“Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century” by Richard Fulkerson
“On Student’s Rights to their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response” by Lil Brannon and C.H. Knoblauch
The most effective way to teach writing to students has been up for debate for a long time, as detailed in “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,” by Richard Fulkerson. Fulkerson’s article is an updated look at the field of composition studies from his last assessment of the field in the early 90s. In the twenty-plus years that have passed, new fields have risen up and changed the nature of the field in important ways, but these changes require assessment. Twenty years ago, people were not as interested in cultural studies, including topics such as race, feminism, and the LGBTQ+ community. However, interest in these fields, among others, has boomed in recent years and added many new chapters to composition studies textbooks. This is most impactful in the sense that composition studies is no longer limited to the English classroom, and instead is pertinent to many other fields of study as well. For this reason, it is interesting to study what has changed in recent years in terms of teaching methods for these new groups of students. Fulkerson opens his essay by proposing four questions which dissect different methods of teaching composition axiologically, by process, pedagogically, and epistemologically.
The purpose of these questions is to examine the different approaches to teaching college writing with the inclusion of new fields of study. For example, the cultural studies field melds well with composition studies because both seek similar ends, most notably, liberation from traditional discourse. Fulkerson also discusses expressivism, a methodological way in which writing is moving away from the traditional. Expressivism gives the writer in any field a large amount of room to respond to topics they feel passionate about through freewriting and journaling, and to seeks to “‘foster [. . .] aesthetic, cognitive, and moral development,’ not to improve written communication or encourage critical thinking” (Fulkerson 667). The composition studies community appears to be torn between adopting the newer methodologies or sticking with the traditional, process-driven methodologies, and Fulkerson ultimately concludes that opinions differ, and there is no way of proving one methodology to be superior over another.
I didn’t expect these two articles to tie together but, interestingly enough, they do. In their article, “On Student’s Rights to their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response,” Brannon and Knoblauch present a compelling argument detailing a new way for teachers to respond to student writers, which would certainly not be considered a traditional methodology. The writers make a case for why teachers should approach students’ writing with as much respect as they would approach the thoughts of any other author. To understand this argument, the reader is asked to consider the examples of a textbook, or a newspaper article. Brannon and Knoblauch argue that, when reading these mediums, we tend to automatically assume that the writer has done his research and that he is educated on the topic he is covering. And, even if this proves to not be true, we still give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume that the lapse in quality was a moment of weakness. However, when it comes to students, the assumption automatically tends to be that “the student [has] not yet earned the authority that ordinarily compels readers to listen seriously to what writers have to say.” (Brannon 3). Regardless of whether or not this proves to be true, the automatic assumption of students inferior intellectual status is demeaning, and may lead them to care less about their assignments, going on the assumption that their work will be grammatically picked to pieces and the reliability of it will be questioned. Brannon and Knoblauch do not set out to argue that student texts are authoritative, however they do encourage teachers to move away from their concept from the “Ideal Text.” Instead, they recommend focusing on conferencing with students and working with them to communicate their ideas in a more effective way. By doing this, the hope is that students may learn to better explain themselves and feel that their writing is being graded on quality of argument, rather than an arbitrary “Ideal” standard.
I found Fulkerson’s article to be loaded to overflowing with heavy theoretical talking points and references, and had to read through it several times to ensure that I understood what he was trying to convey. He attempted to fit many different points into one paper which got confusing and was often hard to tie the arguments back into the thesis. The paper mainly served as an analysis of the newer methodologies in comparison to already established tradition and, while excellent points were expounded on, Fulkerson ended the paper with an ambiguous summation of both: “composition studies is in for a bumpy ride” (681). So it would seem. That all being said, I did enjoy the walk-through of the history of composition studies, as well as the introduction to expressivism, and I look forward to a discussion of its merits and faults, standing against the established tradition.
On the other hand, I enjoyed Brannon and Knoblauch’s article immensely because I thought it raised very valid points regarding how teachers respond to student writing. In one of the footnotes, the writers make a comparison to reader-response criticism, a mode of literary criticism with which I am familiar. Reader-response focuses a great deal on the authority of the writer within the context of their writing, and I think this is very interesting to apply to students’ work. I thought the case example of John’s written response to the Lindbergh baby prompt was an excellent way of illustrating this point. I think that, while this article offers wonderful theoretical advice, it might be problematic in execution because teachers have such limited time with students. For this reason, I feel that the teacher taking this advice into practice might have to adapt it to fit his or her own classroom. That being said, I still feel that the awareness promoted in this essay is crucial, and could change a student’s response to a writing assignment.
#1. Do you think that Critical/Cultural Studies(CCS) classes are effective ways of teaching writing to students? Why, or why not?
#2. Discuss the differences between the dominant tradition of composition and current cultural studies/expressivism/CCS.
#3. Do you think that Brannon and Knoblauch’s model is realistically possible to apply in a traditional classroom setting? And if not overall, how could certain elements be utilized?