fulkerson: June 2005 Archives


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Jeff's already got some good thoughts working on the place(lessness) of technology in Fulkerson's article, so I'm going to open with a different tack than I might otherwise have taken. Derek's riff on itineraries and maps, not to mention the trip I'll be taking in a couple of weeks, has me thinking about destinations and such.

And I must admit, as I was reading through the article the first time, that my eyes tripped a little over Comp-landia. It appears in the first subheading ("Mapping Comp-landia: Now and Then"), right before the first sentence promising "a suggestive picture of large-scale changes in the discipline." The table that follows, the one that lines up the chapters of the two collections Fulkerson discusses, bills itself as "Two Views of the Composition Landscape." All sorts of spatial metaphors abound here, and as Jenny notes, the article closes with Fulkerson echoing Bob Broad's call for "dynamic mapping" of our programs.

So, Comp-landia. Not Rhetoria, Saskatchewriting, or the District of Comp-lumbia. How much more do I need to say here? Heimlich is quite literally "home-like," and already I'm a little leery of what's to follow, because I don't recognize myself as a citizen of Comp-landia. Maybe something closer to a dual (or trial?) citizenship, perhaps. Already there's a "home-ly" assertion here that I'm not entirely on board with.

And still, I was ready to reserve judgment. I distributed the first few pages of this article to my graduate class this summer, at a time when they were reading Fahnestock and Secor's "Rhetoric of Literary Criticism," Laura Wilder's recent "revisit" to that article from Written Communication, and Richard McNabb's study of opening gestures in graduate student submissions to Rhetoric Review. From the first few pages of Fulkerson's article, I anticipated a close reading of two exemplary texts, two instances of the same genre, that would be used to suggest some differences between the times and places they were written and collected. I expected that, at some point, the case might be made for the texts' status as representative anecdotes of, if not the entire field, at least that portion of it devoted to the teaching of first-year writing.

There are some moments where my expectation of close reading is at least acknowledged, if not fulfilled. For example, Fulkerson's comparison of Lauer's and Covino's respective chapters on rhetorical pedagogy (672) hints at the possibility of a close read, I suppose. And there's certainly enough information about each book to give the reader a general sense of each.

And yet. Maybe it's too facile, but I was struck by some of the basic differences between the books, like the fact that Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition was published by NCTE, while A Guide to Composition Pedagogies comes to us from Oxford, not the most comp-friendly press out there, and one much more likely to publish a relatively conservative, "scholarized" version of composition than, say, NCTE or BCH. And I think that's reflected in the titles themselves: "approaches to teaching" on the one hand, and a "guide to pedagogies" on the other. The latter volume is a victim, to a certain extent, of academic nominalization. The rule for chapter titling in this recent volume is so strict that, rather than break the pattern of "X Pedagogy" (9 or 10 of the 12 chapters, depending on how you count), they allow the title of Becky Howard's chapter, on "Collaborative Pedagogy," to stand, even though that title is misleading (my first thought upon seeing it was "team-teaching," not using collaboration in one's pedagogy). Approaches to teaching are flexible, negotiable, and variable in my mind; a guide to pedagogies surveys a terrain (Comp-landia, perhaps) where the provinces are clearly demarcated and established.

I find it no accident that the method Fulkerson uses tends towards the latter model of envisioning the field, because he himself is one of the most active contributors (along with Berlin, Faigley, et al.) to that model. Tate et al. write in their preface that the word "pedagogy" is widely used and poorly defined, and while that may be true, I'd argue that "composition pedagogies" have seen a great deal of definition and explication, enough so that the weird flattening of the term that appears in the Guide doesn't merit a mention. In some chapters, it refers to particular sites, in some places to specific techniques or approaches, in some places to philosophies. The end result of this is that, for me, at least, "pedagogy" feels a lot like "excellence" as Bill Readings describes it, an empty term that can be infused with whatever seems appropriate.

I really didn't plan on going on and on like this, so I'll save some comments for another post. Let me close, though, by suggesting that it feels a little like Fulkerson is trying to put the genie back in the bottle, a genie that he played some role in releasing in the first place. To return to Jeff's observation, there's really no question (among F's quartet) for which technology is the answer, and so he just ignores it. And I get the feeling that the other "new" approaches that he names are similarly ill-suited for the grid, enough so that there are places where it feels like he doesn't quite get them, either. The funny thing about this is that, like Jenny, I'm actually sympathetic to several of the claims made here. But they're erected on a foundation that doesn't actually support them. There's a feint here, at the beginning of the article, that implies one approach to his attempt "to make personal sense of composition studies" while it actually takes another.

And that other is more personal observation than anything else. And I'll write a little about those in a day or two...

That is all, for now.

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