Month: September 2003

And Verdi on the Stereo

Long day today, but a good day. As usual, I overplanned the class, but it went well. I always, always overplan, and always catch hell for it in evaluations, but with a semester-long writing course, it always seems to me like there’s more to do than there is time: I know it’s foolish to think that I’ll be The One who helps students learn how to write, but I figure I gotta do what I can, and to do otherwise would be to do students a disservice. (Anybody out there with a more Zen approach to instruction willing to convince me that students will learn what they learn at their own pace no matter how much one pushes? Part of what shapes my temperament, of course, is my time as Sergeant Ed and the Army’s ethic of train, train, and train some more, and then once you’re tired and can’t do it any longer, train some more: not that I act that way, but somewhere in my brain there’s the conviction that there’s always more that one can learn.) In any case, the students in my sections were enthusiastic today, and I think part of it might have actually been due to the shift in social configurations, which I try to do at least once in every hour-and-fifteen-minute class. Today it started with some initial writing on one’s own (Writer’s Notebook Entry Number Eight: If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and what would you use it for? Who would your arch-nemesis be? Freewrite for ten minutes) and then moved to a full-class discussion (we recently reconfigured our computer labs so that students can simply swivel their chairs and face the middle and have a discussion, which may be rather panoptic as far as the position of the teacher goes but is so much more pleasant than having the computers in rows) of the second essay assignment, and then to small group work doing generative writing (to be shared with the rest of the class as discussion notes that students might cite in later drafts) and finally to a few final minutes of individual writing building on that group work, with that individual writing to be continued for homework and used as the subject of Thursday’s work. So yeah, it sounds kinda frantic, but it was tight today, and it worked. I’m happy.
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Connecting Theory to Practice

One of the most useful aspects of the “Rethinking Economy” seminar I’m auditing has been the reminders it’s offered me about the power of language to construct — and thereby change — reality. Those who decry the excesses of capital-t theory, poststructural or otherwise, will feel their knees jerk at this, but consider: in the past weeks, we’ve read chapters from Greider’s One World, Ready or Not that constructed global capitalism as an implacable and monolithic juggernaut, with its subjects — multinational and transnational corporations (MNCs and TNCs) — beholden to no national government and taking their investment capital to whatever location proved most felicitous. Ha-Jin Chang, in an essay titled “Transnational Corporations and Strategic Industrial Policy”, is intensely critical of such a construction, pointing to all the ways in which it’s more cultural narrative than empirical fact, and pointing to the many gaps in such a monolithic construction: by Chang’s version, foreign direct investment (FDI) is much more circumscribed and industry-specific, capital is not footloose but rather largely geographically bounded, strong local economies attract FDI rather than springing from FDI, and national governments have immense leverage in negotiating with MNCs and TNCs. Policymakers depend on white papers expressing perspectives like Greider’s and Chang’s, and if we imagine a choice between the two, we can imagine very real consequences coming out of the different narratives: governmental policymakers who listen to Greider will suggest that their best course of action is to lower all barriers to trade and make their countries as attractive as possible to FDI. Governmental policymakers who listen to Chang will take a much more industry-specific and case-by-case approach, build their local economies before going after FDI, and take a much more hard-nosed approach when dealing with MNCs and TNCs.

The way we talk about the economy has real and material effects upon the economy. I’m trying to lay out a systematic way in which the same tendencies might hold true for the way teachers and students talk about class in the wired writing classroom.
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On Scarcity

We are asked to understand that competitiveness is important. We are told that accountability is essential in education, lest our students be denied the skills they need in order to compete in a global economy. An economy can’t exist without competition, we’re told: without competition, people will not work hard, they will not innovate, they will not improve productivity. One has to be competitive, or else one will be left out.

What remains unspoken is that competition insures that someone will, in fact, be left out. Competition insures that some family will undergo financial ruin, that someone, somewhere, will spend a winter night sleeping on a steam grate, or shoot himself for losing his job, or take an overdose of sleeping pills for not passing her exams. Competition ensures that someone with less money will do violence to someone with more money precisely because of that difference in the amounts of money they possess.

The commonly given reason for competition becomes evident in that final example: we are made to understand that there isn’t enough to go around. Enough money. Enough employment. Enough land. Shelter. Food. Water. (Air?) As we see from recent discussions of American national policy, there isn’t even enough education to go around: students and schools need to get competitive. To compete. For what? For spaces in the good schools, so one can get a good job, a privileged space in the economy, so one can get enough food, enough shelter, enough money.

By this reasoning, we can see as well that there aren’t enough A’s to go around in the academic economy. We understand that there are a limited number of passing grades.

Don’t we?
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In my disappointment Thursday over the class panel not being accepted for CCCC, I totally forgot that I’d also put in to be part of a half-day workshop on “Pixels, Paints and Operating Tables: Experimental Writing Workshops and the First-Year Writing Program”. (Basically, the conference is OK with presenting both at a panel discussion and a workshop, but not more than one of either.) In fact, with my complete focus on the work on class, I’d totally forgotten about the workshop for the past six months, until the “Congratulations!” letter came in the mail today. So it’s a good thing, but I’m still bummed that the topic much closer to my heart didn’t fly. And now I really gotta think about money for hotels and airfare, if I’m gonna do both RSA and CCCC. Crap.

In any case: Cindy, if my experience is any indication, you’re completely right. Thanks for the kind & well-taken advice.

This Isn’t Hank’s Story

I don’t have a finished piece of writing to put up here for today’s Friday Non-Dissertational. There are a few ideas I’ve had floating around, none of which I’ve begun to flesh out, and there are a few old pieces I’ve been meaning to revise but haven’t. The thing that’s most got my interest these days is stolen from a guy I knew when I was working on my MFA, a good guy named Bill Kirchner. Bill wrote a story I wish I’d written, where the protagonist sits in his car in the parking lot outside a diner, or maybe it was a bar, imagining himself in the place of the teenage chauffeur who drove Hank Williams on his last ride. I’d like to steal Bill’s idea, but change it a little. My version’s probably a lot more trite than Bill’s, but I’d like to actually put together a fictional account of that last ride and that last moment where the teenager sat in the parking lot knowing he had Hank Williams dead in his back seat, knowing he had to do something, tell someone.
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Give the Girls Bugs

So I was getting ready to take a shower this morning when I saw a bug on the baseboard outside the bathroom. As is my habit when I see a bug in the apartment (there are a few holes in my window screens, but no, I don’t see bugs all that often, and I’ve so far never seen a roach or an ant in here, knock on wood), I went and collected the girls and pointed them towards it to do what cats do. It was a little bit on the large side, but nothing they couldn’t handle, or so I thought.
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Rejected and Accepted in Texas

I’m kinda disappointed, and kinda frustrated: I got word in the mail today that the panel proposal two colleagues and I submitted for CCCC 2004 in San Antonio was declined. It was an excellent proposal, I thought; we put substantial work into composing it, ran it by other people, and revised numerous times, but no dice. Basically, each of us was going to take a different angle on how the ways compositionists talk about class are incoherent and actually hinder rather than help remedy the problems class creates for composition pedagogy, in the hopes that such a panel presentation would provide a much-needed antidote to the myopic reliance on solipsistic authenticity claims as a foundation for so-called theorizing about class often seen in panel discussions on the topic — usually in panel discussions somehow invoking the term “working class”.
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Crowley and Class

Class shows up quite a bit in Sharon Crowley’s “Historical and Polemical Essays” on Composition in the University, though always tangentially, and never concretely defined. Still, to hear Crowley tell it, much of the purpose that composition classes in the university serve has to do with class distinctions, no matter what form of the university we’re discussing (English, German, American; liberal education, vocational education, et cetera).

Crowley spends quite a bit of time on “current-traditional” rhetoric and pedagogy, a term familiar to compositionists but probably not to many other folks, so maybe I’d best cite Crowley’s definition here. “Current-traditional pedagogy,” Crowley writes, “discriminated four genres: exposition, description, narration, and argument (EDNA). It idealized a single format — the five-paragraph theme, which after a brief introduction that stated its author’s thesis, presented three highly prescribed paragraphs of support, and concluded. Students were taught current-traditional principles of discourse through teachers’ analyses of professional examples, and they were then expected to compose paragraphs and essays that displayed their observance of those principles” (94). Current-traditional rhetoric is still prevalent at many American high schools, if my students each semester who have to struggle not to write five paragraphs for every assignment are any indication. Some compositionists associate other demons, such as students’ fear of the first-person pronoun, with current-traditional rhetoric as well, to the point where the term “current-traditional” has become a stick with which to beat ideas you don’t like.
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Getting Local with Larry

I’m a wicked man. I’m a wicked man who recalls library books other graduate students are using, and I won’t apologize. Now, in my defense, I know it was another graduate student because when I checked the online catalog in the summer, it showed up as out with the same due date it had for the intervening months until last week when finally my patience slipped and I said to myself, “It’s only 200 pages and I’m almost done with Crowley; if she hasn’t read it in these months, she can wait a week til I burn through it and return it,” and undergraduates don’t get to keep books out nearly that long here. And I’m not a total quisling: I know it wasn’t anybody from my own program who had it out. (In fact, I requested it from the library of the fancy and exclusive small college down the road a piece, rather than my own Big State U, which — due to the state of public higher education in our state — hasn’t bought many new books lately.)

After such an admission, of course, there’s no longer any point in attempting to disguise my baseness and rapacious bibliophagy. No sooner had I my filthy hands on the defenseless thing’s cloth covers than I creased its spine and spread its leaves to whatever spot was most convenient. Imagine my shock — O dismay! — when these words on page 87 greeted my eye:
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