Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century” and Murray's "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product"

            My first impression of this piece: Fulkerson is frustrated with the lack of development and numerous disagreements about teaching composition to students. He observes correctly how the field—relatively new in relation to other genres of English studies—seemed to stop its progress with the advent of the millennium. The reasons for this untimely halt are related to new branches that have entered this field and with their emergence an alteration of the original goals. In 1990 Fulkerson felt optimistic and uplifted by the surge of advances in this “field” of study. “Good Writing” was considered language; ”Rhetorically effective for audience and situation.” The areas of conflict were expected—assignments, grading, readings, and teacher response but the goal was shared by all involved; the means to success were simply in transition.
            Fulkerson blames the addition of CCS—critical/ cultural studies—for creating new problems for the teacher. He also feels expressionism is taking over and finds the result is causing the rhetorical approach to split into three parts. By comparing two volumes on the subject, one published in 1980 at a highpoint of this trend and the other in 2001 when it is seemingly in conflict, he emphasizes the addition of too many new areas which create more confusion to this fairly new concept of teaching. It seems the simplicity of being able to write freely--within a loose framework--is complicated with each new addition to this writing landscape; the time factor is simply too rapid for these new ideas to become accepted norms. He poses four questions which represent a solid base on which to “erect a course” and it is a rather intriguing grid for any willing party to attempt to complete—he does not. I agree that cultural studies is the forerunner throughout the field with the feminist approach trailing close behind. And, of course, postcolonial gets an honorable mention as well. These approaches were not as commonly employed in a classroom setting in 1980 or before but are now considered a standard. I can only guess that in 2001 when Fulkerson was researching, revisiting, and writing about the rhetorical movement’s progress, this transition within the field was taking a firm hold.
            One key point of any writing is interpretation and how each new group of student-writers approach any or all topics assigned or suggested. Many topics are far afield of what we may consider “English” but in order to confidently interpret and/ or analyze, one needs to be capable of expressing their thoughts. Often, a juxtaposition or argument to emphasize and clarify one’s position can be the deciding factor for their target audience. I can, however, see why Fulkerson feels CCS courses work against the idea of teaching college-level writing. He puts it succinctly: “Reading, analyzing, and discussing the texts upon which the course rests are unlikely to leave room for any actual teaching of writing.” This is seemingly an unavoidable evil in a classroom setting. People usually learn to write by wanting to express some belief, ideal, or point of contention in their own way. Much of anyone’s writing is a form of “modeling” because, in truth, as children we wrote simply because we wanted to; it was new and we could use our own voice in diaries, journals, letters, and poems. All of that personal writing was ours and written for the sense of pleasure, and accomplishment it provided. In a classroom, it is more prudent to have a basic game plan or standard set by the teacher so everyone knows what is expected—writing must conform to certain limits (length, deadlines, framework) but not a repression of creativity or imagination. Fulkerson mentions the possibility of indoctrination which can be problematic in some situations. Teachers as well as students will have their opinions and should feel free to share; discretion, good judgment and respect must always be upheld on both sides of the learning process so as not to inhibit anyone’s creative flow.          
Being such a theatre enthusiast, I especially liked his section on the great Socratean writing tradition as I feel that has always been my personal impetus to write. “Knowing thyself” is often the result of writing down the turmoil I cannot yet voice. Once on paper, I can both find my voice and listen to others more sincerely. As Fulkerson admits, his essay is composed in the tradition of 1970’s composition which he calls” procedural rhetoric.” I too tend to write in a similar fashion, unintentionally trying to honor the classical issues: pathos, ethos, and logos. His reference to the WPA statement reinforces my naivety on the numerous changes that have taken place in the art of teaching writing; the thesis statement was never such a focal point in my earlier years as a student (probably pre-WPA). Writing for an audience was always understood, even as a fledgling student-writer. The need for argumentation makes sense as only through argument can conflict be resolved, leading to the desired denouement; conflicts create tension and are of interest---problems and solutions are the stuff of life and what we love to write-(and read)-about. Fulkerson also discusses a genre approach which utilizes a modernized version of classical Greek stasis theory; this seems rather limiting. After following all his points, both the benefits and deficits of this genre, he states, “The pedagogy is essentially the classical one of imitation.”  
This brings us back to how we began to write as young students, and how Aristotle set down the template in his Poetics. Fulkerson admits there is an internal controversy over the goal of teaching writing in college and what its intended outcomes should be.  His analysis seems quite thorough and his passion very real. The unification of the 1980’s seems disrupted as new ideas become apparent and vital; but that actually creates more material and conflicts to write about.

In Donald M. Murray’s “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product” many of the very ideals Fulkerson promotes are clearly exposed in their infancy. Written in 1972 (when I was in seventh grade) this was an open, encouraging approach to writing which seems very familiar to me. Many of these principles were employed by my teachers in seventh through eighth grade  and were visited again as a high-school senior in accelerated English (probably the forerunner to AP courses). Although we did not try peer review, we did work in small groups and were required to keep a daily journal. Finding our own subject was alowed for certain projects, and we were free to create at our own pace as long as the finished product was ready by the deadline (Implication No. 7). There were rules to follow to a certain extent, but if the product was done well,  thought through, and geared to a target auudience, it was acceptable and graded accordingly. This stimulated, for me, a desire to write and express myself—it was a great motivator. And Murray was completely correct in saying that, “what works one time may not another”(Implication No. 10). His assertion that these practices could be uccessfully incorporated into an English  class  are proven correct and they truly did create an environment of  viewing writing as a process—much like any other creative journey.                      

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