either ideological or economic reasons don’t hire comp specialists to do the work of FYC. Rather, they dole out FYC to resistant Lit specialists who very often disdain teaching the “bread and butter courses” as a prelude to their real interests.
Even worse is the hiring of adjuncts (at dismal pay) from extremely small rural mid-american markets (small college often equates to small town). Rather than opening positions for writing specialists to teach the most taught course, administrators will settle for any retired high school teacher or varied MA or MS holder who has taken a few English courses. The pickin’s are slim in the heartland. Since hardly any of these people are well-read in (or even aware of) our discipline’s body of research and its application in the clasroom, the administration and cross-curricular faculty see a lot of sophomores who really could be better writers had they had a better prepared writing teacher. The ideal solution is to work mandatory seminars and norming sessions into the mix, but again, these “answers” require departmental and university cooperation.
Much of our content and identity problem lies in how the university-at-large sees us and what it is we do. It does seem odd that our numbers and the university’s undeniable reliance on us as a group doesn’t place us a little nearer to the driver’s seat. Funding decisions and ever-shrinking required credit hours compel institutions to double up and look for more efficient ways to fiscal succcess — often at the cost of academic success.
The current interest in assement has allowed a lot of schools to give lip service to their writing “program” but all too often assessmnet findings are never impemented, adminstration being satisfied that they have been recognized as assessors alone. (ah, reality) Thus, tthe common observation across the country is that our students can’t write well.
The engineering dept at my own school complains about their students’ writing abilities, yet they have removed the tech writing requirement from their program and have campaigned to turn our second semster of FYC into an ersatz tech writing service course. (it’ll never happen!) This is the ultimate in “naming” composition out of the picture. This sort of problem occurs all over the small school world. It’s hard top strtify and define FYC
Every discipline wants writing to achieve its own specific purpose, so every one will name it differently. It’s actually fotunate that we can’t pin composition to into a box like a dead butterfly. Stasis is comfortable because it stands still long enough for us to own it, to name it to our own needs. But like the generally percieved problem of liberals being unable to define themselves, writing is just too fluid to hold in just one person’s hand. OK rant time is over . . . Back to work.