Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cultural Issues in Writing Instruction: Purpose, Style, Product

Did you know:
  • the dominant style of academic writing in US universities is based on beliefs and assumptions that are derived from western—US—culture?
  • the common method of thinking & writing is considered the most sophisticated and intelligent by only a small percentage of the world’s people?
  • difficulties in producing ‘acceptable’ writing can stem from cultural variation?
Factors that impact the way people express themselves include:
  • social relations.
  • identity.
  • negotiation of social roles.
Possible indicators that cultural differences may be involved include:
  • persistent writing difficulties despite continual and/or repeated instructions from instructor.
  • a mismatch between the extent of difficulty with a writing task and the student’s educational and experiential level.
Cultural differences may include:
  • attitudes towards and value on directness vs. indirectness.
  • attitudes towards and value on connectedness and individuality.
  • attitudes towards and value on ‘analysis’ and ‘originality.’
  • perceptions of politeness.
  • ways of demonstrating respect.
  • ways of offering criticism.
When working with students outside mainstream academic culture consider:
  • avoiding making assumptions about what writing ‘does.’
  • assuring a common understanding of the goal of writing assignment.
  • working towards a common understanding of ‘analysis.’
  • working towards a common understanding of ‘original.’
  • supplying examples of ‘A’ level writing assignments.
  • clarifying view of audience (reader) needs.
  • understanding the writer’s frustrations.

From Helen Fox’s Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing. NCTE, 1994.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Copyright and Fair Use for Creative artists Presented by SBM ACES Law section

By Roberta M. Gubbins

On April 3rd, the Saturday before Easter, a group of lawyers, students, creatives, and the curious met for a day of discussion around the issue of copyright and fair use of original works of authorship. The event, sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan Arts, Communication, Entertainment & Sports Law Section, was held at Grand Valley State University, Devos Campus, in Grand Rapids, MI.

Jeffrey Nelson, attorney with Warner, Norcros, Judd LLP, kicked off the event with a general discussion of copyright. Copyright law is found in the US Code, Title 17, Sec. 102.

Looking at the elements of the law, Nelson said, “An original work of authorship includes literary works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. For a work to be original, it must be an independent creation, and contain a modest amount of creativity. For example, factual material is not copyrightable, however, the manner in which it is presented may be. And, finally, the work must be fixed in some medium or form capable of identification. Electronic files are a medium that are capable of copyright protection.”

“The Internet has created a lot of issues, he said. “It gives you access to millions of copyrighted items that you would not have had access to before. Access to the item does not necessarily give you the right to use it. The website may allow the viewer to use the material for personal use but not for commercial use. The absence of specific restrictions on the use doesn’t allow you to use it for whatever you want.”

“We litigate copyright cases, representing the creative types,” said Julie Ahrens, attorney with the Stanford Fair Use Project. “We also advise film-makers who are using copyrighted material in their films about how they can use that material and help them get affordable insurance for their protection.”

The fair use doctrine allows creatives to use portions of copyrighted work without permission for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. “You have the First amendment right to free speech and you have the copyright law that in some ways controls free speech. There has to be a balance between what is copyrighted and what is someone else’s free expression.”

When reviewing fair use issues, courts consider factors such as the purpose and character of the new use, the nature of the original work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the market. For example, Aherns said, “if you would buy the second work as opposed to buying the original work, that has a detrimental effect on the value of the original work.”

Following lunch, Julie Aherns, Roger Rappaport and Matthew Bower presented a discussion of the case involving Steve Vander Arks proposed publication of a reference work, the Lexicon, based on the Harry Potter Lexicon website. The book is an A to Z encyclopedia of the characters, spells, creatures, places, events and magical items in the Harry Potter series.

Rappaport, publisher, RDR Books stated he knew there was a problem when he received a letter asking him not to publish the book. Rappaport did not give up, he sought help and fought back. Eventually, US District Court Judge Robert Patterson ruled that the book infringed J.D. Rowling’s copyright but with also ruled that, with editing of passages that were taken verbatim from the original work, the fair use claims were valid and the book could be published.

The Right to Write Fund (The Fund), along with others assisted Rappaport with his defense against J.K Rawlings and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. The Fund was created to be an educational repository for the 21st –century freedom of expression and Fair Use issues writers and publishers encounter. For more information, visit

Photos by rmg, shows Julie Aherns, Matt Bower and Jeff Nelson, relaxing before speaking at the Copyright and Fair Use for Creative artists workshop presented by the State Bar of Michigan  ACES Law section.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reflections on Kelly Ritter's Before Shaughnessy

I am confused by Ritter’s reluctance to use the term “college level.” After demonstrating that the definitions of basic and “college level” vary from one intuition to another, she states in her suggestion that the word basic be replaced with the word introductory because that category, “would encompass all versions of first-year writing at the college level.” Here she has implied that there is such as thing as first-year, college level writing. Furthermore, by indicating that her Writing 1-3 sequence would encompass all versions of first-year writing, she is implying that college curriculum should, in a sense, reach down to include those who had previously been labeled basic. I am not meaning to explore that point of whether colleges should or should not reach down to capture all students, only to indicate that Ritter herself acknowledges that there is such a thing as college level, despite its undefinability.
Another point I found troubling, was the suggestion—which is supplied to support the Writing 1-3 sequence—that those students who need basic writing coursework might be pushed out of an academic system that is being stretched to its limits due to increased enrollment and budget issues. She asks, “Will basic writers be the first to be sacrificed because they are so easily segregated?” (p141) This is seemingly inconsistent, considering she had stated earlier that colleges added basic writing courses as a result of increased enrollment which was brought on by budget issues.*

Additionally, Ritter argues for the elimination of the label basic to be replaced by the label introductory. This category “would encompass all versions of first-year writing at the college level, not just the first or lowest course in the sequence, thus eliminating the designation of remedial/basic/”precollege” courses within the curriculum.” Her rationale: “Such a leveling of terms, rather than a standardizing of values or expectations, would serve as a symbolic step toward addressing the warring conceptions of “college-level” designations in first-year writing curricula today.” (p140)

While breaking apart the initial writing courses of undergraduate writing work is an intriguing idea, I am confused by the notion of removing the term basic from a course catalogue and merging the formerly “basic” students with the “regular” students in order to resolve the writing needs of students. Simply removing the term will not simply remove their need; the needs will still have to be met. Ritter seems to imply that the writing needs, the missing skills, will somehow just appear once the term basic has been removed. Or, that those who have “basic” needs will have them well met in the “regular” class. Perhaps there is research that shows such an implication is true; if so her argument would have been stronger had she mentioned it.

While I did find the above points conflicting and confusing, they are not questions that lingered long after closing the book. There was one, however, that did linger. Ritter declares, “By making limited, ahistorical assertions about the places in which basic writers have existed, we ignore the rich models—and powerful lessons—we can take to our classrooms and programs in search of equal institutional status and opportunity for all writing students. In order for research in basic writing to truly contextualize its origins, we must consider all sites of instruction when assembling a social history of the basic writer or student whose writing is outside what is considered standard/acceptable to the institution at hand and the culture in which it operates.” Ritter has done a thorough job of establishing this point; however, her assertions brought to mind a question that, for me, lingers. Given that basic writing programs are institutionally defined and serve primarily to acquaint the student with the values of their chosen institution, do basic writing programs work? Perhaps the next step is to merge Ritter’s observations and assertions with that lingering question.

Ritter, Kelly. Before Shaughnessy: basic writing at Yale and Harvard, 1920-1960. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009)

* On page 75 Ritter notes; “…the face of the first-year program was changing nationwide, evolving to meet the needs of the student—and the financial solvency of the institution.” She continues on to add that enrollments were rising, due to a “mass-culture shift [which] occurred between 1915 and 1940.