2013 CCCCs: Writing Scholars Against Writing

I come to the Conference on College Composition and Communication expecting to be depressed about many aspects of the field. I’m used to that. Nothing makes me sadder, though, than the number of scholars who display distaste for the very subject our field is oriented to, or was: the teaching of writing.

I know, very well, that there is more to writing than prose. But I also know that prose matters, that it has beauty and power, and that our disciplinary identity depends on teaching it. It amazes me to read and hear people continuing to make the argument that we should value multimodal or non-traditional compositions; that war ended long ago, and the victory for the multimodal has been complete. Read the journals! That’s all that’s getting published, work on multimodality and digital literacies. This conference is full of presentations about these subjects. And I value that, I recognize their importance. I would consider it pedagogical malpractice not to introduce some multimodality and digital composition into my writing classes. But I don’t want to move so far from prose that we don’t discuss the best ways to teach it, or confine it to marginal status through neglect. Nor do I think that we can justify our funding or defend our autonomy without demonstrating the centrality of traditional text-based writing to our field.

I know that this sort of language inevitably makes it sound as if I am denigrating the research or pedagogy of scholars who work and teach in less traditional modes and media. That is not my intent. My intent is to point out that it’s exceedingly hard to find panels at this composition conference that directly reflect on composition in the traditional sense. I think that’s a mistake, on a variety of levels, and a shame. Because I value prose; I think prose is important; I think prose matters.

3 Comments

  1. “That’s all that’s getting published, work on multimodality and digital literacies.”

    Sadly true…we’re being saturated with this obsession over technology and the presumed notion that when teachers do not use technology it’s because they’re not properly trained. This is a crock. Some of us simply recognize, as do you, that “our first business is text and prose”–it’s not the endless stream of videos, podcasts, and chatrooms, where students blather on endlessly in a formless and incoherent rambling sort of dialogue that John Sutherland calls a “bleak, bald, sad shorthand.” It seems that everyone has forgotten the sage axiom, “nothing in excess, all things in moderation.” Let us not forget that…and let us not forget our students, many of whom are worn-out on this obsession with technology. It’s not new anymore, and its luster has worn off. As with anything, judicious use is the most effective use.

    PS–I enjoy your blogs! I’m curious as to how you know Dr. Richard Fulkerson. Did you meet him at a CCCC conference or did you simply happen upon his scholarship? Please email me back on this, as I’m doing graduate work on Fulkerson and would love to know. Thank you!!

  2. Thank you!

    I think I first read Fulkerson’s work in my MA program at the University of Rhode Island, likely in a class on the history of composition theory. We have also read him here at Purdue, where his historical work is considered in ENGL 591, History and Theory of Composition Pedagogy, one of our five core classes.

  3. PS–I have a new name for the new writing: “digital illiteracies.” Or how about “cave-man pictorials?” I’m saddened to hear that the CCCC conference was such a bummer and that scholarly endeavors in the field have become so insipid and monolithic, given their myopic focus these days. You’re right–it’s tragic that many of those in the field of comp and rhetoric seem to so terribly unhappy. Their resentful attitude is alarming. I’m affected by it as well each time I read one of those depressing, grievance-filled, tear-jerking journal articles about the poor, underappreciated writing teacher. It seems that many in the field suffer from the “Rodney Dangerfield woe-is-me complex” of I-get-no-respect; and it’s all because my field is not treated as a legitimate discipline and, for that reason, we’ve been marginalized and don’t know our ‘place’ in the university system. Marginalized? We’re an essential facet of the core curriculum at most universities. We haven’t been any more marginalized than basic math has been marginalized. Just as writing is fundamental to other disciplines, so too is college algebra fundamental to success in the other disciplines, such as business, technology, and the sciences. So the courses we teach are the courses students need to be successful, not only in college, but also in life. But what is most tragic of all (if not negligent) is that the obsession some of these scholars have with the status of FYW within the academy has distracted many scholars from their primary business–that of serving the student. Instead of belly-aching, we ought to be embracing our profession with vigor and enthusiasm; we ought to be working on innovative ways to instill in our students a passion for language–a passion that’s not achieved by means of cheap pictorials, ‘sad shorthand’ blogs (Sutherland), and slick tech tricks, but with words and the artful crafting of a prose piece. I, like you, am not at all envious, angry, or insecure over the fact that I teach writing. To the contrary, I enjoy the teaching of writing immensely and take pride in my profession, perhaps because I’m of the firm conviction that comp and rhetoric does, in fact, occupy a legitimate place in the university, wherein it fulfills a vital role–again, on behalf of the student. For that reason, it is, as you encourage, our job to engage students with the text and with the prose so that they, too, can produce writing that is artfully crafted and effectively used. And in quoting Elizabeth Anscombe, “that is my complaint.”

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