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Discord And Direction

Discord And Direction: The Postmodern Writing Program Administrator

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 232
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    Discord And Direction
    Book Description:

    The argument of this collection is that the cultural and intellectual legacies of postmodernism impinge, significantly and daily, on the practice of the Writing Program Administrator. WPAs work in spaces where they must assume responsibility for a multifaceted program, a diverse curriculum, instructors with varying pedagogies and technological expertise-and where they must position their program in relation to a university with its own conflicted mission, and a state with its unpredictable views of accountability and assessment.

    The collection further argues that postmodernism offers a useful lens through which to understand the work of WPAs and to examine the discordant cultural and institutional issues that shape their work. Each chapter tackles a problem local to its author's writing program or experience as a WPA, and each responds to existing discord in creative ways that move toward rebuilding and redirection.

    It is a given that accepting the role of WPA will land you squarely in the bind between modernism and postmodernism: while composition studies as a field arguably still reflects a modernist ethos, the WPA must grapple daily with postmodern habits of thought and ways of being. The effort to live in this role may or may not mean that a WPA will adopt a postmodern stance; it does mean, however, that being a WPA requires dealing with the postmodern.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-520-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Postmodernity and Writing Programs
    (pp. 1-17)
    Sharon James McGee and Carolyn Handa

    A cliché in academe generally and English departments particularly, postmodernism has come to characterize nearly every facet of contemporary life from Architecture, art, and film to feminism, music, lifestyles, photography, and popular culture. One day soon, we suspect, we might even find that someone has constructed a Zoo labeled “postmodern.” Given such a ubiquitous term, we need to clarify exactly what parts of the term “postmodern” we focus on in this collection and explain why we use the term in conjunction with the work of Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) today.

    Ihab Hassan jokes above about what overusing the term “postmodernism,”...

  2. 1 WHERE DISCORD MEETS DIRECTION: The Role of Consultant Evaluation in Writing Program Administration
    (pp. 18-27)
    Deborah H. Holdstein

    Over the last fifteen years there have been numerous, often successful, attempts to define and theorize the role of the WPA and the place of writing programs, Writing Across the Curriculum, and the like on campus. For instance, in “Ideology, Theory, and the Genre of Writing Programs,” Jeanne Gunner writes,

    Examining writing programs as a genre, a social and institutional genre, yields some fairly familiar answers to questions about program purpose. In their social and institutional setting, writing programs as a genre serve both an ideological and hence also epistemological function; they help structure a relation of language and culture....

  3. 2 COLD PASTORAL: The Moral Order of an Idealized Form
    (pp. 28-39)
    Jeanne Gunner

    Approaching the topic of WPAs and change from a pastoral perspective might strike readers as a bit far-fetched; the writing program is hardly known as a bucolic landscape. And yet WPAs are usually quite experienced with paraklausithyron—a song sung before a closed door; well versed in amoebean song—a contest of alternating strains in an argument batted back and forth, without clear resolution; and prone to extolling friendship as an absolute value springing from a need for help. These familiar moves are part of the pastoral form—a form that, over time, came to operate by conventions that displaced...

  4. 3 BEYOND ACCOMMODATION: Individual and Collective in a Large Writing Program
    (pp. 40-58)
    Christy Desmet

    In the 1993 volume of College English, former TA Nancy Welch chronicled the disheartening story of her move from a process-based writing program (Program A) to one centered around cultural studies (Program B). Welch’s narrative details an inexorable process by which teachers who resisted the group ethos of their new employer/community were isolated and even driven away. She herself, as the story goes, withdrew and returned to her original institution, where she completed a Ph.D. and went on to compose her indictment of teacher training in U.S. composition programs.

    Welch’s description of her transfer from the warm, nurturing environment of...

  5. 4 OVERCOMING DISAPPOINTMENT: Constructing Writing Program Identity through Postmodern Mapping
    (pp. 59-71)
    Sharon James McGee

    Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. Exhaustion. Silence. WPAs often experience these emotions as part of their work as evidenced by frequent discussions on the WPA listserv and at conferences.¹ These negative feelings have even caused a backlash among some WPAs, who prefer only to talk about the “happy times” of being a WPA. Certainly, positive emotions are not antithetical to postmodernity; however, as Ihab Hassan (1987) notes, exhaustion and silence are conditions of the postmodern experience. Understanding potential causes of frustration, disappointment, anger, exhaustion, and silence can help us as WPAs find solutions to overcoming these feelings that creep into our jobs...

  6. 5 THE ROAD TO MAINSTREAMING: One Programʹs Successful but Cautionary Tale
    (pp. 72-83)
    Anthony Edgington, Marcy Tucker, Karen Ware and Brian Huot

    At the University of Louisville (U of L), we have thought about mainstreaming our composition courses since at least the mid-1990s. A combination of factors raised the possibility that mainstreaming might be the best way to structure our mandatory writing courses, including the success of mainstreaming in other English departments and composition programs nationwide, the educational reform throughout the state of Kentucky and its attendant focus on writing, and the continually rising admission standards of the university. Our story takes place within this climate. In the fall of 1995, two composition professors—one of whom was Brian Huot—taught special...

  7. 6 DEVELOPMENTAL ADMINISTRATION: A Pragmatic Theory of Evolution in Basic Writing
    (pp. 84-94)
    Keith Rhodes

    The college is an unusual organization, a hybrid of business and charity, partly responsive to economic forces and partly insulated from them. Businesses that look only at profits change in response to what people are buying, striving to evolve swiftly in response to changing economic realities. Colleges, by contrast, answer in part to a noneconomic call to enhance human knowledge and wisdom—a difficult call that often goes against the economic grain. Thus, academe comes honestly by the notoriously balky nature of academic change. What other organizations seek to do without even thinking, we must deliberate. We maintain cumbersome processes...

  8. 7 INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AS OTHER: Reflections on a Useful Problem
    (pp. 95-104)
    Mike Palmquist

    For a number of years, I have been troubled by what Richard Young, following Dewey, taught me to think of as a felt difficulty—a sense of dissonance, inconsistency, and inappropriateness. My difficulty dates to my initial efforts, shortly after I had become WPA for the first time (a curious reward for earning tenure), to expand the role of information technology in our composition courses. My work in computers and writing had convinced me of the benefits of using computers to make writing the focus of activity—as opposed to discussion—within our writing classrooms. It had also convinced me...

    (pp. 105-122)
    Fred Kemp

    Writing instruction has traditionally drawn its legitimacy from an essentially Platonic and largely intuitive presumption that perfect form in writing exists and that successful writing students should model their writing on it. Our long-term dedication to prescriptive grammar and the modes of discourse have both drawn from this presumption and fed it, supporting hundreds if not thousands of years of teacherly admonition first to discover this ideal and then to emulate it. The usual handbook rules of writing, of course, are incrementalized aspects of this form: step-by-step directions leading to the idealized end product.

    Postmodernist notions of local knowledge and...

  10. 9 MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: Who Should Teach First-Year Writing?
    (pp. 123-139)
    Richard E. Miller and Michael J. Cripps

    Who is qualified to teach the first-year writing course? Only scholars who have earned doctoral degrees in rhetoric and composition studies? English professors? Part-time lecturers with an interest in literacy? Graduate students working in the language arts? Anyone who wants to? Anyone who can be made to? Anyone who will?

    One could argue that the discipline of composition studies was brought into being at the moment institutions for higher education began to explore all available solutions to the perennial problem that is student writing. Or put another way, one could say that composition studies as a field is simply the...

    (pp. 140-157)
    Susanmarie Harrington

    Assessment is, as any reader of this collection doubtless knows, one of the hottest words in higher education today as well as one of the most irritating. Many a dean, provost, accrediting agency, or faculty colleague heralds assessment as a cornerstone of academic work, embracing its potential to inspire reflective practice and to generate new ideas. Peter Ewell, senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and renowned researcher on institutional effectiveness, argues that “assessment constitutes a powerful tool for collective improvement that is highly consistent with core academic values and … infusion of the logic of...

    (pp. 158-180)
    Andrew Billings, Teddi Fishman, Morgan Gresham, Angie Justice, Michael Neal, Barbara Ramirez, Summer Smith Taylor, Melissa Tidwell Powell, Donna Winchell, Kathleen Blake Yancey and Art Young

    Clemson University conducted its first Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Workshop in 1989. It was an entirely voluntary grassroots affair: there was no mandate, no administrative support, and no extrinsic reward for participating. Sixty of Clemson’s approximately nine hundred faculty signed up for a one-day workshop and journeyed to a retreat center eight miles from campus where they met, talked, and shared strategies for incorporating writing activities into their classes. During the next few years, Clemson faculty as well as visiting scholars conducted several more well-attended workshops on a variety of WAC topics that included responding to student writing, writing...

  13. 12 MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WEB: Visual Depiction, Identity, and the Writing Program
    (pp. 181-202)
    Carolyn Handa

    And so. It’s always that fairy-tale thing with the mirror. You gaze at the shiny surface. It caters to your ego, whispering that YOU are the center of the universe, the fairest of all. The most handsome. It reflects your very best self. That is, until one day it tells you something you’ve secretly feared: one day you are no longer the fairest. You have been supplanted. Or so you think. You are a composition teacher. You see a different pedagogy smiling out from that darn mirror. Or so you think. You see your fair self being blocked out, overshadowed,...