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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: Zen Driving and Conference Attendance: Selected Reviews from F26, H16, H25 and M7
Reviewed by: Katherine J. Robinson, krobinso@colorado.edu
Posted on: April 9, 2004
Updated on: April 12, 2004

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When I stepped into 4Cs this year I was all geared up to explore the hypertextual avenues that focused on what’s going on in my classroom. I’d planned to move quickly and smoothly from one panel to the next whilst soaking in pearls of wisdom in such areas as political discourse, historical feminism, and new media in the classroom. And, as all plans go, mine went the way of the Studebaker. After getting turned around on the Riverwalk (I found the San Antonio River), I wound up missing a panel on the use of classical rhetoric in the composition classroom. Instead I began my Zen drive down the path of new or marginalized literacies.

My first detour was into Michael Zerbe’s presentation, “Ducking the Dominant Discourse: Composition Studies and the Rhetoric of Science.” Noting that scientific discourse has been marginalized in the first year composition classroom, he argued that teaching scientific literacy is relevant. In his analysis of scientific discourse, Zerbe acknowledged that while scientific discourse is generally perceived as truth and is encoded in society in order to legitimize the subject. Zerbe used scientific evidence presented in the media to underscore his assertions. For example, he reported that media discussion surrounding the Atkin’s diet simplified the actual scientific findings. Zerbe hypothesized that students need to be grounded in scientific literacy to properly assess the information provided and be able to use it more effectively as evidence in an argument. After much consideration, and more than a few glares at the vision of my chuckling physics professor of a father, I have to say that I concur with Zerbe’s findings. As teachers, we spend a great deal of time making sure that our students understand the intricacies of critical thinking. But do we give our students that extra tool to ask the questions relevant to scientific literacy? And it led me to ask: How can I, embedded as I am in the humanities, provide my students with that extra tool?

From Zerbe’s discussion on the relevance of scientific literacy in the composition classroom I took a left turn into Shannon Carter’s examination of “The Writing Center Goes to Jail: Composition Matters in a Prison Literacy Program.” Discussing her initial study of the role that literacy holds within a North Texas prison population, Carter pondered the intricate network of alliances and boundaries between inmates, sponsors, tutors, and WC facilitators. In her study, Carter provided a great deal of background information on the tutoring program and reported on the racial barriers exist within the prison walls. And these barriers often problematized efforts to help the inmates gain self-respect through levels of literacy previously unavailable. She noted that her study is in its early stages and that she hopes to continue her work with the prison population. Carter posed a number of rhetorical questions about the nature of literacy, privilege, and power inside the prison walls. For me, it was a new and exciting experience to learn about her work. I look forward to see where she goes with this project.

After Carter I hung an immediate right and wound up in Edwina Helton’s discussion of nineteenth-century women’s literacy and the “Constructions of Literacy in Nineteenth-Century Etiquette Manuals.” Helton’s historical analysis of visuals within a number of nineteenth-century etiquette manuals was an interesting exploration of visuals found within the manuals. Showing her audience several different images, Helton discussed the symbiotic relationship between daughters and mothers when it came to the transmission of literacy skills. Often these visuals depicted mothers handing daughters books. However, one image showed a daughter learning to read by way of her mother’s tombstone. In addition to discussing the depiction of young women learning to read via the mother’s encouragement, Helton analyzed several pieces of text that encouraged feminine literacy as a moral accomplishment. Her presentation was enlightening in its exploration of the development of literacy skills by young women.

With much food for thought I meandered into a couple meetings, a few more panels, and a quest for an Irish pub that no one; save for two fellow conference goers, believed existed. And although my Zen driving experience could have ended there, I quickly realized that an exploration of marginalized or new literacies could not be complete without going back to the beginning—Greece, Richard Enos, and Indiana Jones.

Initially, I attended the panel, “Studying Ancient Eastern/Near Eastern Rhetoric: Why/How and What Does It Tell Us?,” to get a healthy dose of Enos and his charge to go out and be a rhetorical scholar à la Indiana Jones. After hearing his challenge to become a scholar adventurer while speaking at a conference in North Texas, I took up that challenge. And I wanted to hear more. Happily, I came away energized about ancient rhetorics that either pre-dated or paralleled Athenian rhetoric. Hearing Roberta Binkley’s presentation, “An Alternative Literacy: Ancient Mesopotamian Rhetoric?,” on Mesopotamian poetry dedicated to the Moon Goddess excited me about the possibilities of rhetorical study that  celebrates connections between priestess and deity of ancient civilizations. Similarly Enos’s exploration of Rhodian rhetoric in “The Art of Rhetoric at Rhodes: An Eastern Rival to the Athenian Representation of Classical Rhetoric” focuses its attentions on the connections between the Greek state and the external world. Explaining that while Athenian rhetoric addresses the internal workings of state Rhodean rhetoric focuses its attentions on diplomatic and economic affairs. In his presentation of a Greek rhetoric, Enos reminded his audience that we need to be adventurous in our scholarship and move beyond the four walls of our offices to locate the ephemeral primary texts that continue to invigorate our scholarship.

Did I mention that I was hooked?

As an undergrad at West Virginia I’d get into the car and just drive (a.k.a. Zen driving). If I felt like turning left, I’d turn left. If I felt like swerving, I’d swerve. Or if I felt like going straight, I’d go forward. During
these outings I’d find some pretty interesting items—a birdbath shop in the middle of nowhere, a restaurant built into the side of a mountain, or a conversation with a man at the end of a ridge runner’s road. At first glance,
each or these moments appears disparate. However, the larger thread that connects them all was, and is, my own quest for the unique memory/learning experience. It is in that Zen driving spirit that I found myself following
loose connections between panels that challenge us, as teachers, to move past our comfort zones and find that new experience right around the bend. And it was in that spirit that I wound my zen-like way through the panels on
marginalized, ancient, and new literacies. So grab your shades, toss out the map, head for the hills, and enjoy the experience.

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