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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: H 27 Does the CCCC Matter? A Critique and a Call for Change
Reviewed by: Will Hochman, hochmanw1@southernct.edu
Posted on: April 10, 2004

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Chair: Derek Owens

A very useful handout was distributed titled “Making CCCC Matter More: Eight Proposals.” Thanks to Derek Owens for providing us with the text here.


Less is More

Reduce the number of sessions and papers, instituting a modified peer-review system for identifying proposals addressing genuine cutting-edge scholarship, teaching, and writing. Encourage proposals that meet very specific criteria rather than simply issuing a general call with the usual annual catch phrase.

More is Better

Scale back the primary conference while establishing coordinated regional conferences that reduce the need for members to travel great distances and make it more possible for graduate students & faculty w/minimal travel funds to participate.

New Zones of Inquiry & Conversation

Initiate new strands like these:

Educational Reform and Policymaking. These sessions would include papers, roundtables, and workshops describing reform efforts, identifying possible challenges related to policy changes or reform initiatives, and brainstorming ways in which compositionists can become involved in these efforts.

Emerging Forms. These sessions would bring together scholars, writers, and educators focusing on radical writing, experimental poetics, and emergent, open, projectivist, multimedia, web-based, hybrid discourse.

Interdisciplinary Connections. These sessions would feature the work of scholars and practitioners in fields typically marginalized or absent at CCCC: architecture, critical geography, ecopoetics, environmental education, graphic design, urban planning, etc.

Mind Our Footprint

Promote a "green" conference by reducing its size, finding low-impact venues, and encouraging related measures to minimize CCCC's environmental footprint. (CCCC must take a far more aggressive stance regarding environmental issues!)
 
Support Grass-Roots & Homegrown Pedagogical Initiatives

Seek alternative pedagogies, rhetorics, readers, and handbooks instead of continually fueling corporate influences. Encourage innovative uses of technology locally and regionally to support these efforts and minimize the need to rely on traditional publishers for pedagogical materials. Network local community networks, websites, and assignments into a "People's University"  as promoted by such educators as Joel Kuszai (factoryschool.org).

Boycott

Just as CCCC sought to boycott states that failed to recognize Martin Luther King's birthday, we should also refuse to do business with large hotels owned by multinational corporations engaging in unethical labor practices.

Advocate & Lobby

Establish an active lobbying arm of CCCC, coordinated with NCTE, that monitors political and legislative developments regarding higher education and K-12 education relevant to the teaching of writing. This lobbying arm would maintain contact with appropriate legislators and keep the CCCC membership apprised of important developments affecting composition work. Also, establish a standing committee focused on education policy issues related to writing and literacy. This committee could encompass the lobbying activities described above and would coordinate efforts within CCCC related to state, regional, and national education policy affecting the work of compositionists. The committee would also be charged with public relations activities related to education policy so that CCCC might have a national voice in policy issues.

Grants

Establish a CCCC grant program to support efforts by members to become directly involved in institutional, state, regional, and national reform efforts and policy-making activities. Grants might used for projects such as collaborations among compositionists at colleges and universities within a region or state to address education policy developments that would affect the teaching of writing (such as a recent proposal in the state of New York to require all state universities to assess student performance in specified areas).
 
*****

The presenters offered their metacritical comments on our annual gathering in short pieces, cycling through their order several times before reviewing the points on the handout and opening up the last half hour or so to very spirited Q & A metacritical and activist discourse.

Derek Owens began (his presentation was titled: “The CCCC Footprint: An Environmental Impact Statement”) and talked briefly about the CCCC as a place to rest and replenish ourselves while turning conversations (even bathroom conversations) into field ideas. When Owens picked up his next part of the presentation he discussed the point that so many of us fly into the conference and the energy and carbon dioxide pollution of our flights has very real effects on global warming. Owens estimates that he personally has participated in putting 15-20 thousand pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere to perform his speaking engagements. He shifted to environmental issues of hotels like the fact that several thousand tons of soap were being wasted each day we attended the conference.  Owens ethically asked, how radical and progressive can our pedagogies be when we rely on underpaid labor?  He termed what we are doing as a pretty expensive from of “academic tourism” though his presentation was so insightful about our field and so well-articulated that it’s effectiveness undercut his point. In the next part of his presentation, Owens talked about the lack of fascination in this conference for the most cutting edge, experimental kinds of discourse and called for more focus on fringe ideas.

From the handout Owens discussed the handout point about “less is more” to point out that the number of sessions be decreased and narrowed, and the handout point that  “more is better” to argue for more regional conferences. The next handout point he discussed (“New Zones of Inquiry & Conversation”) involved more discussion about educational reforms and policy making, more discussion about emerging forms of writing, and more interdisciplinary connections.  He also stressed the need to seek out alternative ways to produce text book like resources on the Internet as a way to emphasize the handout point

C. Mark Hurlbert’s talking role was  “Comic (?) Interlude: A Parody of an All-Too-Typical CCCC Paper.” He started with a prelude/apology leading up to the point that we are really at a corporate convention. He held up our conference catalog as the symbol of our corporate involvement and compared it to the CCCC catalog from 1984 to highlight the sense of the problem. He worried about identity sold to us through our textbooks. The text book companies own our pedagogies and us, he claimed, “and it’s just plain troubling.” Hurlbert said he’s never seen a textbook he would use because ideas are termed for trends and cyclical when boiled down to argumentation. He quoted Ezra Pound at length from the English Journal:“The function of the teaching profession is to help the national mind” and “An Education that is not focused on today and tomorrow is treason to the student.” I wondered, as a contrarian sometimes does, about the opposite point. Isn’t our national mind about consumer issues and business? Is that all wrong because it isn’t directly educational? In other words, can we afford to pretend in classes that Big Mac’s aren’t on the national mind? My own experience with academic corporations such as those participating in our conference has been fruitful. Their influence makes me tend to learn about and collect free learning resources for my students while confidently selecting some of their texts when they are most useful for my students. Hurlbert is right to be on the lookout for too much corporatizing of education, but I had a hard time agreeing on the conference catalog and our text industry as the right target.

Next, Hurlbert discussed “the star system” at the conference as a natural part of academe and noted this wasn’t always the case. Before l998, highlighted speakers were the creative writers or important policy makers. Some of Hurlbert’s favorite sessions were not from the star sessions, but from people who form “the heart and soul of the conference.” He thinks that this system should end. He also called for an end to book parties like “the St. Martin’s House of Animal Death Party” and made it his intention not to go again.  I missed their party this year at “The Buckhorn” but again, I had contrary experience in general with publisher conference parties. They usually pick some location that adds to the cultural feel for the particular town our conference is in. And I cannot, ever, criticize free food and drink. It’s against my graduate school ethos! Hulbert’s presentation, despite my thinking against it’s grain, was really fun. He’s a fine speaker whose dark eyes drink in his audience powerfully. He was intelligent, humorous, and passionately alert to the session’s ideas.

Robert Yageliski talking role was titled “A Conference Radically Out of Sync with Its Historical Moment.” He talked briefly about how the conference provides a sense of commitment and solidarity. After a vignette about his early days at the conference, Yageliski claimed that it gives him a feel for the “terrain of the field.” Next, he talked about the NYC school system and the way bit’s being controlled by the mayor. Yageliski claimed that some writing is driven by tests and used the NYC system as an illustration of the narrowing of writing pedagogy. He noted that we didn’t discuss the issue in NYC last year despite its local relevance and national importance. Yageliski pointed out that our conference really didn’t discuss some very complex and difficult issues created by the “No Child Left Behind” law. High stakes testing is becoming more widespread and there is an increasing pressure on writing teachers to teach to the test and Yageliski wants us to talk more. In recent months, he observed that the outcry against “No Child Left Behind” is increasing, but not necessarily from us in the writing community. Yageliski sees a disjunction between conversations here at our conference and conversations with regional and national policy makers. In his next part, Yageliski annotated handout points about doing more to advocate and lobby for more input on policy issues because we have the expertise and represent the state of knowledge in the field (“but it stays here”).

As I sat in the audience, I used my fourteen years of CCCC going to remember objections to the panel’s objections. I realized that true generalizations about our conference are difficult for several reasons. No one goes to all aspects of the conference or hears the same presentation the same way, so our impressions must vary. Remembering sessions beyond cataloging them is hard. Imagining improvement is different than working within the conference and NCTE structures to enact them. This session (or several like it) should continue annually. There should always be criticism of our conference during the conference. The audience was charged with energy because we not only teach critical thinking, we are critical thinkers. We need to articulate self-criticism and conference reflection more—that’s what this session evidenced and that is exactly what this review hopes to continue.


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