Re: The Main Problem

Constance J Ostrowski (
Sun, 22 Oct 1995 21:02:26 -0500

Fred's questions and comments about teachers of writing who don't write, who
are not "as intellectually acute in their own lives as the models they force
upon their students," have prompted me to come out of the shadows. I agree
with much of what you say, Fred; however, I don't think that the problem
is, in every case, necessarily "embedded in the nature of the teachers
themselves." Yes, there are some--in fact, many--writing teachers who are
"teaching 'rules' that they themselves have never, ever applied, MAINLY
because they have never written a thing for publication." Some--probably
many--of these teachers don't write because they don't want to, because they
don't think they have to DO what they teach; but there are many of us who
are struggling to squeeze out a minute here or there to think, to write.

In particular, many of us who teach writing in two-year college settings find
that we have to beg or argue for time in which to think/write, to justify
this work which we see as both ethically and pragmatically necessary to
teaching. And then to be told that "research" is not within the scope of our
job descriptions. That it is not necessary. That we are here to teach
(implicitly defined here as running as many students as possible through
our assembly line--with maximum productivity; you know, running on auto pilot).
Am I a writer myself? I try damn hard to be. So, I can squeeze in a
conference paper here or there, and I've actually gotten a couple of articles
out. But, for anything that requires large-scale concentration, I have to
wait for sabbaticals (which my contract still, at least as of this moment,
has been able to retain). So, I had to write my dissertation during a
sabbatical. I'm trying to revise it now, but since it does not directly
pertain to any particular course I teach, I can't find any institutional
framework that allows me time for it.

We want to integrate computer use into the teaching of writing (depending on
who the "we" is, for different reasons--"we" don't even have email yet; note
that my address, the result of an independent alum account, identifies my
alma mater). In order to learn how to do so, I've tried to glean bits of
information from this discussion list or that, from this journal article or
that. Do I have time to visit other institutions (like my alma mater) to see
how it can be done? No (unless I end up coordinating a grant which we might
get, which will allow me one course of release time from my usual 5 course
semester load; and that "release" time mysteriously tends to evaporate into
attendance at other required committee meetings).

Now, *I'm* venting (with probably less invulnerability than Fred).

Yes, I know (of) the
[I can't stop to fool with RPI's text editor]

Yes, I know (of) "the prescriptivist bullshit teachers who memorize a bunch
of stuff over twenty years and then pound their own students. . ." And often,
they're the ones who hold the power, who are threatened by change, by
original and innovative thought. And they're the ones who don't see any
need to do more than skim a professional journal or two (if even that); they
certainly don't seem to see the need to generate the same kind of original
thought that they expect in their students. Yes, they often tend to focus
on "form," clinging desperately to a belief that it can be separated from
"content" as well as "context." And God help those of us who try to suggest
that writing--and in fact, thinking--"is a human emotion process, not a rule
process," totally *objective*!

But it's not just individuals who populate the teaching field; it's the

So, Fred, there are at least some of us--probably many of us--who agree with
you and try our damnedest to read, think, and write--to do what we ask of our
students. Sometimes we succeed; othertimes, we're just treading water, and
occasionally go under.

Connie Ostrowski (alma mater, not employer)