February 22, 2005
February 15, 2005
February 14, 2005
February 8, 2005
Peter Elbow in “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic” voices his concern about the goals of first-year writing course. The main question is whether teachers should train their students to be academics or writers. For Elbow, the two goals are not compatible as they involve different attitudes toward writing and reading. Elbow allows the readers to see his own dilemma in having to choose between the two goals. He then explains why he decides to teach students to be a writer rather than an academic. One of the reasons he gives is that academics privilege reading over writing. For Elbow, this emphasis on reading in the academy is in conflict with the goal of writing. He further points out that teaching students to be an academic not only takes away the writer’s sense of ownership and authority from them but also discourages students from having original thinking. An example Elbow gives is a literature course in which students are asked to analyze “To His Coy Mistress.” Elbow points out that “even if the student happens to have a better insight or understanding than the teacher has, the teacher gets to define her own understanding as right and the student’s as wrong.” In the end, Elbow calls the readers’ attention to the need to define the roles of academic and writer in the society to avoid the teaching dilemma of having to choose between the two goals.
Sharing Bartholomae’s view about university writing, I don’t quite sympathize with Elbow’s argument in this essay. I wonder whether we, writing teachers, need to choose for students. Can’t we let them choose by letting them see different writing situations and discourses? I don’t quite agree with his insistence on the dichotomous nature of the two roles either. Academic writing does not totally obliterate the writer from the text; whether the goal of writing is to express oneself or to communicate, the writer, the creator of text, is always present.
Peter Elbow’s “Thoughts on the Teacherless Writing Class” offers a “teacherless” approach to teaching writing. It is developed from his own experience as a writing teacher who encountered difficulties in responding to student writing. He discovered that instead of commenting and focusing on where the writing departs from his model of good writing, he should concentrate more on transmitting his “experience” of it. Elbow claims that this approach would encourage students to write more because it creates two important conditions for writing. First, it allows students to see what reactions their writing elicit from readers. Second, it lessens students’ anxiety of being evaluated and hence gives them more freedom to explore. Elbow goes on to raise questions about teachers as real readers. The teacherless class, he argues, resembles the communication between writers and readers in the real world more than the teacher-centered one. Elbow also challenges the linear approach of teaching writing by asserting that “the most appropriate path for learning to write is not to try to break up the skill into its ideal progression of components which can be learned one at a time.” Instead, teaching writing is about how “to set up some situation in which the learner can persevere in working at the whole skill in its global complexity.” In this regard, he sees students’ grammatical competence as something that comes later as their writing becomes more fluent.
I sympathize with Elbow in the way he seems to deconstruct the deconstructionists like Bartholomae, who ends up accepting authority in his teaching approach. Elbow tries to make writing a personal experience between the writer and his/her readers by getting rid of the authority in the classroom. It makes the classroom an idyllic place where everybody comes to write and get responses. However, it would help if he also talks about another side of “the real world” in which evaluation and grading are also an issue.
In “Inventing the University,” David Bartholomae argues that learning to write for college students means learning to “appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse.” In other words, students must learn the convention of academic discourse in becoming part of the academic community. Bartholomae thus puts the process of learning and teaching academic discourse into two stages. First, the conventions are taught to students. Second, students learn to “approximate” the discourse. An example of this development given by Bartholomae is his students’ learning to approximate the language of a literary critic in writing about Bleak House. In this regard, Bartholomae asserts that academic discourse is the language of “the privileged community,” the language of “insiders,” setting it apart from common discourse or what he calls “commonplaces.” Students’ learning to write is the process of leaving behind the commonplaces and adopting the discourse of the “privileged” group. Bartholomae supports his argument by looking at freshmen placement essays on the topic of creativity. The students who were successful were able to get beyond the commonplaces and take risks to venture into the unfamiliar terrain of a new discourse.
Using the theoretical framework of poststructuralists, Bartholomae talks about what we already know in a new way. He reminds us that everything, even the writer’s subjectivity, is constituted within discourse. According to Bartholomae, writing is thus not an invention; it is in fact the process of working within the convention, within a specific discourse. The discourse defined by Bartholomae seems to be rigid and fixed. I think academic discourse is more fluid and constantly changes. Bartholomae’s intentional or unintentional reference to T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and Individual Talent” does point to the fact that tradition is constantly modified by the individual. The question of agency is again an issue here.
February 1, 2005
Critical Summary: Rose
Mike Rose’s “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of Writer’s Block” discusses the difficulties college students encounter in their writing process. Using the framework of problem solving theories, Rose focuses on the second stage of the process, which is known as the “processing” period. It is in this stage that students as problem solvers will rely on past learning as well as develop a plan to find solution. In his interviews with ten students, Rose found that rigid writing rules that the students had learned in the past and doggedly followed along with their inability to see their plans as flexible and subject to change are the major causes of those difficulties. For example, by trying to follow the rule that a good essay must have three or more points, a student ended up turning in a poorly developed essay. Compared to this group of students or blockers, the other group accomplished their writing tasks with less difficulty. Rose ascribes the success to their flexible approach to rules and plans in the processing period. The essay ends with Rose’s suggestions of how to “correct” the writer’s block which stems from rigid adherence to rules and plans.
The interviews Rose conducted are interesting. However, I question the validity of the study and its result. The conclusion of the cause of each case seems to be too quickly drawn. The essay does make a good point about how rigid rules and plans can be writer’s block. I think the block includes many students’ too much concern about grammar.