Gold – Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges

Gold, David. Rhetoric at the Margins :Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. Print.

In Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947, David Gold re-historicized the history of writing in American colleges during the late 19th century and early 20th century by including accounts from three colleges and universities outside of the typical liberal arts institutions that are commonly included in such histories. Gold argued that including these other formal sites of writing instruction would provide a fuller and more nuanced history of composition and rhetorical education in the U.S. during that time period:

“I argue that each of the schools in this study championed intellectual and pedagogical traditions that diverged from the Eastern liberal arts model that often serves as the standard bearer for the development of English studies and rhetorical education. Furthermore, by emphasizing community uplift and civic responsibility and by validating local institutional and demographic realities, these schools created contexts in which otherwise moribund curricular features of the era—such as strict classroom discipline and an emphasis on prescription—took on new possibilities. Indeed, I suggest that the epistemological schema that have long been applied to pedagogical practices may actually limit understanding of those practices.” (xi)

Gold stated the three goals of the text were: “( 1) to recover important histories that would otherwise be lost and give voice to the experiences of students and educators of a diverse past; ( 2) to complicate and challenge the master narratives of rhetoric and composition history and the ideological assumptions that underlie them; and ( 3 ) to demonstrate persistent connections between the past and the present in order to help develop richer pedagogies for diverse bodies of students” (x).

To reconstruct the histories of writing instruction at Wiley College, Texas Woman’s University, and East Texas Gold analyzed archival  resources including: catalogues, course descriptions, student and faculty class notes and essays, contemporary newspaper and governmental reports, letters and diaries, interviews and oral histories. Gold argued that “What we have dismissed as current-traditional rhetoric often represents a complex of interwoven practices, both conservative and radical, liberatory and disciplining, and subject to wide-ranging local and institutional variations” (5).

One of the most compelling examples of how generalizing histories and theories of  writing pedagogy based on a monolithic notion of liberal arts education drawn from a limited selection of “mainstream” liberal arts colleges and universities can be found in Gold’s analysis of black liberal arts and rhetorical education at Wiley College, a historically Black college (HBCU). Exploring these histories that have been marginalized are important to the future of writing instruction, according to Gold, because writing instructors and program administrators use these histories to policy and curriculum decisions.

Gold argued that James Berlin’s (1987) taxonomies have been treated as mutually exclusive and discrete: “One is either epistemic or current-traditional in pedagogical practice and never twain shall they meet” (17). Tolson’s rhetorical practices, however, did not fit into any simple category: “…rather he combined elements of classical, current-traditional, liberal, social-epistemic, and African American as he saw fit” (17).

This example along with others from the other two institutions examined in the book, reinforce Gold’s primary argument that our interpretations of composition and rhetorical theory, like the theories themselves, are socially constructed, in constant flux, and must be understood in context.

Once again, an example of the importance of this type of contextual understanding can be seen in professor Melvin Tolson’s pedagogy at Wiley College as it related to race, power, and language instruction. Gold highlighted how Tolson would not have seen his prescriptive teaching of Standard American English as being in conflict with his opposition to white supremacy:

“For Tolson, language instruction gave his students the tools to actively resist the pressures of racism, conservatism, and capitalism. The question of whether the master’s tools could be used to tear down or rebuild the master’s house never came up, as it never would have occurred to him that the tools belonged to the master in the first place” (153).

He concluded:

“Our inheritance as rhetoric, writing, and language instructors in the American academy is a rich one, and the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a vital part of that inheritance. Then, as now, writing instructors worked to expand educational opportunities for new constituencies of students, fought against what they saw as the reductive rhetoric of previous generations, and sought to promote citizen-ship through rhetorical instruction. This is a past that not only deserves to be remembered but might also bear some repeating.” (156)

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Kalamaras – Confessions of a Socio-Epistemic Rhetorician: Negotiating the Seemingly Nonnegotiable inthe Development of Part-Time Faculty

Kalamaras, George. “Confessions of a Socio-Epistemic Rhetorician: Negotiaating the Seemingly Nonnegotiable in the Development of Part-Time Faculty.” English Education. 24.4 (1992): 229-236. Print.

In this article, George Kalamaras describes his experience as a newly hired assistant professor and associate director of a writing program. Kalamaras highlights the dissonance in his department between his view as a Socio-epistemic rhetorician and more Classical Rhetoricians in the department. The differences, however, extend into other areas of the department such as, coherence of the department. These differences are more of an issue for Kalamaras who has to work with overworked, underpaid part-time faculty.

In the end, Kalamaras finds that the differences is not all bad, and can in fact through dialogue produce a similar liberatory effect as that desired for students:

The socio-epistemic  rhetorician,  then, in her attempt  to reshape  a writing  program,  must be open to having her own ideology  reshaped  as well. Thus, rather  than abandoning  her ideological  commitments,  she deepens  them, redefining  the parameters of her  own position  in ways  which  are more  inclusive,  that  is, dialogical rather  than dichotomous. She must, paradoxically,  be willing  to  “let go”  of  her  commitments  in  order to  come  to  know  them  more complexly (235-236).

Greer – “No Smiling Madonna”: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917

Greer, Jane. “‘No Smiling Madonna’: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917.” College Composition and Communication. 51.2 (1999): 248-271. Print.

In this essay, Greer does historiographic work and discusses the life and work of Marian Wharton. Wharton helped shape the English curriculum at People’s College from 1914-1917 with a specific focus on empowering the working-class.

Greer hopes that by exploring Wharton’s struggles she can highlight and learn more about the contradictions that women and other marginalized people face when trying to enact liberatory pedagogy within existing traditional institutions i.e. “free choice and restricted options.” She cites Elizabith Ellsworth and Ira Shor as contemporary teachers that also struggle with these issues in their scholarship on critical pedagogy.

Greer finds that the main tension in Wharton’s work are the unacknowledged existing hierarchies among competing linguistic systems that ultimately disrupt her project (265). For example, in Wharton’s English textbook Plain English designed to teach “revolutionary English” she equates error-free writing with “clear thinking” implying that her students’ different language use made them cognitively deficient (265).

Greer draws parallese between Wharton and contemporary writing instruction:

Just  as Wharton’s  voice  in Plain English moves  among a range of radical and conservative  registers that reflect her personal commitments as well as institutional and cultural  influences,  so  too  our  own  pedagogical  discourse  is  never  fully  our own: it is freighted with competing languages, some of which may reverberate at frequencies  so  low  and  subtle we  may have  difficulty hearing them  ourselves.

Greer suggests that by acknowledging our own tensions and making them transparent to our students we may become role models of the critical students we want them to be.

Gaugan – From Literature to Language: Personal Writing in Critical Pedagogy

Gaugan, John. “From Literature to Language: Personal Writing and Critical Pedagogy.” English Education. 31.4 (1999): 310-326. Print.

In this article, John Gaugan explores what it means to engage in liberating pedagogy in the writing classroom. Through various examples from his English courses Gaugan shows how he navigates the fine line between helping students critically question what they “know” and the world without imposing his own agenda of democratic values. His questions are similar to those of Elisabeth Ellsworth (1989). Part of his solution is grounded in on-going dialogue; not telling students what to think, but continuously encouraging them to rethink (315).

Gaugan labels his teaching “social epistemic” or “cultural studies” and admits that this model can fall into the traditional, nondemocratic banking model. However, Gaugan states that while he selects the themes and texts of his course, his course remains more student-centered than teacher-centered:

Despite these admissions,  I  don’t  think my teaching is traditional.  My classes  are more student- than teacher-centered, more  language-  than literature-focused, more  process-  than product-oriented. I question  or suggest  rather  than insist or prescribe. I ask  students  to  consider  their privileged position. I  try to make  them  think  –  but not exactly  as  I do.  I share my point of view but welcome  theirs. I  encourage reader  response. I don’t own a teacher’s manual. (325)