4.0351 More on UTexas Comp. Course (4/88)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 2 Aug 90 16:10:37 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0344. Thursday, 2 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Sun, 29 Jul 90 16:17 CDT (69 lines)
Subject: The Texas Writing Syllabus

(2) Date: Mon, 30 Jul 90 09:15:40 CDT (15 lines)
From: Ed Waldron <UD081917@NDSUVM1>
Subject: Re: 4.0325 More on UTexas Writing Course, Part I

(3) Date: Sam, 28 Jui 90 22:06:21 SET (18 lines)
From: Michel Pierssens <PIERSENS@FRP8V11>
Subject: Texas syllabus

(4) Date: Tue 31 Jul 90 08:27:23 (34 lines)
From: dusknox@skipspc.idbsu.edu (Skip_Knox)
Subject: Texas syllabus

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 29 Jul 90 16:17 CDT
Subject: The Texas Writing Syllabus

Leaving aside the NAS, Round-Up, and the wasted preparation for the
cancelled course, Mr. Slatin's cause seems a variant on the "canon"
issue: the Sophomore lit course was to be broadened beyond the
Eurocentric, and the Freshman writing course accordingly restructured
around the theme of difference. Whereupon the usual charges arose: the
"progressives" were trying to bring leftist indoctrination into the
curriculum, the "reactionaries" were trying to preserve the white male
European world-view.

As a flag to those who want to stop reading now, I'm going, regretfully,
to have to side with the reactionaries. The route I take to this
conclusion may be somewhat different from the usual one.

The group whose interests are regularly overlooked in these discussions,
it seems to me, is the students. They will take Freshman Composition and
Sophomore Lit (hopefully) once only, and then on to upper division
courses, graduation and adult life. A "trial-and-error" approach to the
curri culum is grossly unfair to the students in the "error" class: they
may get a reasonable grade and graduate on time, but they write less
well and know literature less well. They have been cheated out of a
part, if perhaps only a small part, of their education. And this is the
case whether they wind up ideologically left, right or something else:
they are less effective, the less well they express themselves.

What in Sophomore Lit is in the students' interest? Relevance, to be
sure; but not just relevance for Fall 1990. For the majority who take
only the required literature, it's relevance for the next fifty years.
That means a responsible text selection has to take into account how
transient a text's relevance may turn out to be. If twenty years ago
you read _The Greening of American_ instead of _Leviathan_, _Zen and the
Art.._ instead of _The Odyssey_ and _MacBird_ instead of _MacBeth_,
you've got a good malpractice case against your Sophomore Lit
instructor. What constitutes a "classic" changes, of course, and
classics had to start sometime. But it is irresponsible to replace a
"classic" with a work whose main recommendation is its contribution to
diversity; first, it may be entirely forgotten in five, much less twenty
years, and second, diversity may be replaced by commonality as a central
theme. Of course the instructor can then update the syllabus; but the
student is stuck with the now outmoded content.

What for Freshman Writing is in the students' intere st? I think, to
learn to write -- clearly, effectively, convincingly, and perhaps even
elegantly. How well they master this is a major factor in their
subsequent success as undergraduates, graduates and in professional
life. To be sure, they need something to write about. But the theme of
sexism and racism seems an extraordinary poor choice. To begin with,
the analysis of Titles VII and IX is quite complex, as the readings
packet shows, with the result that the instructor spends an extraordina
ry amount of time teaching history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy
and law, in an English Department course entitled "Writing." Second,
the issues can be expected to generate a lot of heat not conducive to
learning to write. Third, the very choice of theme will inevitably be
taken by the students, and perhaps by many GA's as well, as signaling a
"pro-Affirmative-Action" tilt to the course, leading to the cynical
(though hopefully inaccurate) belief that arguments _for_ AA are eo ipso
sound a rguments. The choice of theme should not detract from the main
goal of the course: teaching students to write.

I certainly don't mean to discourage re-evaluation of the literature
selections or the writing curriculum. Debates on diversity and
commonality, text selection and writing goals are healthy and to be
encouraged. But knee-jerk reactions by left and right are not healthy
when it's the students who get kicked around.

Hoke Robinson
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------21----
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 90 09:15:40 CDT
From: Ed Waldron <UD081917@NDSUVM1>
Subject: Re: 4.0325 More on UTexas Writing Course, Part I (2/98)

The incident at UTexas sounds disturbingly like the arguments we went
through twenty years ago concerning the *content* of composition
courses. It seems it is still next to impossible to get non-English
teaching colleagues to understand that "writing" as content for a course
makes little sense. It is a method of writing that we teach (or, in my
case, taught), _not_ "writing" as a subject matter. What freshman is
going to be able to compose an argumentative discourse on some arcane
facet of written communication? Having students think and write about
topics that are of interest to them (or ought to be) can be a great help
in getting over that initial barrier to writing -- "What can I write
about?" My condolences to you.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------26----
Date: Sam, 28 Jui 90 22:06:21 SET
From: Michel Pierssens <PIERSENS@FRP8V11>
Subject: Texas syllabus

This is turning into a typical summertime "feuilleton" for idle newsrooms
or a remake of some David Lodge novel about cocktails and academic poli
tics. I must confess that although I went through countless similar
situations when I used to teach in the States I fail to see why the Texas
problem should deserve so much e-space. True, there are real questions
at the bottom of it all, but do we need to know all the particulars?
Shouldn't the people involved try to get to the essentials and tell us
whether there is something to be learned that is valid for all -- and
then what? Isn't this a case of endemic academico-centrism on the part
of academics? Is it the case that the future of th world rests on what
happens with writing courses in Texas? I know that Hegel or Schelling
would have said "yes" in a similar situation -- but then, what's the
true role for a university today (not 1820)? Well, here comes the
"university as information clearing-house" topic...Damn loop.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------42----
Date: Tue 31 Jul 90 08:27:23
From: dusknox@skipspc.idbsu.edu (Skip_Knox)
Subject: Texas syllabus

For myself, I'll vote with the administration of Texas in the matter of
E306. I agree that a writing class is not the place to let students
vent their opinions on current events. Such a course (or, more
appropriately, seminar) would probably be a good thing to introduce into
the curriculum. It could teach students the difference between their
beliefs, their prejudices and their opinions without having to come to
any sort of partisan conclusion.

Nevertheless, I sympathize with the English dept.'s reluctance to be the
fall guy for such a course. I wouldn't want it in my History curriculum
masquerading as a history course. You could easily argue that Sociology
should host it, or History or Anthropology or a variety of other
disciplines. Just because they write their opinions down doesn't make
it an English course.

This should not be a writing course. The instructor and the students
would spend most of their time sorting out fact from fancy from
prejudice rather than learning how to write. As one who still vividly
recalls "English" courses that taught me NOTHING about the English
language or about writing but only urged me to express myself (in
whatever maundering mood struck me at the time I sat down with pen in
hand), this course sounds like another sham. I'm still bitter that my
English professors didn't teach me English.

-= Skip =-

Skip Knox
Boise State University