nothing to crow-ley about

Of course, there’s no law I have to use bad puns for all my post titles–I just choose to do so.

Having finished Crowley’s Composition in the University earlier this week, I wanted to take a quick moment or two to write some things about it.  In a way, the couple of passages I’d like to point to are by way of joining Rice and Krause‘s discussion of recent news regarding FYC at Dartmouth.

Some important passages from Crowley:

 …[W]e might be able to alter the functions of Freshman English by altering its institutional status.  In this spirit, I offer a modest proposal.  Let’s abolish the universal requirement.  Let’s stop insisting that every student who enrolls in a two-year college or four-year university must take a required composition course.  Please note that I am not proposing the abolition of introductory-level writing courses.  I suggest, rather, that universities simply stop insisting that every student who matriculates must somehow deal with an introductory-level composition requirement, either by taking a course or testing out.  (241)

I won’t go into detailed explanations of each, but here are the reasons Crowley offers for considering her proposal:

  1. The universal requirement exploits teachers of writing, particularly part-time teachers and graduate students (241).
  2. The universal requirement exploits students (241).
  3.  The requirement has negative curricular effects (242).
  4. The requirement negatively affects classroom climate (242).
  5. The requirement has negative disciplinary and institutional effects (243).
  6. The requirement has negative professional effects (243).

In place of the required FYC course, Crowley proposes

a vertical elective curriculum in composing, a curriculum that examines composing both in general and as it take place in specific rhetorical situations such as workplaces and community decision making.  While I can envision challenging courses in invention or style or argumentation being offered in such a curriculum, I would hope that such a course of study would not confine students to practice in composing.  Rather, it would help them to understand what composing is and to articulate the role it plays in shaping their intellectual lives.  The topmost reaches of an undergraduate curriculum in composing would study histories of writing, debate the politics of literacy, and investigate the specialized composing tactics and rhetorics that have evolved in disciplines, professions, civic groups, women’s organizations, social movements, and political parties—to name only a few sites where such investigations could take place.

Elective vertical curricula in composing will require the development of new ways to think about composing subjects, and they will of necessity develop ethical technologies to inculcate those subjectivities in students who take the courses.  …  Composition has always been eclectic; composition teachers have almost always been bricoleurs—handypeople—who pick up bits of this theory and parts of that practice in order to get their work done.  (262-3)

I have been advised (by someone I trust) to avoid the politics of Crowley’s proposal to abolish FYC, advice which I will follow except to note that I do find Crowley’s argument compelling.  In part, and this is sort of apolitical from this point, I am engaged by the way Crowley builds her argument.  While most of her book hews fairly closely to history (which is always political, granted), most chapters are free of the explicit polemic she builds in the final two chapters (from which these excerpts come).  However, in building her history of composition in the university, Crowley is in fact laying the groundwork for her more provocative claims in the end of the book–the reasons she offers above only make the sense they do after Crowley has demonstrated FYC’s roots (and the discipline’s roots) in a contested history between rhetorical and literary study, in the humanistic pedagogies of the late 19th and early 2oth centuries, and in its eventual devaluation by the institution at or near the bottom of several university hierarchies.

Methodologically, then, Crowley offers something to consider that differs from Rice’s project in Rhetoric of Cool.  Crowley offers a perhaps more conventional, narrative/linear history of composition, but does so not for the sake of the history itself but in order to establish the basis for her critique of current (or should that be current-traditional, hahaha–oh my god, I just made a comp theory joke) FYC practices; the tortured history of FYC provides the warrants, if you will, for Crowley’s proposal of wresting FYC from its roots in institutional service and replanting it (if you will) in richer disciplinary soil.  That is one method.  Rice, on the other hand, revisits the scene(s) of 1963 and uses his interests in cultural studies to fulfill two ends: first, to build an alternate history of composition studies that shows where the field overlooked opportunities to incorporate new media forms of invention into its theories of writing; and second, to explain how comp instruction today can use the invention practices of new media discovered through his research of 1963 in order to change the way FYC is taught.  Rice, as he explicitly notes, builds his history of comp study using juxtaposition and commutation (in which I would include the practice of alternate history even if Rice does not)—that is, his text is performative, embracing the generative strategies that he argues for.  This is the move that Crowley does not make (which is not to say that her text is not instructive, but that it is not performative in the way Rice’s is).  I note these as I continue to work on the M.A. reading and try to think through what method(s) will work best for my own project.

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One Response to “nothing to crow-ley about”

  1. newmediagirl Says:

    “I have been advised (by someone I trust) to avoid the politics of Crowley’s proposal to abolish FYC, advice which I will follow except to note that I do find Crowley’s argument compelling.”

    Really? By who? I mean, I can understand why it’s really unpopular to eliminate, but that isn’t to say that schools haven’t done it. See “core courses” here: http://www.admin.mtu.edu/catalog/gened/

    Yep, I totally used to teach “second year composition” which was really “first year composition” with a twist. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. Students had already been writing in situated contexts and composing was seen as something done in light of other research, not just for the heck of it.

    So yeah, I can understand staying away from it because some schools are *very* sold on its necessity, and because dude–it keeps us in food–but there are some pretty interesting alternatives out there too.


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