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Introducing English

Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition

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  • Book Info
    Introducing English
    Book Description:

    James Slevin traces how composition emerged for him not as a vehicle for improving student writing, but rather as a way of working collaboratively with students to interpret educational practices and work for educational reform.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7226-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    It may be said—indeed, it is here confessed—that this book reflects its author’s inability to follow the most basic rules of composition instruction. There seems, for example, to be no limit to its topic and certainly no single thesis that, try as he may, the author can produce. The best I can say by way of explanation is that this book is a collection of essays that are not unrelated. In fact, they are more closely related than I thought when I first discussed with my editors at the University of Pittsburgh Press the possibility of assembling some...

  2. Part One: Imagining the Work of Composition

    • Prologue: Toward an Interpretive Pedagogy
      (pp. 13-17)

      I understand composition as a response to the difficulty of writing. To explain this proposition, I wish I had a theory to propose; but all I have is something I learned, and it is hard to get clarity even on something so simple as that. In fact, it feels downright shameful to take thirty years to figure out what I learned, and still not have it entirely clear in my mind. I want to present this explanation in the form of several hypotheses I developed during my early years as a teacher, hypotheses that I have been examining and trying...

    • 1 Learning the Work of Composition
      (pp. 18-36)

      Doing the work of composition began for me during my first job, in the complicated context of life as a faculty member. I learned to do this work just as I learned other faculty responsibilities, and in the context of what it meant to be a faculty member, more comprehensively, which at my job included the teaching of writing. It is no exaggeration to say that this book is an exploration of what I learned at that time, what that learning has helped me to learn since, and its possible relevance to the work of composition today. To understand the...

    • 2 Inventing and Reinventing the Discipline of Composition
      (pp. 37-56)

      Composition was a response to a very clear “difficulty of writing.” First- and second-year courses concerned with writing, perhaps more than any other curricular formation, clearly evidenced that education is a single system and that (as a system) it operates to exclude and disadvantage more than it does to include and advantage. This curriculum was created to do two things: to socialize new student populations to the culture of the academy, and to keep out those who were not to be socialized. To teach one of these courses was to inhabit this complex of possibilities and impossibilities, this contradiction of...

  3. Part Two: Introducing English in America:: Education as Conversion and Conservation in Colonial Settings

    • Prologue
      (pp. 59-65)

      Part 2 illustrates at the level of historical analysis my concern to contextualize all facets of the work of composition. It is thus of a piece with my efforts in part 1 to locate historically my own developing intellectual and political interests in this work. But it is also coherent with my efforts in the rest of this book to discern and analyze the institutional, social, literary, cultural, and other contexts that clarify the work of composition. These contexts include (for example) the study of student papers, the scholarly production of knowledge about writing and the teaching of writing, the...

    • 3 Figuring Pocahontas
      (pp. 66-81)

      It is impossible to discuss colonialism without addressing the symbolic violence exerted upon colonized peoples, and particularly the role education plays in this process. In the chapters that follow, I examine how this process was undertaken in the earliest presence of English in this hemisphere. My purpose is to suggest a way of reading the complex textuality of symbolic violence in the contact zone of the Virginia Piedmont at the beginning of the seventeenth century. While a particular educational project is my focus, understanding that project requires attention to the discourses of colonization that enable it and reinforce it. These...

    • 4 Composing the Other: Underwriting Colonial Education
      (pp. 82-99)

      The previous chapter, in foregrounding the place of the imposition of English culture and its “civilizing” properties in the process of colonization, thematizes one central role that education plays in the larger colonizing project. In chapter 5, we will look at an even more recognizable instance of education’s central place in this process. I want now to look more carefully at an important way in which cultural imposition underwrites the overt educational project of “introducing English.” To understand how the story of colonial education got to be the story it is, we need to consider how it was itself written...

    • 5 Educating the Other
      (pp. 100-117)

      The significance of Pocahontas’s journey to London for the future of Virginia rests primarily in the revived enthusiasm for the colony—both within the company and among many influential English figures. This revival was based in large measure on her “image” as a civilized natural, as an Englished Powhatan princess, for her command of the language and the forms of social relation was undoubtedly the central factor in her impact. That impact created the confidence that indeed her people could be civilized, “reduced to civility.” So the English turned to consider a new way of pressing their hegemonic impositions in...

    • Epilogue to Part Two
      (pp. 118-120)

      The wholesale translation of Native American culture that we have traced in various colonial discourses, with particular attention to Ralph Hamor, is marked by a conversion of one culture into the language of the other and by the establishment of writing itself (for example, Hamor’s appropriation of biblical archetypes for his own work) as a privileged action of colonial imposition. This is the context for the final image of Powhatan retreating farther inland, holding for his own purposes the text that has no text. But, as noted, Powhatan’s uninscribed book is itself textualized by Hamor, made the very opposite in...

  4. Part Three: The Contexts and Genres of the Intellectual Work of Composition

    • 6 Reading/Writing in the Classroom and the Profession
      (pp. 123-141)

      This chapter explores the relationship between ways of reading and their implications for writing and teaching students to write. It is grounded in a close analysis of several texts, especially a short canonical text by E. B. White and a text, which has not been canonized, published with it. But it is essentially about the relationships between texts and contexts, about competing ways of analyzing texts, and (as a consequence) about competing ways of understanding the intellectual work of composition.¹

      I begin with an anecdote from Mary Louise Pratt, who tells this story about the dedication, in 1876, of the...

    • 7 Genre as a Social Institution
      (pp. 142-159)

      In this chapter I want to revisit a number of texts that are well known but that are not ordinarily considered together; indeed, it might be perceived by some as quixotic, with precise reference to the hero of one of these texts, to do so. But I venture because this one text, Cervantes’s master narrative of reading and composing,Don Quixote, speaks in profound ways to questions faced every day by those who work with composition. This chapter uses Cervantes’s master narrative to examine several more contemporary explorations of reading and writing—explorations that are aptly considered “master narratives” in...

    • 8 Academic and Student Genres: Toward a Poetics of Composition
      (pp. 160-180)

      In this chapter, I want to explore the work of composition in ways that incorporate serious attention to the full range of genres, most of which have no authority in the academy. It has been an aim of my introductory chapters to make the case for recognizing that students are already part of the discipline, that they already do its work. As many scholars have shown us, not least of all Shirley Heath in Ways with Words, students bring (and so make present, even if unauthorized) a range of generic competencies to their experiences in formal schooling. As I have...

  5. Part Four: Composition’s Work with the Disciplines

    • 9 Genre Theory, Academic Discourse, and Writing within Disciplines
      (pp. 183-195)

      The questions that I want to consider in this chapter continue the exploration of genre initiated earlier but turn more directly to the work of composition in university writing programs. How, within the academy, are individual acts of producing and reading texts related to one another? How do genres, discursive institutions, make these relations possible? What values, beliefs, and ways of interpreting the world inhere in the discursive forms students practice and in the process of learning them? And whatkindof critical awareness of these values and interpretive strategies do students need in order to produce and not just...

    • 10 Working with Faculty: Disciplinary Writing Seminars as Interdisciplinary Work
      (pp. 196-210)

      Since 1987, I have worked every summer with the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines at Cornell University.¹ I have had the pleasure of helping to develop and contribute to a course preparing teaching assistants to offer discipline-based writing seminars. I have also helped to design an annual workshop for faculty from many disciplines (from anthropology to zoology), working with them as they develop first-year courses that satisfy Cornell’s writing requirement. While my focus will be on our work with faculty, the goal of both programs is to assist faculty (experienced and brand new) in developing discipline-based...

    • 11 Engaging Intellectual Work: The Role of Faculty in Writing Program Teaching and Assessment
      (pp. 211-230)

      The call for improved educational assessment, and specifically the assessment of writing programs, has become louder and more urgent in the past decade. In this chapter, I want to elaborate further writing’s central place by exploring the role of faculty and faculty values in the process of assessing the work of higher education. How can we find better ways to put theintellectual workof faculty and students at thecenterof our educational concerns and, as a consequence, at the center of assessment models? More specifically, what role can writing courses and programs play in this effort?²

      A focus...

  6. Part Five. Correspondences

    • 12 The Impolitics of Letters: Undoing Critical Faculties
      (pp. 233-245)

      The following letter, like the previous chapter, addresses the misunderstanding of intellectual work and the impoverished understanding of educational purposes in what are becoming the dominant representations of higher education.

      The letter was occasioned by a two-day meeting called by the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) to discuss the future of tenure. About twenty people attended; nearly all were administrators; several others were education faculty who studied and made recommendations about the behavior of administrators.

      I misbehaved at this meeting; and then I wrote them all this letter.

      October 26, 1998

      Dear AAHE Colleagues:

      I returned to my office...

    • 13 A Letter to Maggie
      (pp. 246-252)

      Here is a letter to a former student of mine, in response to one from her. Her letter asked me a very common question—one I received at least a hundred times as department chair and director of the writing program: what should she do to prepare her students for writing in college.

      I have always found the request somewhat exasperating—as the issue is so complex. After all, I asked myself, would anyone write to the chemistry department to find out in a nutshell what prospective students need to learn in high school? Well, I found out, people do...

  7. Afterword Beyond the Culture of Improvement: The Fate of Reading in Composition
    (pp. 253-266)

    Now that the canon wars are virtually over everywhere else, it may be a good time to have one in composition. I may be wrong, but it seems we haven’t had a really good canon war since literature got kicked out of the comp classroom because it mesmerized the faculty. Before that, any number of old textbooks were exiled because they didn’t sufficiently mesmerize the students. That neither of these developments was construed as a canon war, that these textual evictions and substitutions were construed as something else (pedagogical improvements, mostly), makes a discussion of our canon all the more...