Wednesday, October 3, 2012


"Composition is a subject best discussed in quiet rooms" (In honor of tonight's debate)

I feel depressed after reading the Learner article, which could be summarized as such: For over 100 years, educators have acknowledged the crucial role of individualized instruction, yet have continually failed to arrive upon an effective method of implementation. I see no solutions on the horizon either. I imagine Learner, whose article was published prior to the 2008 economic collapse and the ensuing austerity measures, would only conclude with greater pessimism if his analysis was extended to the present; after all, this "has always been a case of too many students, too little time, too much writing, too few dollars." As humanities departments continue to be starved, the current unsustainable trajectory seems to be more students, less time (for instructors), and less dollars.

To me, any attempt to foster improved instructor-student relations in freshman composition classes is futile within the corporatized university. The lack of satisfying individual instruction is obviously a symptom of a problem far beyond the agency of english graduate teaching instructors, who, facing a job market that is both squeezed dry and stuck in the glory days mentality of research>teaching ability, must focus on their own work.

A separate issue: how much would it even benefit a student to regularly conference with a rookie teacher, completely inexperienced in the world of rhet/comp? In the semester that my students are supposed to be learning how to write, their guide is a do-it-yourself etext and an "instructor" that doesn't know what material is going to be covered in class more than a week in advance. Would they really improve drastically as writers if they spent more time with me? The individual contact I have had with my students has filled me with guilt: "am I giving them bad advice?" We did get five days of orientation, so we know what we're doing I guess (I kid). I shouldn't be so cynical as the individual instruction I have given my students so far has gone pretty well. I've just felt like I don't have the authority to be giving the advice I am giving, and I fear that they are taking the words of an amateur as gospel. 

Something else that interested me in the article was the resistance over the years to science and technology. Learner touches on the reliance on computerized work, and also, in response to Glicksberg's quotes, states: "The chilling, soulless world of the scientist needed to be countered by the humanistic methods of the English teacher and, specifically, through the understanding of students as individuals." I wonder how much room there is for individualism and humanism in a prefabricated e-class that strongly discourages the use of any literature. I say this as a student who switched his major from Business to English after reading literature in my freshman composition class in undergrad. It was refreshing to read the words of Charles Glickensberg in response to the encroachment of the sciences on the humanities:

"The scientific Huns are on the march, and their objective is not only the elimination of English composition from the curriculum. If they had their way, they would sack the buildings in which the liberal arts are taught, raze them to the ground, and pour salt on the foundation. The new scientific barbarians, now that they have produced the atomic bomb, are determined to capture the citadel of education, adapt it to their own special ends, and establish a dictatorship of the physicists and technocrats."

1 comment:

  1. I feel similar anxieties about being the "gate keeper" of college composition for these freshman (I think we talked in class a bit about how we don't feel qualified to teach rhet), but I'm starting to think that my anxieties about teaching rhet are conflated with my anxieties about speaking in front of people in general. You mention you've felt guilty about the advice you give to students individually; has this been during class? During office hours? (Do you think it'd make any difference where/when it's happening?)