Re: Reassessing our practices

Steve Krause (skrause@BGNET.BGSU.EDU)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 07:36:55 -0500

Wow, this list has really heated up in sorta bizarre ways lately, huh ;) ?

Bob, I don't think you're being ignored and I don't think there is any
circling of wagons. And this difference between yours and Phil's
responses is that you have had the sense to present an argument and to
not completely dismiss the discipline most of us practice. The problem
(I think) is two fold: First, it's unclear to me what you mean by
"essay." For example, you say:

On one level, the essay has no
> power -- it's kind of an often pointless exercise in school, and once
> out of school nobody gets hired on the basis of their essay writing
> ability. That's one sense of "power."
> On another level though the essay has quite a bit of power. In school
> it positions people in a hierarchy and establishes fairly clear lines of
> authority. I don't see how anyone can deny this, frankly. Faculty who
> publish their essays are "above" faculty who write but don't publish,
> students are novice writers, at the bottom of the hierarchy.
> Outside of school the essay is powerful because it powerfully reinforces
> the emphasis on individualism in our society which is also emphasized, and
> hence echoed, in corporate ideology for example. I find it hard to deny
> that there is some important mutual reinforcement going on between the
> emphasis on finding and expressing one's own individual point of view in
> school essaying, and the emphasis in corporate ideology on expressing
> oneself through individual consumer choices. I could elaborate this, but
> again I don't think it's necessary.
I think there are at least 3 different definitions of essay here-- the
things students do in classes (which re-inscribe a power relationship
between teachers and students that most of us think is unhealthy); the
things academics do to get brownie points (which seem to bare _very_
little resemblence to the sorts of things that students do); and as a tool
for "individual expression" or at least the illusion of that.

Well, which is it? And doesn't the definition here change things pretty

Second, I think it's unclear what your read on "power" is. You're right,
we all acknowledge there are power relationships at work with all of
these various definitions of essay, but I think what we're debating here
is the impact of all this. More specifically back to Beth et al's
comments, what we're talking about here is is teaching the "essay" in the
traditional sense _empowering_ -- that is, does it give students a tool
of power that they can use to better themselves-- or is teaching the
"essay" in the traditional sense _oppressive_ -- that is, it simply
re-enforces the ancient (and I would argue damaging) heirarchy of
"teacher good, student bad."

So yeah, I can understand your frustration here Bob, but I don't think
you're really addressing the issues that are at the heart of this discussion.

Among other things, you say...
> Many people on this list seem willing to make this initial "both-and" move.
> They say, pretty much as you have done, "oh, yes of course that's the way it
> is -- how could you have *thought* I was so naive as to not see that?"
> (this seems to be one of this community's conventions for acknowledging
> an ousider may have a point. With insiders you are all much more likely
> to just come right out and say "oh yes." Interesting). I take up your
> time with these reflections only because this is, after all, a rhetorical
> medium and a rhetoric list.

Well, see above. You're not (IMO) addressing the issue here. It's not
an issue of whether or not it's a "power" relationship-- anyone who has
taught writing before knows that-- it's an issue of how does one deal
with this power.

> Basically I've been arguing all along that practices should be shook up and
> shook up good, but nobody seems to hear that, and I can only suggest that
> is is because I am not adhering to your formal conventions.

Now, _where_ have you argued this? You have said again and again that
this is an issue of power, a relationship that we all accepted long ago,
but I don't recall any posts on your part about _how_ to shake things
up? Beth, who you seem jealous of in some fashion, is getting more
responses (I guess...) because she has suggested a way of shaking things
up-- have on-line writing in different forms "count" as "essays" in the
teaching of writing. So where's your idea along these lines?

Maybe you
> have some discomfort about your's being a "formal" as opposed to a "content"
> discipline, because you seem very willing to hear ideas which meet
> certain formal criteria but very unwilling to hear similar ideas which
> don't meet those criteria, but you seem to express an interest in
> attending to content.

Use honey and not vinegar, Bob. I have some discomfort with the "comp =
service station" mentality you're suggesting here. What you are
observing isn't so much a discomfort or a "circling of the wagons" of the
field; rather, you're observing that this field-- composition-- is a
pretty weird one when it comes to trying to describe what it does and
doesn't do.

To wit. . . you applaud Beth for wanting to
> "shake up practices" because she goes way out of her way to feed you
> positives no matter how obnoxious and petty you are being, but because
> I don't coddle you formally many of you have treated me to some of the
> most base rhetorical strategies I've ever experienced!

See above, and I delete the rest since I think you're just starting to
rant 'n rave.

I'm not really interested in losing my temper the way I did with our pal
Phil, so I won't. And-- just for a point of comparison-- I think that
Bob's comments are distinct from Phil's in that while there is much here
I disagree with and I think Bob is exhibiting a sort of interesting and
progressive frustration, I don't think he's sunk to the same level as
Phil did regarding totally dismissing _everything_.

But here's what I'd suggest, Bob: what would you propose we do about
this obvious relationship with power and writing? We're all writing
teachers who are praxis-oriented. We see the relationships you're
talking about every day of the week. What would you have us do about it?

Steve Krause * Department of English * Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH * 43403 * (419) 372-8934 *
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