“We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language–the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.”
The CCCC’s “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” sets out to explore then-common (and sadly still often prevalent) assumptions about the realities of “standard” English, particularly the belief that this “correct” use of English is somehow superior to other forms. The statement proceeds to explain the nature of dialect and acknowledge the privileged status of some dialects–those usually called “Standard English.” Further, it identifies the cultural connections that often accompany dialects, often linked to specific ages, localities, or ethnic groups. Also key to the discussion is the notion that most dialects of, in this case, American English are highly compatible and may be understood even by those who are accustomed to another dialect.
“More important, as I have already indicated and as I plan to explain in detail later on, in teaching writing we are tacitly teaching a version of reality and the student’s place and mode of operation in it. Yet many teachers (and I suspect most) look upon their vocations as the imparting of a largely mechanical skill, important only because it serves students in getting them through school and in advancing them in their professions.”
–James A. Berlin
Key Terms: Neo-Aristotelian Rhetoric, Current-Traditionalist Rhetoric, Neo-Platonic Rhetoric, New Rhetoric
James A. Berlin’s “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories” (1982) seeks to outline four contemporary approaches to composition studies: Neo-Aristotelians/Classicists, Positivists/Current-Traditionalists, Neo-Platonists/Expressionists, and the New Rhetoricians. He acknowledges his own identification as a New Rhetorician and seeks to illustrate that it is the “most intelligent and most practical alternative available” (Berlin 256). He further puts forth claim that “in teaching writing we are tacitly teaching a version of reality and the student’s place and mode of operation in it. […] This essay will argue that all writing teachers are perforce given a responsibility that far exceeds this merely instrumental task” (Berlin 257).
“Our students, however, must have a place to begin. They cannot sit through lectures and read textbooks and, as a consequence, write as sociologists or write literary criticism. There must be steps along the way. Some of these steps will be marked by drafts and revisions. Some will be marked by courses, and in an ideal curriculum the preliminary courses would be writing courses, whether housed in an English department or not.”
In “Inventing the University” (1985), David Bartholomae builds the argument that writers are always already entering into extant discourse, and therefore they must appropriate that discourse in order to enter into it. His text is divided into three sections. The first section sets up his claim that students must “invent” the university, that they are constantly attempting to create context when asked to perform particular tasks, such as in writing. He examines a student writing sample and discusses the moves the student has made, illustrating how the student at times appropriates and at times fails to appropriate convention. In discussing the student’s efforts, Bartholomae continually uses phrases such as “a remarkable performance” and “an enabling fiction.” For Bartholomae, the student is being asked to pretend–to do something she or he cannot actually yet do. Thus, they “invent” the means to do it–or, perhaps, to fake it.
“Rethinking Composition from Mexican legacies advances a more constructive understanding of parallel writing systems and rationalities in America yet also promotes a critical intervention in the politics of writing instruction in the present. Such an intervention might involve facing the reality that today’s writing specialists need to look far beyond the myths of an East-to-West planetary horizon toward its local challenges and mutations in the Americas and the Caribbean. Although Composition specialists theoretically embrace ‘diversity,’ they do not reflect on the origins of alphabetic and English Composition that are the fruit of a Eurocentric interregional system before which they are profoundly uncriti cal, and, because of this, they struggle to contribute valid alternatives for exploited populations of the Americas. As the field rethinks its role for the 21st century, perhaps we will also consider how Composition studies might join the much larger conversation of disparate and local composing practices throughout history, across the Americas and beyond.”
— Damián Baca
This article comes from Damián Baca, a professor in my own program at the University of Arizona. I include this article primarily because it was the class where I first encountered it that opened up many new ideas for me–and these have heavily informed my comps lists. The article discusses the Eurocentric tradition of so-called “classical” rhetoric, a model that obscures and erases the vital modes of composition and understanding used by other cultures. Baca’s article focuses on indigenous Americas, particularly those of Mesoamerica.
“The relation of thought to word is not a thing but a process, a continual movement back and forth from thought to word and from word to thought. In that process, the relation of thought to word undergoes changes that themselves may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them. Every thought tends to connect something with something else, to establish a relation between things. Every thought moves, grows and develops, fulfills a function, solves a problem. This flow of thought occurs as an inner movement through a series of planes. An analysis of the interaction of thought and word must begin with an investigation of the different phases and planes a thought traverses before it is embodied in words.”
— Lev Vygotsky
Key Terms: Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
Much of Lev Vygotsky’s renowned work, Thought and Language, is devoted to discussions of developmental psychology. In keeping with this, he makes the case that thought and language are not independent, as was once believed. Instead, Vygotsky posits that thought develops through speech (both internal/private speech and external speech) and that children’s thinking is shaped by the way they communicate and interact linguistically with those around them.
“American meritocracy is validated and sustained by the deep-rooted belief in equal opportunity. But can we really say that kinds like those I taught have equal access to America’s educational resources? Consider not only the economic and political barriers they face, but the fact, too, that judgments about their ability are made at a very young age, and those judgments, accurate or not, affect the curriculum they receive, their place in the school, the way they’re defined institutionally.”
— Mike Rose
Here is a book that I love unequivocally. Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared is many things: a theoretical discussion of teaching composition, a history of said teaching, a confessional memoir, a literacy narrative–and yet, it is also more than those. Ostensibly, it’s a collection of stories about Rose’s upbringing, his history in school, his path to becoming a teacher and tutorial center administrator–also of the students, so many students, he worked with. He dispenses observations, advice, motivation, lesson plan ideas all with the casual flair of a master storyteller. This is a book that understands what it is to be a teacher, with all the love, work, frustration, and joy that comes with it. This book speaks to me affectively, aesthetically, intellectually–and I could go on, but I feel my point is made.
“It is a part which, though it will be the most difficult to myself, from the necessity of examining a vast diversity of opinions, will yet perhaps afford the least pleasure to my readers, since it admits merely of a dry exposition of rules. In other parts, I have endeavored to introduce some little embellishment, not with the view of displaying my own ability (since for that purpose, a subject of more fertility might have been chosen), but in order that by that means, I might more successfully attract youth to the study of those matters which I thought necessary for their improvement; for if being stimulated by some pleasure in the reading, they might more willingly learn the precepts of which I found that a bare and dry enumeration might be repulsive to their minds and offend their ears, especially as they are grown so delicate.”
Quintilian–whom Wikipedia tells me was also called Marcus Fabius Quintilianus–produced a lengthy historical text in Institutio Oratoria, detailing such subjects as the history of rhetoric, forms of rhetoric, and the teaching of young men. As Quintilian himself concedes in the third book of the text, “But I fear that this book may be thought to contain very little honey and a great deal of wormwood, and may be more serviceable for instruction than agreeable” (Kindle locs. 2508-2509). It is, as may be expected from such a text, largely quite dry and textbook-ish. He cites a quotation from Lucretius to indicate his attempts at making the work more palatable: “And as physicians, when they attempt to give bitter wormwood to children, first tinge the rim round the cup with the sweet and yellow liquid of honey, etc.” (Kindle locs. 2506-2507).
“Oratory is the art of enchanting the soul, and therefore he who would be an orator has to learn the differences of human souls—they are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences between man and man.”
— Socrates in Plato, Phaedrus
I have abandoned my questions for these texts, as I do not see them as directly applicable to my interests. In total honesty, I have included them only because Plato is such a canonical figure. This allows me to experience and address his work, but it also challenges me to see it in a useful context. I am not certain that I have been entirely successful, but at the very least I can see it as an example of generative creativity. Perhaps.
“Our brains are engaged full time in real-time (risky) heuristic search, generating presumptions about what will be experienced next in every domain. This time-pressured, unsupervised generation process has necessarily lenient standards and introduces content-not all of which can be properly checked for truth-into our mental spaces. If left unexamined, the inevitable errors in these vestibules of consciousness would ultimately continue on to contaminate our world knowledge store. So there has to be a policy of double-checking these candidate beliefs and surmisings, and the discovery and resolution of these at breakneck speed is maintained by a powerful reward system-the feeling of humor; mirth-that must support this activity in competition with all the other things you could be thinking about.”
— Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennett, and Reginald B. Adams., Jr.
This fascinating treatise on humor began as Matthew M. Hurley’s dissertation, completed in 2006. It offers both a history of humor theory and an attempt (impressive, to my mind) at quantifying both the “whys” and “hows” of humor. No mere joke book, this instead is an exploration of not only why and how we laugh but where the phenomenon of humor comes from, how it manifests, and the way it exists in social contexts. I included this text on a whim after hearing it discussed, and I find that it is somewhat compatible with my thinking–certainly it has something to say about pleasure and inclusion–but overall I am not certain I can directly adapt much of it for pedagogical use.
That said, I will attempt to give reasonable answers to my questions, though I do not foresee this text remaining one of specific academic interest for me–owing entirely to the direction of my interests, not at all to the excellent quality of the work itself.
“The incidence of play is not associated with any particular stage of civilization or view of the universe. Any thinking person can see at a glance that play is a thing on its own, even if his language possesses no general concept to express it. Play cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.”
— Johan Huizinga
Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture puts forth a number of interesting arguments about the nature and practice of play. It builds the case that play precedes culture, is linked fundamentally to “the great archetypal activities,” including the construction of language and myth, and even that “genuine, pure play is the basis for civilization” (Kindle loc. 107-131). In framing his definition of play, he notes that play must be voluntary–and is, in fact, an expression of freedom. It must also be an “interlude,” a temporary state with beginning and end (however often it may be repeated). Play also necessitates some form of structure, with internal rules. (Indeed, Huizinga’s discussion of play as a sort of constructed space with internal rules that must be consistently held up, lest the play be violated and broken, puts me very strongly in mind of J. R. R. Tolkien’s discussion of the Secondary World from “Tree and Leaf.”) Huzinga notes both “contest” and “representation” as functions of play, and a substantive measure of the text discusses how various cultures have distinguished between them.
While a fascinating text, particularly from the perspective of a historical view, I find that my own interests (at least in the context of this list) may not be entirely compatible with the Huizinga’s efforts. For one, I am not interested in his extensive discussions of which language and/or culture best represent or embody play. Much of the work seems to engage in attempts at hierarchy and cultural evaluation, casting countless distinctions between “high and low” elements of culture–from play to religion. A bias towards the “modern” and “Western” is readily apparent, which of course places certain limitations on the text. All in all, the text provides interesting context and ways to think about play, but I do not believe it will have much direct impact on my thinking in the long term. In particular, I do not see any way to “do Huizinga” pedagogically–that is, I do not believe I can directly instantiate these ideas in the classroom.