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Local Knowledges, Local Practices

Local Knowledges, Local Practices: Writing in the Disciplines at Cornell

EDITED BY Jonathan Monroe
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  • Book Info
    Local Knowledges, Local Practices
    Book Description:

    Cornell University has stood at the forefront of writing instruction, at least since the publication of William Strunk and E. B. White's classic,The Elements of Style, in 1918. For the past thirty years Cornell has been the site of a remarkably sustained and successful interdisciplinary approach to writing across the curriculum - a program that now coordinates nearly two hundred courses each semester sponsored by over thirty different departments.

    Local Knowledges, Local Practicesprovides an overview of Cornell's rich history and distinguished achievements in training students to write well. Including the views of professors representing a variety of disciplines - from animal science to political science, anthropology to philosophy, romance studies to neurobiology - this collection will serve as a resource for anyone interested in broadly conceived, discipline-specific writing instruction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7322-5
    Subjects: Education, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Part One Cultures of Writing:: From Cornerstone to Capstone

    • Local Knowledges, Local Practices: An Introduction
      (pp. 3-21)

      Readers familiar with William Strunk and E. B. White’s classic,The Elements of Style,may still associate Cornell and the teaching of writing—even over three-quarters of a century after its initial publication in 1918—with that book’s enduring legacy. Yet in the past thirty years, Cornell has been the site of a remarkably sustained and successful experiment that the book’s legendary authors could scarcely have anticipated. Administrative arrangements for the teaching of writing at Cornell have evolved from the Freshman Humanities Program (1966), to the Freshman Seminar Program (1974), to the John S. Knight Writing Program (1986), to the...

    • TAs and the Teaching of Writing at Cornell: A Historical Perspective
      (pp. 22-40)

      Most research universities, Cornell among them, rely on graduate students as teachers. Some feel guilty about this use: graduate students are paid too little; they are given too many courses to teach; they teach upper-level courses for which faculty should be responsible; too few full-time faculty are employed because TAs are over-employed; and so on. The complaints are well known; in fact, some have argued that ideally graduate students should teach very little, if at all. I have myself so claimed. Nonetheless, I have come to realize that the preparation and use of graduate students as instructors of First-Year Writing...

    • Writing without Friction
      (pp. 41-61)

      In this letter and petition to Richard Harrison, the chair of the ecology and systematics section of the Division of Biological Sciences, representatives of nearly two thousand biology majors at Cornell in 1997 demand more sections of an experimental, interactive version of Evolutionary Biology, a core requirement for all majors in the field. Students enrolled in these optional, extra-credit sections—known as “track two” within the division—attend lectures and complete readings in the course at large, but they do not take formal exams. Instead, they meet twice each week in classes of twenty, where they discuss the course material...

    • Finding Places for Writing in a Research University: A Director’s View
      (pp. 62-72)

      “What is the place of writing in the university?” Questions like this confuse me, bringing to mind answers along the lines of, “Well, I think it’s in the next building over—why don’t you try the phone book?” Or perhaps, “It happens all over the place, doesn’t it?” In 1986, I nonetheless found myself urgently asking the question, “What is the place of writing at Cornell University?” There’s nothing like an endowment to focus the mind, and a substantial endowment, indeed, from the Knight Foundation materialized for the John S. Knight Writing Program, in the very week in which I...

  2. Part Two Cultures and Acculturation:: Teaching, Writing, and Learning in Field-Specific Contexts

    • Writing Animals Animal Science
      (pp. 75-82)

      The Department of Animal Science might seem to be a strange home for a First-Year Writing Seminar. Animal Scientists focus on the care and management of production and companion animal species. We are not, as many people believe, veterinarians, but are geneticists, nutritionists, physiologists and animal management specialists. Our concerns are the production of food from animal sources and the humane care of animals. When animal scientists write, their efforts most often take the form of a highly technical report on the results of a research project, or of a grant proposal written to convince some government body or philanthropic...

    • Exoticizing the Familiar: Familiarizing the Exotic Anthropology
      (pp. 83-89)

      With the publication of a volume calledWriting Culture(Clifford and Marcus 1986), anthropology as a discipline became self-conscious about the role of writing in its intellectual project. Self-consciousness in this case is not simply an awareness of writing as a genre but a debate over the way writing about a culture, society, group, or event becomes a representation, interpretation, and reification of that object of description. The debate in anthropology has been around the question of “who has the right (authority) to speak for the ‘other.’” Writing has become the victim and villain in the debate since writing has...

    • “You Can Make a Difference”: Human Rights as the Subject Matter for a First-Year Writing Seminar Anthropology
      (pp. 90-98)

      After twenty-three years of teaching at Cornell, I have become concerned about the kind of citizens we are producing in an increasingly interconnected global environment. As N. Giroux (1997, 690) has asked: “What kind of society do we want to create in the context of the present shifting cultural and ethnic borders? How can we reconcile the notions of difference and equality with the imperatives of freedom and justice?” I believe that our educational system is at odds with the demands of the complex world in which students will find themselves. This First-Year Writing Seminar dealing with the discourses and...

    • Writing from (Field) Experience Anthropology, Women’s Studies, Asian Studies
      (pp. 99-115)

      Writing is pivotal to my upper-division classes at Cornell. Over the years of teaching anthropology, women’s studies, and Asian studies courses, the way in which I teach writing in those classes has shifted away from the conventional term research paper to look increasingly at the many other ways in which writing links students to scholarship. The completed papers, articles, and books of experienced scholars are largely the windows through which we introduce students to intellectual life, but such works are the capstone¹ of a much longer process that often begins with precarious personal discoveries and only occasionally culminates in collective...

    • The Invisible City of Color, or “I Thought This Was a Course on Writing!” City and Regional Planning
      (pp. 116-126)

      “I thought this was a course on writing,” fumed a restive high school senior in my writing seminar at Cornell one summer. “You haven’t corrected punctuation, spelling, or anything else on our papers. We’re here to learn to write. Teach us writing!” We were a full week into the summer course when he erupted—that would be the third week of a regular term. The closest we’d gotten to “writing” was in-class work on revisions of essays about racial disparities in the students’ hometowns. I had told the students that their essays were not good. The big problem was with...

    • Writing in Cognitive Science: Exploring the Life of the Mind Cognitive Studies / Psychology
      (pp. 127-139)

      There are several academic disciplines whose scholars spend some percentage of their time and energy studying how the mind/brain works. The five disciplines that contribute the most to cognitive science are psychology, neurobiology, computer science, philosophy, and linguistics. Although portions of these disciplines address many of the same questions about the mind/brain, their methods, their data, their theories, and even their very styles of communication could not be more diverse. Moreover, the interdisciplinary subfields between pairs of these disciplines that surround the core of cognitive science are numerous and complex (see figure 1). Grasping the scientific literatures from these different...

    • Freshman Rhetoric and Media Literacy English
      (pp. 140-154)

      Freshmen writing courses used to be housed in English departments because of assumptions so widely accepted as to seem self-evident: that students need to write well, that the way to learn good writing is to read good writing, and that English departments are specially equipped to teach good writing—or more exactly, to define the “good” in good writing. With the advent of “writing across the curriculum,” freshman writing no longer equals “freshman English,” and the assumptions upon which freshman English was based no longer seem self-evident—in particular the idea of a special departmental expertise in the “goodness” of...

    • Toward a Community of Inquiry: Teaching Cornell Advanced Placement Students English
      (pp. 155-164)

      I have been teaching a course entitled English 270, The Reading of Fiction, for most of the past thirty-one years. It is one of three 200-level courses offered by the English department; the others are English 271, The Reading of Poetry, and English 272, An Introduction to Drama. Currently the 270 classes are reserved in the first term for those who have had a 4 or 5 on the Princeton AP test or who have scored 700 or better on the English Composition or English Achievement tests; in the second term, the 270 classes are open to those who have...

    • Teaching Writing about International Relations Government
      (pp. 165-170)

      My fellow political scientists sometimes joke that our field is not a coherent or legitimate discipline. Political science (called “government” at Cornell and a few other tradition-bound institutions) is made up of people who act very much like economists or sociologists, statisticians or historians. They sometimes seem to hold more in common with members of those fields than with each other. The same is true of international relations, one of the subfields of political science. The approaches to the subject are myriad. The extensive range of writing styles reflects that diversity. Game theorists and statisticians often use words only to...

    • Writing Political Science: Asking a Question Then (Actually) Answering It Government
      (pp. 171-180)

      Some months ago, the administrator in my department caught me in the hall just at the end of the day and asked if I’d speak with a family waiting in the department lounge. The family, three generations worth, hoped to talk with a faculty member about undergraduate life at Cornell. I reached the doorway of the lounge, saw a fellow member of the department already there, and turned to make a furtive retreat, but not before hearing myself being graciously introduced by my departmental colleague. Perching on the arm of a chair near the door, I listened as this colleague...

    • The Politics of Writing Government
      (pp. 181-190)

      Integrating scholarship and teaching presents a challenge in any discipline. When attempting to combine the teaching of substantive knowledge and the teaching of writing techniques, the goal can appear even more daunting to achieve. The task of communicating effectively with undergraduates is often at odds with the goals of writing effective and influential arguments within a specific disciplinary culture. Yet a productive relationship can exist between research and writing, and between teaching substance and style. This chapter addresses this integration within political science in general, and international relations in particular.

      Part of the synthesis I strive for when teaching First-Year...

    • Translation and Appropriation in Foreign Language and Writing Classrooms Linguistics
      (pp. 191-200)

      This chapter grew out of the task of designing and teaching a First-Year Writing Seminar on translation at Cornell University in summer–fall 1998. I brought to the task no more direct experience than the memory of a delightful but ineffective expository writing class taken as a college freshman. The instructor, a novelist and short-story writer whose name I have not seen in print since, left one dark, vivid image from a piece of his own writing that he read in class. In the twenty-five years since, I have accumulated some experience teaching foreign languages. I was curious to find...

    • Writing Religion at Cornell (Reflections of a Penitent Professor) Near Eastern Studies
      (pp. 201-208)

      I have an admission to make: I have come to think of “writing” as an ersatzreligion at Cornell University.

      Religionists will tell you they study belief-systems held by communities of adherents and that apart from their particular doctrines and hermeneutic procedures, such systems exhibit some kind of ritual praxis involving an array of obligations and prohibitions. By this standard, the unusual fellowship of individuals associated with the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University looks and sounds a lot like a religious community. Their religion is, quite simply,...

    • Teaching Behavioral Ecology through Writing Neurobiology and Behavior
      (pp. 209-221)

      Behavioral ecology is a relatively new and rapidly developing branch of evolutionary biology. Behavioral ecologists investigate how the behavior of animals, including humans, is influenced by natural selection in relation to the physical and social environment. At Cornell, teaching and learning behavioral ecology is facilitated by writing-intensive courses. Frequent writing assignments enable instructors to evaluate students’ progress accurately and in time to adjust the level and content of lectures to students’ needs, and begin early to engage and challenge students who are particularly enthusiastic and identify those requiring extra assistance. Students appreciate multiple, unhurried opportunities to synthesize and demonstrate their...

    • Cultivating Dialectical Imagination Philosophy
      (pp. 222-231)

      I found myself so daunted by the task of saying what is characteristic of philosophical writing, as distinct from writing in other disciplines, that I turned to some of my colleagues for help. Their responses—which may say more about the philosophical circles in which I travel than about philosophical writing as such—tended to emphasize the virtues of “argument”: virtues like “precision,” “clarity,” and “rigor.” (I take it that precision and clarity are primarily matters of making things explicit—of saying exactly what one means, no more and no less. And I take it that rigor is primarily a...

    • Writing (Not Drawing) a Blank Romance Studies
      (pp. 232-244)

      Freshmen who sign up for my First-Year Writing Seminar at Cornell—or who, more likely, find themselves signed into it—are puzzled. The course, entitled The Craft of Storytelling, bears an Italian Literature number, ITALL 101. The single assigned book (excluding a volume on style) is a Western European classic with which they are almost certain to be unfamiliar: theDecameron. Some students shift uncomfortably in their seats. Why does this course have an Italian literature number? I explain that the course is classified as Italian literature because I am, by training, an Italianist, and my department home is Romance...

    • Writing as a Sociologist Sociology
      (pp. 245-250)

      With support from the Writing in the Majors program at Cornell, I have developed a sociology course that uses writing exercises not to teach writing but to teach sociology. The course is titled Group Solidarity and it explores questions about the “glue” that holds groups together. The course addresses these questions by looking at the problem from alternative theoretical perspectives: one centered on collective interests, the other on social identities. From the interest perspective, groups are held together because the members are interdependent and thus benefit from cooperating in a common endeavor. This perspective draws heavily on economics and game...

  3. Afterword: Writing Writing
    (pp. 251-276)

    To begin, a question, a response—not yet an answer, a thesis—more questions.¹Doing, as everyone knows, isn’tknowing(exactly). Coming to a certain level of self-awareness about a particular practice, including the practice of writing, invariably changes it, both the awareness and the activity, not to mention the self, more or less permanently. There is something about the activity (not state) of awareness that changes everything. Knowing leads to unknowing, doing to undoing, writing to revision, revision to more writing, forwards and backwards and sideways,dans tous les sens, as the French have it, “in all directions (senses,...