Re: Monological Discourse

Thu, 8 Feb 1996 20:55:16 -0500

On Thu, 8 Feb 1996, Nick Carbone wrote:

> I guess your response brings me to two points. One, different fyc
> programs seem to have different missions, or at least different fyc
> teachers do.

Amen to that! Actually, I have in the past asked a survey-type question
on a number of lists trying to find out how many people's programs
actually made any explicit statement of mission or purpose. Most
answers were "I don't know," some answers were "no," and only a couple
answered "yes." Interestingly, the explicit comp program mission
statements belonged to community college programs. In most cases,
there's a nebulous quality to the whole venture -- purposes and
missions left to individual instructors while, on the other hand,
requirements were made explicit.

> I'd love to hear how your department defines the purpose of
> fyc.

Unfortunately, when I first started in this program in 1989, our
mission was equally nebulous. Directorship of the program has
changed hands twice since then and with each change there has been
more concern about purpose and less concern about requirements. At
present the mission seems more directly tied to the social/public
mission of the institution. I'm very pleased with this change and
with the way the "requirements" are gradually become less explicit
so that our TAs and instructors have the freedom to try new approaches.

> My guess is that more departments or programs than not would be
> happy to have students simply write a decent academic essay. But I'm not
> a good guesser often. It's just been that in my experience teachers
> disparage students for not being able to write a good essay on the 'Five
> Causes of the Civil War' more than ever seem to worry about or even talk
> about rhetoric in any form.
This is true. I also think that in other depts (history, for example,
where the 5 causes of civil war may be an actual assignment) care
less about things like "voice" and "audience awareness" (teacher
excluded, of course) than they do about the structure of the darn
thing -- even along the lines of the much disparaged 5-paragraph
essay which most students can throw together with varying degrees
of competency by the time their in high school.

*If* our programs ever told us that getting students up and running
with this kind of writing is our purpose -- fine. I can do it.
Let's face it, though, most of us are told explicitly that this is
*not* our purpose.

> It's that very attitude that makes so many (Birkets, Postman, Boyle) not
> trust Net forms. For some
> reason it's not real, perhaps as you suggest because it is too grass
> roots, and for some reason, while grass roots are o.k. to study and
> intellectualize upon, little to nothing of actual intellectual content
> grows from those roots.

Oooh, but it does. We just don't water and feed that grass like we
should. The lack of tending the grass's roots has resulted in the
poor quality of public discourse that is now so widespread. What
do you think?

> My second point is a question, rephrased from my previous post, what do you
> teach when you teach on-line rhetoric?

I teach rhetoric! Then let students get on-line and start talking. Give
them something general to run with. See how fast that general gets
specific and the conversation takes on a life of its own. Then
study the conversation itself! Because they can see what they say
and get real feedback almost immediately, the way rhetoric works,
good and bad is made real, too. Suddenly there's a reason to learn
how to interact with others, how to engage responsibly in a conversation.

The purpose of conversation is relationship. The human desire for
relationship drive the motivation for participating and authentic
(internally motivated) learning. I don't have to teach -- they
learn by experience and I guide their learning.