In a comment on my previous post about the potentially nefarious doings in Labor Studies Land, Fake Herzog pointed me to an article at Minding the Campus. The author, Mary Grabar, dropped in on the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, or “4C’s”, as we call it in the trade), and she was dismayed by what she saw. Like Miniver Cheevy, she has reasons, and runs through a rogues’ gallery of lunkheaded postmodern relativism on display in the conference program.
Thanks for the link — I appreciate it. However, I suspect the author was engaging in more than a little cherrypicking. Are there comp/rhet folks doing guano-sniffing crazy work? Yep — and it has ever been thus, in practically every field (see Book III of Gulliver’s Travels or Pope’s Dunciad). And yeah, in my grad work on contemporary rhetorical theory we talked about Freire, Elbow, and those folks — and I think those two have a great deal for which they must answer.
What I can tell you, however, is that where the rubber meets the road, in the various comp classrooms in the Mondovilles of the world, the overwhelming majority of my peers are fighting for clear, standard English writing. Comp instructors are the grunts of most faculties — in fact, they’re typically the day labor/piece workers of academia, the grad students and adjuncts, and I can pretty well guarantee they weren’t the ones presenting the occasional moonbat section — they were too busy grading, and weren’t paid enough to afford a trip to Atlanta for a conference.
Meanwhile, I think the problems happen before the kids ever get to me. Every semester, I ask my kids how much reading and writing they did in high school. Every semester, I’m disheartened by the paucities they describe. And if they aren’t building habits of reading, writing, and thinking for the years before I get them, I’m not gonna be able to fix it.
Of course, this dearth occurs because grading student writing is a pain in the tuchis, and if you assign it, you’re expected to grade it. (For what it’s worth, I grade/proof/edit about 1-1.25 million words of student writing per annum –250 words/double-spaced page; 20-25 pages/student (including drafts); 25 students/class; 4 classes/term; 2 terms/year — and I have never had a grading assistant). And my writers are somewhat self-selected; I don’t have to teach everyone who walks through the door, whereas the folks at Mondoville High have to do exactly that (Insert plug for Robert Weissberg’s Bad Students, Not Bad Schools here). Teachers are as subject to the principle of least effort as anyone else. Of course, this isn’t always the case — I was blessed with some outstanding teachers when I was a kid, and I think a good teacher is something very like a saint. Unfortunately, saints are thin on the ground these days.
Let me put it this way — how many times have we seen reports from Tea Party rallies where it’s clear the reporter has gone out of his or her way to find a well-armed member of the road company for Deliverance, ignoring the sensible, reasonable citizens who have legitimate complaints about what the government is doing? It’s no better journalism when it happens the other way around.
Are there lousy, nutty comp teachers out there? Yep, just as there are lousy, nutty musicians, burger flippers, truck drivers, and bloggers (Quiet, you!). And some of those lousy, nutty people do lousy, nutty things. But you’ll still listen to music, eat at Wendy’s, ship something via UPS, or read my blog (pleaseohpleaseohplease…), and you’ll do the best you can to avoid the bad stuff. I think Grabar’s article is useful in the same way the local news feature stories on the local greasy spoon are useful — exposing bad practices may encourage the rest of us to keep it together. But we shouldn’t take the sweeps week scare story as typical.