Saturday, December 18, 2010

Letter to a student...

Write like academic you--avoiding writing like you think you should write, like your grandmother is leaning over your shoulder. Present in your essays is nice organization, solid thinking and analysis. However, the puffed up, wordy and vague sentences mess everything up. I'm making a big deal out of this because it seems to me if you could get a handle on this your writing will really improve. Hiding among the wordiness is some strong writing and clear thinking.

Get closer to your topic. Stand nose to nose with it.

"In the world we live in" doesn't really mean much. There is no other place for us to live, it's like saying "Here, on Earth..." What do you really mean - in 2010? In the world of Lansing teenagers? Michigan? "It is my understanding..." "I think" "I believe" - You don't need these because reader knows it is your essay, ergo, those are your thoughts and beliefs. Using this wording is technically called authorial intrusion. You are creating a distance between you and the reader. I suggest you not do that. It's like you are standing at a window telling me what you see. Please get out of the way and let me look for myself.

Have you read the section in the S King book, On Writing, about his experience with the newspaper article he wrote about the sports team? That is an illustration of what I'm talking about.

Think about this - what if you wrote a whole essay on the genre you mentioned: screamo. What is it? What are the distinct characteristics that make it different from other genres? Why did it show up? How does it impact the local scene? Who likes it and why? What musical value does it have or why is it so bad? Show - describe with details.

This essay tries to cover too much ground. It's a tour bus going 55 through the city. The tourists don't really get a good look at things because you're zipping through too fast.

Pick one stop. Get out. Totally stare at it, think about it, analyze it, and make it matter.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Final thoughts on swearing

Although my original hypothesis was not fully supported by my research, I did establish a connection among taboo word use, age, and emotion.

The use of taboo words is linked to social and personal development. As children mature into adolescence they become increasingly concerned with social context; indeed, language use becomes significant in negotiating social relationships around age eleven. Jørgensen stated in regard to his research on code switching in middle school age students that young people perceive their language as something that enables them to have fun in social settings and that language use can in fact “be a power tool in conflicts or as a face-saving measure” . Taboo word use can lead to both fun and social acceptance, two very important considerations for young people.

Adjusting to the emotional changes of moving from childhood to adulthood is another important consideration for young people. As established in Section III, taboo word use is significantly correlated to speaker emotion. It follows then, that the decrease in taboo word use can be linked to the establishment of a wider array of personal tools for dealing with emotion. As an individual becomes more capable of expressing their emotion through productive outlets, such as conversation, their need for taboo word use declines. This analysis would explain the increase in emotionally based narrative content in both older males and females.

My findings are a reflection of the assertion that language serves a unique, highly complex purpose. If one believes that “…language exists as a tool for communication, and rules—old or new—are “good” or “bad” only insofar as they make it an effective or ineffective tool” concerns over taboo word use might be something to reconsider as these words clearly serve a irreplaceable communicative purpose.

Work Cited

George, Alexander. 1990. “Whose Language is it Anyway? Some Notes on Idiolects.” The Philosophical Quarterly 40:160: 275-298.

Jay, Timothy. 2009. Perspectives on Psychological Science 4:2:153-161.

Jørgensen, Norman J. 2003. “Gender differences in the development of language choice patterns in the Køge Project.” International Journal of Bilingualism 7:4:353-377.

Lucken, Melissa. 2009. “Chick’s and Dudes—What’s Your Story?” Survey Data.
Lucken, Melissa. 2009. “Chick’s and Dudes—What’s Your Story?” Personal Interviews.

Schmidt, Stanley. 2002. “To Describe or Prescribe.” Analog Science Fiction & Fact 122:11:4-7.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Data analysis of very, very small study on swearing

The data I gathered correlated with the literature I reviewed. Fortunately, I was able to adjust my research to allow the three sources to influence each other. This allowed me to slightly alter the focus of my research as I discovered the connection I sought.

With the exception of 1 55-75 year-old male and 1 15-35 year-old female, the responses of the individuals I interviewed matched the data I collected from the self surveys.

The responses of the personal interviews tightly correlated to the assertion that taboo word use peaks during the teen years with a gradual decline following. Additionally, the responses of the personal interviews correlated with Jay’s work which states that taboo word use if linked with speaker emotion.

With the exception of the fact that one of my female age groups has a higher taboo word use number than the corresponding male group, each prong of my data supports the other two prongs (the literature correlates to both the self surveys and personal interviews, as does the personal interview correlate to both the literature and self-survey, for example.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Very, very small study on swearing, emotion, gender and age

My research consisted of the two parts 1) self-analysis surveys of 15 minute, informal conversations and 2) face-to-face personal interviews.

Self-analysis surveys

The self-analysis surveys were completed by 23 participants. Because my research goal was to focus on spoken language in same gender/same generation groups and because younger generations codeswitch around older generations, and because younger people, both males and females, are less likely to use taboo words in front of those they perceive to be adults , I controlled the self-surveys by requiring participants to indicate their age group and gender. As the attached form indicates, data was collected on taboo word use as well as narrative content. This approach enabled me to analyze both points simultaneously and to seek a connection between the two.

Face-to-face personal interviews

The face-to-face interviews consisted of 12 individual 10-15 minute interviews—2 interviews with each identified group (2 15-35 males, 2 15-35 females, 2 35-55 males, etc).

The data gathered from personal interviews was not numerically substantial enough to be quantified or used for generalization. Instead of tabulating the data, I used it as a point of reference for my analysis and reflection; I compared it to the data from the self-surveys and information gathered from the literature review to arrive at my conclusions.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Very Brief Literature Review/Swearing and emotion

The topic of lexicon variation is well covered in scholarly research. It appears there is a continuing debate in regard to the reasons for lexical variations and the level of significance in these variations. There is also a continuing debate as to which framework is most appropriate for analyzing those differences.

My hypothesis required a review of available literature on the topic of the use of spoken language by males and females and how the spoken language of males and females differs. Research and data on these differences frequently focus on issues of power and relationships and on how theories for analysis have changed in recent years. Jørgensen states, “In the past decade or so, a constructionist-inspired perspective has come to the fore in sociolinguistics in general, according to which the differences in language use are less an effect of language use than a means of creating social relations.” This is characteristic of the ongoing debate which focuses on how males and females acquire and use language and is relevant to my research in that it reflects the idea that spoken communication is more than a one person-one person interaction. Spoken language is a complex task which varies and evolves over time—even minute to minute—and those changes are a response to many variables.

At the outset of my research, I was pleased to locate data that supported my hypothesis that taboo word decreased by age. Jay’s data shows that taboo word use rates peak in the teenage years and decline thereafter. Jay’s data did support the common assertion that males use taboo words with higher frequency than females; however, the gap between male and female public swearing has decreased from males accounting for 67% of public swearing in 1986 to males accounting for 55% of public swearing in 2006.

To explore the other main point of my hypothesis, I searched for data on narrative content broken down by age and gender. I was unable to locate any current research on this topic; however, I did find research that supported the connection of speaker emotion to the use of taboo words. “The primary use of swearing is for emotional connotation…two-thirds of swearing data are linked to personal and interpersonal expressions of anger and frustration which seem to be the main reason for swearing…Taboo words persist because they intensify emotional communication to a degree that nontaboo words cannot.”

It was from this analysis that I framed the remainder of my research.

Work Cited

George, Alexander. 1990. “Whose Language is it Anyway? Some Notes on Idiolects.” The Philosophical Quarterly 40:160: 275-298.

Jay, Timothy. 2009. Perspectives on Psychological Science 4:2:153-161.

Jørgensen, Norman J. 2003. “Gender differences in the development of language choice patterns in the Køge Project.” International Journal of Bilingualism 7:4:353-377.

Schmidt, Stanley. 2002. “To Describe or Prescribe.” Analog Science Fiction & Fact 122:11:4-7.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What's the deal with hypothesis

Significant gender differences persist in regard to lexicon, especially attitudes towards taboo words, and in choice of narrative content; gender differences are more pronounced with older generations.

Main Points of Hypothesis:

1. Generational factors play a larger role in the use of taboo words than gender factor in spoken English.

2. Generational factors play a larger role in narrative content than gender factor in spoken English.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More on the topic of swearing and emotion

As the mother of two sons, I'm aware of the language differences between teenagers and adults, specifically in regard to lexicon. Both of my sons begin to take an active interest in taboo word use at about twelve years of age. My older son, now twenty, shows a marked decrease in taboo word use. My forty-eight year old husband shows a very marked decrease in taboo word use since I met him at age twenty.

I'm aware of the “common thinking” that males typically converse about non-emotional topics and that females typically converse about emotional topics; I am also aware of the “common thinking” that males use taboo words more frequently than females.

My personal experiences with my family members does not support these common assumptions regarding narrative content.

Because I was intrigued by the possibility of exploring generation (age) of speaker and how generation (age) impacted taboo word use as well as narrative content I researched topic of gender differences in regard to lexicon, especially taboo words, and narrative content.

More soon...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What the hell...swearing in the classroom

I recently had a student comment on swearing in the classroom. I generally don't make an issue of it; it typically doesn't happen too often. However, the classroom can be a stressful place. So_students may occasionally swear. Especially if they feel pressured. And_pressuring them is part of my job. So_students do occasionally swear.

As with most topics of interest to me, I have written about it. Forthcoming will be that paper, orginally titled:

Chicks and Dudes—What’s Your Story?: Generational Differences in Regard to Lexicon and Narrative Content

If this were a commercial work, I'd say here's a blurb. But it's not. It's academic. Ergo we have the

The differences between male and female taboo word use in regard to frequency and purpose have, in recent years, been revisited in terms of new ideology and frameworks. The differences between male and female narrative content, in regard to emotional and/or non-emotional content, has been of longstanding linguistic interest. However, research has neglected to seek a understanding of how age of speaker relates to both taboo word use and narrative content.

This study shows a possible link among taboo word use, speaker age, and speaker emotion revealing that purpose—expression of emotion—is a factor in both taboo word use and selection of narrative content.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Critical thinking in the composition classroom

By describing the four major pedagogical approaches to teaching composition, Berlin suggests that not all composition classrooms are—or ever will be—the same. His analysis, by outlining the objectives of the writer and noting the corresponding pedagogical approaches employed to facilitate those objectives, reveals which theory places emphasis on independent, creative, and critical thought. Student writers working within the first three models are tasked primarily with the organization of existing truth, rather than with the challenge of uncovering truth.
The Neo-Platonist/Expressionists provide slightly more space for writer discovery; however, they believe truth to be external and unalterable by the writer. By contrast, the New Rhetoric model relies upon the critical thinking of the writer. In this model, truth is relativistic and shaped by the individual; therefore, the application of the theory requires original—critical—thought on part of the writer.

Berlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 765-777.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Composition theories as identified by James Berlin, second 2 of 4


  • In this model, which has its roots in Plato and arose as a reaction to the positivist/current traditionalist model, truth is always in flux. Truth arises from the individual's interaction with the world. The writers task is personal; the writer uses language to convey their own individual truth. Because this model views writing as a personal expression, pedagogical approaches place emphasize critical thinking to generate exploration and discovery.

New Rhetoric

  • In this model, also referred to as Epistemic Rhetoric, truth is ever-changing. Truth evolves from the interaction of opposing elements. The writer's task is to use language, necessary for the expression of truth, to create truth. Pedagogical approaches emphasize the interaction of the writer, language, reality, and the audience. Critical thinking is valued in this process as it is necessary to analyze both the opposing elements of an idea and o perform the synthesis of writer, reality, language, and audience.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Composition theories as identified by James Berlin, first 2 of 4

Neo-Aristotelian/ClassicistBerlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 765-777.

  • In this model, rarely used in current composition classrooms, truth is believed to exist independent of the observer and cab known only trough the senses. Truth is not certain; therefore, the student is not engaged in a quest for individual truth, but rather truth as it can be proven through rational method. As a result, the pedagogical emphasis is on logic and the development of ideas with little emphasis on the analysis or critical thinking of the writer.


  • In this model, popular up until the early 1980's, truth is discovered through induction alone. Truth is created by the interplay of sensory impressions and the interpretation of those impressions. The writers task is to shape thought for the reader. Therefore, pedagogical approach is one that focuses on arrangement and style. As invention, either that of thought or design, is not specifically desired, the analysis or critical thought of the student is not emphasized.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Critical thinking in the composition classroom

This is a follow up on earlier composition theory posts in which I summarized and discussed the Lindemann v Tate debate over whether or not literature should or should not be used in the college composition classroom.

One of the key discussion points of Lindemann's statements is that there is no single, widely accepted concept of what a college composition, specifically the freshman composition, course should accomplish. Neither Tate nor the others who followed in the discussion on the use of literature in the composition classroom address her question, what is a composition course meant to do? Consequently, that point is not sufficiently explored in the conversation about whether or not literature belongs in the composition classroom. This absence is a flaw in the discussion, one that could have been corrected had Lindemann's question been addressed.

Although the purpose of and philosophy behind college composition courses was not explored fully in the literature discussion of the 1990's, it was addressed by other academics. James Berlin, in his well-known article, "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories" outlines what have come to be accepted as the four main pedagogical theories of composition instruction and their corresponding models.

As part of outlining the four theories, he states:

The differences in these teaching approaches [is] located in diverging definitions of the composing process itself--that is, in the way the elements that make up the process--writer, reality, audience, and language--are envisioned. Pedagogical theories in writing courses are grounded in rhetorical theories, and rhetorical theories do not differ in the simple undue emphasis of writer or audience or reality or language or some combination of these. Rhetorical theories differ from each other in the way writer, reality, audience, and language are conceived--both as separate units and in the way the units relate to each other. In the case of distinct pedagogical approaches, these four elements are likewise defined and related so as to describe a different composing process, which is to say a different worlds with different rules about what can be known, how it can be known, and how it can be communicated.(Berlin, p765-66)

At the heart of his analysis of pedagogical theories is the question, Where is truth found? It is here, with this question, that the need or desire for critical thinking on the part of the student writer can be assessed.

Berlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 765-777.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The first part of July I spent in Boston at the residency week of my MFA program. The second part of July I spent in Orlando at the Romance Writers of America annual conference. Literary then commercial. What's the difference?

Here's what I've come up with so far.
  • Literary authors, when asked "What do you write?" don't always have a short, handy answer. They might even blink at you and say, "Fiction."
  • Commercial authors, when asked, "What do you write?" will respond with something concise: "Short contemporary romance under 75,000 words" or "YA steampunk with romantic elements."
It makes sense that commercial writers are more in tune with exactly what they are writing and what they are going to do with it.
  • Literary authors ask, "What is the dramatic question?"
  • Commercial authors ask, "What is my hook?"

After much stewing, I have come to conclude that both questions are the same. Plot is plot. Characters are characters. Nobody needs me to remind them of how many books that are currently considered classics started out (were originally published) as commercial works.
  • Literary events have readings. The author reads from their work and books are for sale afterward.
  • Commercial events have signings. Readers buy the book and take it home and read it themself.

This is a difference. No getting around it. Do I like hearing authors read? Sure. But sometimes I really would just have the book to cuddle up with. Just me. And the story. No author there to remind me they wrote it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

For two days small town Mason, Michigan hosted Hollywood

Roberta M. Gubbins
from the Ingham County Legal News

For two days,

Ingham County, Michigan was in Texas as evidenced by the state flag of Texas flown from the flagpole in front of the courthouse in Mason, the freshly planted white, yellow, and blue flowers at the base of the flagpole, reflecting the white and blue of the Texan flag, and the Texas seal hanging prominently in the third floor courtroom of the courthouse.

 time was at a standstill in Mason, the courthouse clock stopped at 7:15 so that the bells marking the half hour and the hour would not chime at the wrong moment.

       the citizens of Mason and outlying communities gathered on the streets around the courthouse square watching cameras on booms recording scenes, huge cherry pickers moving large shades, directors directing, actors moving about incomprehensibly, all the    while hoping and anxiously waiting to see Hugh Jackman.

For two days, July 1st  and 2nd, Dream Works and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures brought excitement and entertainment to Mason, filming Real Steel, a science fiction movie staring Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring.

Jackman, known for his role as Wolverine, rumored set for a sequel in 2012, rewarded those waiting, coming over to shake hands and give autographs. He thanked one such crowd, asked by the crew to stop talking during an outdoor shoot, for being “so quiet” while he was rehearsing the scene.

The community was abuzz with comments such as “He said hello to me. I had my picture taken with him, he thanked me for telling him about one of our staffers whose hat he signed and who is fighting cancer, or he shook my hand.” Jackman’s efforts helped ease the communities concerns about the possible disruption caused by the presence of film stars and crew.

Crewmembers, who were equally friendly, were everywhere, easily identified by their black T-shirts, khaki shorts—earplugs in ear, cell phones or walkie-talkies in hand, clip boards at the ready. They were the folks listed at the end of the movie with unusual names such as gaffer (in charge of electrical), best boy (in charge of any group—term used for both sexes), boom operator who operated the boom microphones, dolly grip, the grip in charge of positioning the dolly, a small truck that rolls along carrying the camera and its operator and the camera loader who operates the clapboard signaling beginning of a shot and is responsible for loading the film.

The courthouse was the beneficiary of some improvements. The windows in the courtroom now have lovely wooden blinds, replacing the plastic variety, and the jury room has a new coat of paint—a deep sage green.

While the offices of the courthouse were open, “the public stayed away,” said Curtis Hertel, Register of Deeds. “I think they thought we were closed.” During filming of the scenes in the courtroom and around the courthouse, public and staff were asked to close doors quietly and speak in soft tones. Everyone was hushed as they went about the business of the court.

On Thursday, work did stop temporarily while a scene in the rotunda was being filmed, complete with fog. “I think the fog was to filter the light coming through the windows at the top of the stairs when Jackman and his lawyer came down from the courtroom,” said Kyle Cobe, Assistant Register of Deeds. “Even though we didn’t have much traffic that day, every item that came in was recorded before the day was out,” she said.

For two days, the citizens of Mason were able to forget about oil spills in the Gulf, spies on American soil, loss of jobs, and foreclosures.

For two days, the citizens of Mason were part of the make-believe and glamorous world of Hollywood, an experience they will share with family, friends, casual acquaintances, and complete strangers willing to listen for years to come.

Friday, June 25, 2010

No pilfering of my work, please

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Authors of original works are passionate about their creations. Each word, brush stroke, or angle of camera lens is considered and re-considered before put in use. For that reason, since the first writers carved on a clay tablet, they don’t appreciate others making copies, claiming the work as their own, and selling it for a profit.

Society, on the other hand, has not always agreed with the authors. Before the printing press, manuscripts were laboriously copied by scriveners to be bought and sold without any thought to paying the author. In those days, how would the author know his work had been copied unless he happened upon it in a church library or in royal’s home?

The invention of the printing press didn’t help authors much at all. Printers would petition their governments for exclusive monopolies to print and sell manuscripts—in 1469 the Italian government granted such monopoly to a Johannes of Speyer, conceding a five-year exclusive right to print in Venice and its dominions. The author’s rights were barely considered.

Albrecht Dürer claimed his own form of copyright, not the simple © resting quietly on the corner of his work, stating, when he discovered copies of his original works being sold, “Hold! You crafty ones, strangers to work, and pilferers of other men’s brains. Beware! Know you not that I have a grant from the most glorious Emperor Maximillian that not one throughout the imperial dominion shall be allowed to print or sell fictitious imitations of these engravings.”

Therein lay the problem--each creator had to petition the government for the exclusive right to his own work—a time consuming and expensive process. The quandary for the authors of those times was ‘Do I want my work published for all the world to read and by so doing give my rights to it to the printer or publisher who will benefit far more than I or do I petition my government?’ And because the creative folks wanted that recognition they grudgingly signed over their rights or took the time to petition for a license to publish their own words.

This was the situation for centuries until the first copyright act in the world, the Statute of Anne, passed in the United Kingdom in 1710. The preamble to the “Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the copies of printed books in the author,” set forth the problem—printers were printing books and selling them without the receiving permission from the authors. The British parliament saw this as “a notorious invasion of the property of rightful proprietors of such books and writings, to their great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families.”

This was indeed a serious situation. The statute conferred exclusive rights upon the author for 14 years and “for a further 14 years if the author was still alive at the end of the first period.” Lives were shorter then. The US has its own version of a copyright act, which grants the rights to authors for their lifetime plus 70 years. We live longer now.

Moving forward 300 years, we find authors in a new predicament, or maybe a repeat of an old problem. Now we have digital printing and the Internet. On the one hand, authors can now print and distribute their own works, free from the constraints of the printer/publisher. On the other hand, it is quite easy to cut and paste someone’s words and claim them as your own.

When does the cutting and pasting fall into the realm of plagiarism and a violation of the author’s rights? Or is it just fair use? Fair use is a term found in the US copyright law that allows anyone to quote or reproduce parts of another’s work without permission if done for the purposes of commentary, or news reporting or education.

The difference between fair use and stealing another’s work is not clear. There is no bright line that distinguishes how many words, lines, notes, or images can be taken without permission. An author may say, like Dürer, that taking of another’s work is pilfering and is deserved of punishment for “not only will your goods be confiscated, but your bodies also placed in mortal danger.” Dürer was serious about protecting his work.

While I suspect that modern authors don’t generally put pilferers in mortal danger, they do, however, bring lawsuits or send cease and desist letters. And I suspect that over time, the distinction between fair use and stealing will become clearer until, of course, the next generation of technology comes along causing creatives to take on a new challenge to the security of their work.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Intentions: the why behind the what

Let's say its a sunny day, 90 degrees hot and humid. And you see a guy walking around in a rain coat and he's sweating so much he's getting wet. You say to him, "That coat isn't working, its not going to keep you dry, its actually making you get wet. The best way for you to dry off is to take off the coat." He looks at you like you're crazy and says, "I'm not trying to be dry, I'm trying to sweat off five pounds." 

Once you know the guy is trying to lose weight, then you could suggest better ways to do it. But if you assume you know what he is trying to do, you could give him advice that will be unrelated to what he was trying to do. Sure, it might be great advice--the best--but if it doesn't help him toward his goal then it isn't the best advice for him at that time. Also, it could ignore his goal altogether, which invalidates his intentions.

I'm just thinking, sometimes you have to ask someone why they are doing what they are doing to determine if what they are doing is successful.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Current final thoughts on the literature debate

Given that the purpose of the freshman composition course varies greatly from one institution to another, a one size fits all approach to what is appropriate reading for the composition classroom is not reasonable or desirable. The selection of literature may be appropriate. But does the reading of fiction have advantages over non-fiction? Louise Rosenblatt, author of Literature as Exploration, believes so. She pointed out that it is easy to think about complex human problems when emotions are not involved. This ease is a disservice to students as this type of setting, a non-emotional one, is not realistic. Students need the challenge that is supplied by emotion; fiction supplies that challenge as “literature offers an opportunity to develop the ability to think rationally within an emotionally colored context” (p217).
Rosenblatt notes that fiction provides students the opportunity to identify their emotions, test their assumptions, and consequently reject or revise their original reactions. (p215) She states, “It seems reasonable to suggest…that in building up the habit of mind essential to the attainment of sound literary judgment, the student will also be acquiring mental habit valuable for the development of sound insight into ordinary human experience.” (p215-216) In short, thinking generates more thinking and high level critical thinking generates more high level critical thinking.  And isn’t the generation of high level critical thinking an excellent reason to select literature for the composition classroom?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exposing assumptions and moving beyond the original debate

Throughout her discussion, Lindemann refers to teaching literature. This phrase is revealing and reflects Lindemann’s limited perception of literature, its uses, and its impact on the reader. Although she does briefly touch upon critical theory, she does not explore it with any great depth. Tate also examined literature as a source for analysis, something to be taken apart and examined and then subsequently written about.

Steinberg’s addition to the conversation is a historical perspective; Gamer’s begins to explore the differences between fiction and non-fiction. Salvatori’s analysis goes a step further in that it explores the relationship of reader to text, acknowledging that readers engage differently with fiction than they do with non-fiction. It appears that the conversation stagnated and, for the most part, ended at that point. The stagnation occurred at the time when the question, why do readers engage differently with fiction than non-fiction, should have been raised. The connection between how literature affects readers and how fiction is crafted was not explored. Had it been, the conversation might have continued.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Additional entrants in the Lindemann v Tate conversation

Although the debate between Lindemann and Tate took center stage, others entered the conversation. Erwin Steinberg and Michael Gamer both had articles in the March 1995 issue of College English, the issue that featured Lindemann’s and Tate’s second installments mentioned above. Steinberg, in his article, “Imaginative Literature in Composition Classrooms?” focuses on the history of the use of literature in the composition classroom. He rejects Tate’s assertion that literature has recently been ejected from composition classrooms. Using Albert Kitzhaber’s 1963 report, “Themes, Theories, and Therapy,” he states that there is no typical composition classroom because the content of the courses varies so greatly from one institution to the next. Gamer, in his article, “Fictionalizing the Disciplines: Literature and the Boundaries of Knowledge,” rethinks Tate’s dilemma by replacing the concept of writing beyond the disciplines, writing from inside of the academy to outside, with his own alternative which focuses on writing that moves from outside the disciplines to inside the academy. He suggests that because academic discipline’s boundaries, as do the real world ones, overlap that students would be well served by reading, such as literature, that reflects that overlap.
Later, in 1996, Mariolina Salvatori, enters the conversation with her article, “Conversations with the Texts: Reading in the Teaching of Composition.” She moves away from focusing on the presence of literature in the classroom to the actual reading of the literature. To support her claim that that reading and writing are interconnected, she details theories such as that put forth by John Clifford and John Schilb in their 1985 essay, “Composition Theory and Literary Theory.” She offers discussion on her approach to teaching which stems from the assumption that reading and writing—literature and composition—are interconnected.   

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gary Tate: For using literature in the composition classroom

Gary Tate’s 1993 article “A Place for Literature in Freshman Composition,” published as a companion piece to Lindemann’s “No Place,” takes the opposing stance—literature in the composition classroom is appropriate and educationally valuable. He offers the suggestion that limitations are not necessary and that all texts should be included as resources. However, he notes,  instructors have moved away from literature as a resource. He provides a historical backdrop for the current views and attitudes toward literature, stating the reasons literature had been removed from classrooms include: poor teaching practices of the past and the revival of rhetoric. He and Lindemann do seem to agree on one point: the need to explore and clarify the purpose of freshman composition.

In his follow-up article, “Notes on a Dying Conversation,” published two years later, Tate revisits the idea that literature had been driven from freshman composition classrooms. He adjusts his statement to reflect his new understanding that literature had not been driven from the classroom, only from the discussion. The silence of those using literature in the classroom was part of the  reason for the lack of development of arguments for using literature.
Tate responds to Lindemann’s underlying message of what freshman composition courses ought to do by expressing his concern that a freshman composition course, because it serves all freshman, cannot be designed to prepare students for specific majors. There are simply too many majors for one course to sufficiently accommodate them all. Additionally, he adds, “The ‘conversations’ I want to help my students join are not the conversations going on in the academy…I much prefer to think of them and treat them as people whose most important conversations will take place outside the academy…” (p320). Clearly, he is removed from Lindemann’s position that the primary purpose of the course is to engage students in the dialogue and conversation of the academy. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Erika Lindemann: Against using literature in the composition classroom

In her 1993 article, “Freshman Composition: No Place for Literature,” Erika Lindemann explores the role of literature in a first-year writing course and takes the position that literature ought to be excluded from such a course. Her primary reason for this exclusion is a lingering unanswered question, “What is the purpose of freshman composition?” Lindemann’s stance is that until this question is answered in such a way that literature is called for it should remain excluded. She includes additional reasons for this exclusion: 1) literature-based courses are focused on reading texts rather than producing them 2) literature is not necessary 3) studying literature does not teach academic style 4) teaching literature does not prepare students for graduate programs by providing teaching training.
In her follow-up article, “Three Views of English 101,” published two years later and after others entered the conversation, Lindemann again raises her primary concern, the lack of a unified, clearly defined, purpose for freshman composition course. She then turns to a simplified description of three writing pedagogies, proposing the pedagogical differences lie in whether the instructor views writing as a product, process, or system of social actions (p288-89). She describes the differences between these models, concluding that the use of literature is not necessary in any of them.
A significant message running through both of these articles is Lindemann’s own perception of what the freshman composition course ought to do. She sees the course as an opportunity for the students to enter into academic conversation, to prepare themselves for the type of discourse found in the academy. There is another significant point running through both articles; it is Lindemann’s perception that the only use for literature is for analysis—that all writing that stems from literature is about the literature.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moving Beyond Lindemann v Tate: Situating literature in the composition classroom

Recent work using literature in the composition classroom refreshed my interest in three questions:

  • why does an emotional novel help students think analytically? 
  • how could the reading and analysis of literature be used to generate critical thinking? 
  • what work has already been done in this area?

In the 1990’s, Erika Lindemann and Gary Tate began a conversation regarding the use of literature in the composition classroom; the conversation dominated and defined much of the dialogue on the subject. While the ongoing debate drew attention to and interest in the use of literature in the English classroom, the debate also bifurcated the topic thus inhibiting conversation and ultimately causing stagnation. As a result of the stagnation, essential areas were not explored. One area not touched upon was an analysis of how fiction differs from non-fiction, especially in how it impacts the reader. Underlying this untouched area is the assumption that all literature “works” the same way. This assumption is incorrect. Another significant flaw, related to the one above, is that the only use for fiction is critical analysis, that all writing generated by fiction is critical discussion of the work. This assumption is also incorrect. These assumptions created significant flaws in the 1990’s literature debate. However, identifying these flaws creates an opportunity to explore beyond the original conversation points and move in a direction that may encourage instructors to reconsider the uses of literature in the composition classroom.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

fab five questions for fresh fiction students

--> I was thinking, if I'm ever a MFA mentor or creative writing teacher working with a student over an extended period of time, I might find it useful to get to know the student a bit. Here are some things I think I'll ask.

1.   Why are you pursuing an MFA? or What do you hope to gain from this course?
2.   What are your long term fiction writing goals? Your fiction writing goals for this semester?
3.   What are you most proud of accomplishing in the past? Is there anything you have  not accomplish that you would like to work on this semester?
4.   Have you published fiction? If so, what type? And, how does that work fit into your long term and short term fiction writing goals? Is publishing fiction one of your goals?
5.   What are your fiction writing strengths? Weaknesses? Why do you believe these are your strengths and weaknesses?

Just a thought.