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A Teaching Subject

A Teaching Subject: Composition Since 1966, New Edition

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 191
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  • Book Info
    A Teaching Subject
    Book Description:

    In this classic text, Joseph Harris traces the evolution of college writing instruction since the Dartmouth Seminar of 1966. A Teaching Subject offers a brilliant interpretive history of the first decades during which writing studies came to be imagined as a discipline separable from its partners in English studies. Postscripts to each chapter in this new edition bring the history of composition up to the present. Reviewing the development of the field through five key ideas, Harris unfolds a set of issues and tensions that continue to shape the teaching of writing today. Ultimately, he builds a case, now deeply influential in its own right, that composition defines itself through its interest and investment in the literacy work that students and teachers do together. Unique among English studies fields, composition is, Harris contends, a teaching subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-867-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. PREFACE to the New Edition
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  2. FOREWORD(S): Research and Teaching
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    This book traces how the teaching of college writing has been theorized and imagined since 1966. I do so by looking closely at how five key words—growth, voice, process, error, and community—have figured in recent talk about writing and teaching. I believe that in tracing their meanings and revisions I can make a case for composition as a teaching subject, as that part of English studies which defines itself through an interest in the work students and teachers do together.

    I begin with the 1966 Dartmouth Seminar, where the British theorists John Dixon and James Britton invoked the...

  3. 1 GROWTH
    (pp. 1-26)

    In the late summer of 1966, some fifty American and British teachers met at the three-week Seminar on the Teaching and Learning of English at Dart mouth College (the Dartmouth Seminar). The seminar was organized by the Modern Language Association (MLA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the British National Association of Teachers of English (NATE), and funded by the Carnegie Corporation; its aim was to define English as a school subject and to outline the ways it might be best taught. The participants at Dartmouth proved in fact unable to agree on much in either theory...

    (pp. 27-31)

    In coming to college, students are often pictured as entering a new sort of community whose interests and concerns are for the most part separate from their own. Put broadly, the world outside the university is usually seen as a place where people do and feel things: where they work, play, fight, cry, laugh, eat, drink, make friends, make love, raise kids, drive cars, run errands, hang out . . . and college is imagined as a place where people talk and read and write about things. The world of action and the world of the mind. One response to this split...

  5. 2 VOICE
    (pp. 32-64)

    Picture two writing classrooms. In the first, students have simply been asked to write about something that interests them. In class they break into small groups and begin to read their texts aloud to one another. After a student has finished reading her piece, the members of her group begin to question and advise her about what she has written. The writer takes notes on what her readers have to say and perhaps asks them some questions back. In this way the group works through the writings of all its members, in each case first comparing what the writer intended...

    (pp. 65-71)

    One way of getting at the voice or stance of a writer is to look closely at how she quotes and uses the words of others. By this I mean how she uses quotation both in the technical sense of the term—that is, how she puts words in inverted commas or blocks them off from the rest of her text—and in another much broader sense of how she draws on, echoes, alludes, or responds to the language of others. Seen this way, a cliché is a kind of quotation, as is the use of a specialized term or...

  7. 3 PROCESS
    (pp. 72-94)

    This brief, strained, and, I think, quite moving text was written almost twenty years ago by “Tony,” a young ex-Marine from the Bronx with a wife and child, who was at the time a student in a New York City community college—and the key subject in Sondra Perl’s influential 1979 study of “The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers.” Tony was given about ninety minutes to plan, draft, and edit an essay in an “extensive” (that is, roughly, expository) mode on the topic of “Society & Culture,” which Perl notes was drawn from a sociology class he was then...

  8. Interchapter
    (pp. 95-101)

    Let me offer an example of how I have tried to teach writing as a process in a way that resists casting it as a kind of formula leading to the production of a particular sort of text. I regularly teach an undergraduate course called Writing About Movies at the University of Pittsburgh. The aim of this course is not to train students in a particular method of film criticism or analysis, nor is it to have them reproduce the sort of easy critique of ideology that seems the goal of much current teaching about the media and popular culture....

  9. 4 ERROR
    (pp. 102-125)

    “How Rouse makes his living is none of my business, but I venture that if he manages a decent livelihood it is only because he has somewhere or other submitted to enough socialization to equip him to do something for which somebody is willing to pay him” (852). So thundered Gerald Graff in the pages of College English in 1980, as part of a response to an article John Rouse had published in the same journal a year before. Not only was Graff’s tone sententious and overbearing, his question was also rhetorical to the point of being disingenuous, since how...

    (pp. 126-131)

    Another sort of correctness in writing worries people, and that is correctness of a political sort. Many who fear that students are no longer being taught how to write well suspect they are instead being trained how to think correctly, that lessons in politics are supplanting lessons in language. This is a line of thinking that tends to infuriate many teachers of writing, who argue that they want not to indoctrinate but to empower students, to make them more aware of how our uses of language shape how we view and act in the world. But in practice the line...

    (pp. 132-160)

    I have structured this chapter somewhat differently than the others in this book. For while community becomes a key word fairly late in the narrative of the field I am sketching here, it was in fact through tracing out some of the uses and implications of this term that I began my first work on this project. I got my first full-time college teaching job in 1984, a point when the sort of cog nitivist approaches to composition I describe in chapters 3 and 4 were first coming under sustained criticism by a group of teachers and scholars who came...

  12. AFTERWORD(S): Contact and Negotiation
    (pp. 161-169)

    If Stanley Fish was the patron theorist of composition in the 1980s, Mary Louise Pratt is now. With his talk of interpretive conventions and communities, Fish was a key theorist behind what became known as the social constructionist view of teaching writing. And with her strong critique of Fish and other theorists of what she has called “linguistic utopias,” Pratt has become a similarly key figure for those arguing for approaches to teaching more open to political conflict and cultural diversity. In particular, rather than speaking of the writing classroom as a kind of “discourse community,” with all its overtones...

  13. CODA, 2012: From Dartmouth to New London
    (pp. 170-174)

    Google Maps tells us that New London, NH, lies about twenty miles south of Dartmouth College, straight down Route 89. In 1994, a small group of scholars met in New London to talk about the future of literacy teaching in an age of rapid globalization and technological change. Their meeting has since influenced the teaching of writing more than any other event since the 1966 Dartmouth Seminar.

    The New London Group consisted of ten scholars from three countries: Courtney Cazden, James Gee, and Sarah Michaels from the United States; Norman Fairclough and Gunther Kress from Great Britain; and Bill Cope,...