Readings, and Related Inspirations

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Exploring Service Learning in Writing Programs

On this leg of my journey toward Doctoral Candidacy, I read two books:

Going Public: What Writing Programs Learn from Engagement by Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser

Taken from Amazon

Taken from Amazon

The Activist WPA: Chanigng Stories and Writing about Writers by Linda Adler-Kassner

Also taken from Amazon

Also taken from Amazon

Both texts deal in service learning, a concept I find quite interesting, though not directly relevant to what I am interested in looking at where writing programs are concerned.

However, one can never know when these incredibly great ideas might come in handy.

Below is a short set of questions and answers relating to these texts:

1. What is/are the explicit argument(s)?

In both texts, the explicit arguments are that we (writing instructors, educators, everyone) need to prepare our students for the 21st century. Sometimes the authors discuss this in terms of civic duty, and sometimes they talk about skills students will take with them to find a job. Going Public specifically suggests that we need to make visible the infrastructures of writing and writing programs so that the students, and the general public can navigate the best ways to obtain what it is they need to know, or be able to perform (do).

2. What is/are the implicit argument(s)?

In Going Public, I got a sense that the collected authors reject the idea that there is a collective consciousness, and thus a viable culture of homogeneity we (the American public) should all be striving for. In The Activist WPA, though Adler-Kassner argues for a student’s ability to understand his or her individual influences, it is not clear where Adler-Kassner stands on the idea of cultural homogeneity as she argues that our speech affects the way the public views writing and the teaching of writing. By the end of the book, I was unsure what theoretical direction Adler-Kassner was coming from.

3. Why are these texts useful to rhetoric and composition?

Going Public is a useful look into service learning and how service learning can make regional writing programs more relevant. The Activist WPA fulfills much the same purpose, though Adler-Kassner’s message seems to be much more basic with suggestions as to how service learning can help fulfill the shift in the way we tell stories about our writers and writing instruction.

– Certainly both texts may be useful to my position in the field in the future if I decide I want to take my work in the direction of service learning.

4. What are the limits of the texts?

Both texts have the same limits I saw in Rose and Weiser’s The Writing Program Administrator as Theorist: Neither of these texts addresses New Media, computers and composition, or GTA training. Also, if we agree with what Rose and Weiser say of theory in the book I just mentioned, the articles in Going Public as well as Adler-Kassner’s book The Activist WPA, are not grounded firmly in any overtly identifiable theories. Further, Adler-Kassner’s book does not answer her introductory questions about assessment to my satisfaction. When I reached the end of her text and re-read her opening questions (also posed in the conclusion), I had to go back and search for her assessment ideas. They exist, but they solve no assessment issues I can identify.

5. What counts as evidence?

As with the 2002 Rose and Weiser text, the authors in Going Public lean on past scholarship and rather heavily on case studies. Adler-Kassner leans rather heavily on stories and story-telling in The Activist WPA.

6. What connections can I make to past texts?

In Going Public, I chose to focus on only a small number of essays: Chapter 5 “A Hybrid Genre Supports Hybrid Roles in Community-University Collaboration” because of my focus on collaborative projects and my interest in materials, Chapter 8 “Students, Faculty, and ‘Sustainable’ WPA work” because of its use of ‘Business as Usual’ metaphorical comparison and Chapter 11 “Coming Down from the Ivory Tower: Writing Program’s Role in Advocating Public Scholarship” because of its use of materialist theory (though not overtly) and its connection to public view.

Interestingly, now that I think about it, Chapter 11 has a lot of overlap with Adler-Kassner’s The Activist WPA in that her main occupation is in changing public perception. Though while I claim the use of materialist theory (which all arguably use), materialist theory is not explicitly discussed, nor thoroughly used. I claim the use of materialist theories because of the ideas all the above authors in question give credence to what Ronald Greene describes in his article “Another Materialist Rhetoric” as “a materialist rhetoric [which] marks how governing institutions represent, mobilize and regulate a population in order to judge their way of life” (27). In all 3 texts I have covered, materialist rhetoric has a place and a sway in the way the authors discuss their decisions in writing program administration and teaching.

I can feel an interest in a deeper/greater understanding of materialist theory(ies) growing in me and taking root. Where to go from here??

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WPA as Theorist makes my knowledge work

I have officially finished the first book on a list that will eventually be included in my comprehensive exams. Yeay me.

Below, in response to the reading, I will answer some pre-provided questions (provided by a prof) to help me get me head around it.

The text in question:

Rose, Shirley K. and Irwin Weiser. The Writing Program Administrator as Theorist: Making Knowledge Work. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2002.

— Apparently, if you look for this book online, you can see that it is out of print and currently running for about $900. Holy cow! I accidentally walked right out of the library with it and when I went back to check it out, the computers were down. So I officially have this book on honorable loan, which I do intend to uphold.

The Questions:

1. What is the explicit argument(s)?

The best way to sum up the explicit argument is with the following bumper-sticker wisdom I have gleaned from the final essay by Weiser and Rose titled, “Theorizing Writing Program Theorizing”: Practitioners theorize while doing. To get to this bumper-sticker wisdom, I have observed an explicit argument that basically states that there is no one way to be a writing program administrator. There is no one theory to look to, and no one way of carrying a theory off. Another explicit argument that runs throughout the book is that the WPA title is a multi-tiered, rather low-status, social process that must become more pragmatic across the whole community of WPAs.

2. What is the implicit argument(s)?

There are several implicit arguments that run as a theme throughout the text. The first I noticed is that the profession of WPA is broken. Writing programs need fixing, and a lot of it. But because (as of 2002) WPA scholarship is rather new in the whole scheme of academia, no one can really say how to fix it. Another implicit argument involves what I am calling “The GTA problem.” I chose this as an implicit argument because it is a glaring absence in the book. Only two essays, located in the final chapters of the book, even mention GTAs and training. There is some exception to this – in chapter 2, “Breaking Hierarchies”, Popham, Neal, Schendel and Huot say that GTAs should encourage their students to reflect (19). Last, I get a sense of hostility about the WPA field from many of these authors. I can’t pinpoint a why at this moment, before I’ve discussed this more, but this hostility rests just under the surface of the text.

3. Why is the text important to my work/research and trajectory/dissertation?

As this is the very first book in the immense amount of reading I have ahead of me, this question is extra speculative for me. WPA theory as a whole is important for me because it will begin to mold the way I think about thinking about the field of WPA. In fact, I chose this as my first simply because it was the only one readily available at the library. But now that I’ve read it, I’m really glad I started with it. I feel like it is quite foundational. As far as the trajectory of my dissertation goes, I am headed in a New Media pedagogy direction and I find it quite interesting that there is no mention of technology in this book at all. There is a near mention when Kelly-Riley, Johnson-Shull and Condon predict that hierarchies will break down in our new information age based on the way networks are created and disseminated on a flat level, rather than a vertical flow (132-134). I find it interesting that even by 2002, WPAs were not talking about how to work with media (at least not in this book).

4. Why is it useful to the field?

In the GSU English department, I often get a sense that theory is not at the top of everyone’s favorite ‘to learn’ list. I’m not sure what the reason for this is, and perhaps I am very wrong, but that’s the vibe I get from our up-and-coming scholars. I see this work as important to our field as it reminds us that we are theorists, whether we think so or not. We use praxis in everything pedagogical we do.

5. What are the limits of the argument(s)?

One of the biggest limits for my studies is the lack of talk about technology, as I mentioned before. It is almost as though all these authors are trying to ‘fix’ (implicit) the WPA, but are trying to do it in the past. Another limit is that most WPAs work with graduate student teachers. This is a fact of life. GTAs cannot be tossed aside. They are a part of the system as long as first year composition is a requirement at most universities. Ignoring them will not make them go away.

6. What counts as evidence for the author(s)?

All of these authors cite from other authors. That seems to be the larges source of evidence. However, some authors, such as Jeffrey Jablonski in Chapter 14, use case studies to illustrate the issue in question. Still others, such as Roen, Maid, Glau, Ramage, and Schwalm in Chapter 13, use tables and charts to present evidence.

7. What connections can I make to the other texts on my reading list (or others I’ve read)?

This is a rather easy one for me at this stage in the game, as I have never ever read another WPA text. This is my very first. However – as a shot in the dark, I will attempt to relate it to something else I have read… I have read a bit of praxis, though mostly in the form of textbooks. Recently though, I have been reading Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson, and this has influenced some of my thinking about how our writing programs are quite out of date. Davidson’s book talks about the traditional classroom and points to the idea that we are training students for an industrial past that they are not going to be looking for jobs in. If that’s the case, I question the need for the type of writing program this book discusses.

And there you have it. I’ll leave it at that for now – I hope this proves useful to others out there studying WPA.