notes from my meeting today with Lisa

The counter-argument (religion should not be allowed in the writing classroom) is unstated, implicit, and it grows out of the argument against the personal (probably). There’s a certain political correctness (i.e., no religion allowed) implicit.

An outline: Here’s the question, here’s why it’s important to the field and to me. Here’s how it has and has not been addressed.

___ Check with Vander Lei and Kyburz (eds of Negotiating Religious Faith…) to see if they encountered any explicit arguments against religion in the writing classroom.

___ Check the print edition of The Chronicle for an article arguing very explicitly against the personal in writing classrooms. Then a series of online responses. Check under religion, personal, teaching of writing.

Marshall Alcorn’s Changing the Subject in English Class: Discourse and the Constructions of Desire. Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Marshall critiqued James Berlin’s work. Berlin reviewed it (anonymously) and said in essence “Berlin isn’t attentive to students…” Very cool. So had Berlin lived longer…

We talked briefly about Berlin’s four categories and how they became rather too defined, too binary.

___ Check for Alcorn in Lisa’s Situating Composition.

___ Email Lisa to find article by Pat Bizzell which says we should be explicit in our beliefs / assumptions.

Social Constructivism and Expressivism are really false binaries. Alcorn in the former, but criticizes it as well.

___ Check with Michael for people who are holding to the postmodern critique but trying to break out of false binaries.

Lisa’s Situating Composition — swoosh for mid section on history of process pedagogy.

It’s as if composition has been having this debate (over religion) “in absentia.” It’s lurking there, but we “don’t even want to go there.”

It’s very tough to talk about it, but we need to do it. Here’s how we’ve avoided it, here’s the reason why we need to talk about it, here’s the aknowledgement/discussion of the ways religion in the writing classroom could go wrong. (Lisa’s mantra: there’s no pedagogy that can’t be perverted.) Of course, we each can have preferences. But each method we used can be destroyed or perverted.

___ Check Elbow on voice in Everyone Can Write. Good on embracing paradoxes, perhaps a model for way to think about these things? Check his intellectual moves to see if I can use them.

See Lindemann’s and Tate’s debate re the place of literature in the composition classroom, as an example of how NOT to talk because they do binaries and left the field with no advance. Tate’s “A Place for LIterature in Freshman Composition” is in A Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook 175ff. Lindemann’s “Freshman Composition: No Place for Literature” is in College English 55 (March 1993): 311-16.

Dennis pointed out that current traditional pedagogy may have some connection here, too, because it views the text as so absolute (as, presumably, religious students would, too).


2 thoughts on “notes from my meeting today with Lisa

  1. I was reading your blog and thinking about what you wrote, “The counter-argument (religion should not be allowed in the writing classroom) is unstated, implicit, and it grows out of the argument against the personal (probably). There’s a certain political correctness (i.e., no religion allowed) implicit.” This does seem quite accurate, especially the argument against the personal that often goes unstated in classrooms but is still there. If it weren’t, I doubt I’d freak out every time I handed in something that was even remotely personal and contained actual beliefs or experiences of my

    I’m probably going to write my paper on “Technology’s Strange, Familiar Voices,” by Janet Carey Eldred. These two excerpts seem at least loosely connected with what you’ve been thinking about and are interesting even if they’re not! :D :

    “During these years, my mother was as generous with her prose as I was with my juvenilia and teenage outpourings, while I, with my new college writing, was stingy and safe. She gave me drafts of her literary analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, a piece in which she tried to come to terms with something completely foreign and frightening to her. The final version contained this instructor
    comment. ‘Good revisions, Chris. No philosophizing in this version!’

    I recognized the academic ‘don’t get too close’ rule. It was
    something I proved my mastery and love of when I gave her, in return for her disturbing, disturbed feelings drafts, a carefully constructed analysis of the same novel.”

    and from the same one, here’s the opposite of bringing the personal into the classroom and writing, bringing the writing to the personal work in church:

    “As a small girl, I remember the passion of my mother’s Catholicism. Having survived Vatican II, she now was a passionate new Catholic, singing loudly to the wheat-and-honey guitar hymns, participating in
    the new liturgy and life of the church. She even worked there. And thus it happened that when I returned home from graduate school for visits, I found congregation members who knew intimately my life details. ‘This is my daughter who lives in Illinois,’ she’d say. And then I’d stiffen, waiting for their very physical embrace and the usual refrain, ‘I feel as if I know you.’ Still more annoying, I sensed that they never knew the intimate details of her life. I was the post-Vatican II sacrificial lamb, and I knew where she learned the ritual: those writing classes at the community college with the Ken Macrorie textbook. As a Master Catechist (lay people now held impressive titles with their low salaries), she had brought writing to her church work.

    What was worse, she too now had a professional voice, and it was mimicking the one I was apprenticing. ‘I always begin my catechist training sessions with journaling,’ she told me proudly on one of my visits home.

    ‘You do what?’ I say in a tone that should make her rethink this accomplishment. It does not.
    ‘I have them journal,’ she repeats, pride still there.
    ‘Journal,’ I say in my best old-fashioned English teacher voice, ‘is not a verb.’

    But it was for her. As I realized on my last visit home, she had been journalling since the time she was empty-nested in 1980 until just this year, filling on a fairly regular basis a decorative, hardback notebook a year, working at the discipline of it.’

  2. Thanks, Marjorie!

    I was just reading Michael’s last post — “the problem of privatized opinions” — and I was thinking about how so much of this problem stems probably from the false dichotomy of “academic” versus “personal” writing, the separation of the academic world from the personal world, even.

    Ira Socol comments on Michael’s post, concluding with “Eventually we hope to get them [students] to a point where they know that all writing is persuasion – of one form or another – and that all persuasive arguments deserve doubt and critique.” I like that a lot. But it also reminds me that all persuasive arguments (or opinions or whatever we call them) also sometimes deserve unquestioned acceptance. It just depends on the situation. And I guess I’m thinking of “situation” as literally ANY situation — at a funeral, in your living room, in a classroom, whatever. Sometimes we as human beings should simply accept and listen to each other, and sometimes we should doubt and critique. But it doesn’t have to do with place or with type of opinion; it has to do with situation. It has to do with relationship. If you’re in an academic relationship with someone or some text, you definitely doubt and critique. That’s what academics do, no matter what the genre or subject matter, no matter how personal or private. But if you’re in a personal relationship with someone or some text, you have to decided based on that relationship whether you ought to be doubting or believing that person/text.

    So it seems students need to be taught not to separate by place (public or private) or by genre (personal narrative or research project), but by the relationship involved.

    The believing part of Elbow’s believing and doubting game/strategy works because sometimes writers need unqualified support. It’s just part of our psychological make-up. Belief is like a vitamin we give to others. But, of course, we provide that belief-vitamin only when we’re in a personal relationship with a person or a text (or in a writing center session!), and we provide doubt and critique when we’re in an academic relationship with a person or text.

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