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CCCC 2001 in Review: E.13 Ethics in Publishing Issues in Authoring

This is the first of two related sessions. See a review of the other session at F.13 Ethics of Publishing: Issues in Editing.

Andrea Lunsford: Chair
Robert Schwegler presented "Sedimenting Practices: How Questions of Length Undermine Innovation."
Rebecca Moore Howard presented "The Fraud of Composition Pedagogy."
Chris M. Anson presented "A Progressive Approach to Handbook Grammar: Axiomatic or Oxymoronic?"

The three presenters, all writers of handbooks, explored market effects that narrow the range for handbooks, call attention to pedagogical oddities (e.g., directing instruction to the handbook and out of the classroom), and interact (or interfere?) with progressive instruction.

Both Bob Schwegler and Becky Howard tackled the displacement of instruction from the classroom to the reference work/handbook. Schwegler documented the shift with historical examples from textbooks dating back to the nineteenth century. Early taxonomies of "error" attempt to systematize instruction that apparently did not or could not take place in the classroom. The errors addressed tended to be those that inhibit meaning; errors of form seem to have retained their place in classroom instruction. Later textbooks take a very different epistemological stance: facility with grammar is assumed as "natural," and those who cannot manage proper grammar are cognitively deficient. More recently, form reasserts its importance, particularly in terms of concision and other characteristics that speak to workplace and social contexts. In these books, meaning once again trumps issues of cognition.

The contemporary textbook market assures that current handbooks resemble one another in length as well as in terms of coverage, organization, error types, the language of discussion, and the presentation of rules. They also share a role in the teaching context of a supplement to instruction that should free the classroom teacher of "skill and drill" exercises in grammar and mechanics. The rules and examples are spelled out for the student's-and teacher's-convenience.

Becky Howard confessed her distress upon uncovering the "fraud" of composition pedagogy as she has labored over a handbook. Using examples from her own responses to student work, she demonstrated how the phenomena Schwegler explained play out in her classes. The responses she wrote with the best of intentions-e.g., sending a student to the handbook for a full explanation of X problem-now appear to be unhelpful at best and patronizing or distancing at worst. In short, the displacement of writing instruction to handbooks violates the dialogic tenets of composition pedagogy. This is not to say that handbooks are evil; however, the use of handbooks to avoid teaching students material needed for their academic and civic success raises some painful and disturbing questions.

Chris Anson used a PowerPoint presentation (available at the URL listed above) to examine the market forces that interact in the development and production of handbooks: theory/practice, instruction, and ancillary support (e.g., handbooks). Instructors employ filters, materials, knowledge, and so forth as they plan courses, and the apparatus that produces handbooks offers a version of course "support" that is equally filtered and informed by complex theory and practice. The various philosophical and pedagogical assumptions in play may yield confusion for students and flat-out contradiction for the teacher who carefully examines the practical use of handbooks-much as Howard demonstrates. Truly progressive writing instruction may be impeded by the conflicts among theory, practice, and the market-based production of handbooks. [CR]

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