Teaching Problems (Shaughnessy, Fulkerson)

In which I use the word “entrenched.”

Shaughnessy, Mina P. “Introduction to Errors and Expectations.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2009. 387-396. Print.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to read this text before it the theory of error it espouses became a fundamental assumption to a large portion of our field–would I be one of the Westering frontier teachers she writes about (389), or some entrenched pedagogical stick in the mud about correctness? In Errors and Expectations, Shaughnessy responds to what was for her a new situation, but it is one that we are still dealing with–students who seem to be existentially unprepared for college, doomed to repeat semester after semester “bonehead English” until they finally just drop out of college or transfer somewhere else. (Though, of course, nobody uses the term “bonehead English” anymore. We’re much more politic, but mean the same thing with DEVS and BW and remedial and “Stretch.”) The revolutionary thing about Shaughnessy’s argument, however, is that the teacher’s preconceptions about students and error are the first things that must change before he or she can begin to threaten error with their pedagogy. In her introduction, Shaughnessy identifies a series of complications to the error problem: error is social and real, and it is more complex than it seems (393); BW students are in fact linguistically sophisticated, but beginners to writing and must learn by making mistakes (390); their own “language-learning faculties” are often at the heart of students’ confusion about language patterns (393). Her fundamental proposition is that student mistakes have a logic to them. Errors are reasonable and rooted in a variety of sources rather than the result of some indifferent attitude toward education or a fundamental inability to be taught. We have to balance the “deep conserving pull” of language–that errors, despite their arbitrariness, matter in social groups where codes are habitual–with the “logic of [students’] mistakes” and the shifting boundaries of error as we choose out subjects of instruction (395).

“economics of energy in the writing situation” (394)

“correct writing” (392) vs “unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader” (395)


In which I use the word “baffling.”

Fulkerson, Richard. “Four Philosophies of Composition.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2009. 430-435. Print.

Basing his categories on Abrams’ The Mirror and the Lamp, Fulkerson describes four theoretical approaches to composition process and instruction: formalist, expressionist, mimetic, and rhetorical. Each of these value theories shapes pedagogy. So, the formalist is concerned with “correctness” in one way or another, looking at writing objectively and judging it by “certain internal forms” (431). The expressionist (in a few veins) values the personal subject, self-discovery, and voice (432). The mimeticist connects good writing and how it represent reality–either through emphasizing logic and thinking strategies or through emphasizing research (432). The rhetorical philosophy (he places Peter Elbow here) adapts writing for effects on audiences and evaluates it on that basis (433).

It’s tempting to read this classification as a heirarchy or judgment, but that would be a faulty reading. Fulkerson’s problem is not the relative inferiority of any of the four philosophies to the others. Rather, his concern is what he calls “value-mode confusion” (434): a disconnect wherein “composition teachers either fail to have a consistent value theory or fail to let that philosophy shape pedagogy” (434). Whereas Kitzhaber is concerned with a larger disciplinary confusion, Fulkerson’s aim is for the “mindlessness” of the individual teacher. (434) So, for example, Fulkerson describes a formalist literature teacher discussing the construction of persona who then turns around an takes an expressive aim at a student’s lack of sincere voice in their composition. Or he relates the “state and explain clearly your opinion about X” assignment, which could be judged differently (baffling the student) from each of the four theoretical viewpoints. “Teaching procedures have to harmonize with evaluative theories”–the methods of the classroom should relate to the valued outcomes of the assignment (433). What Fulkerson really seems to have written here–and I’ve somehow never noticed this before, even though I’ve read this article about a hundred times–is an outcomes/assessment argument.

(Compare to Berlin’s epistemic classification in Rhetoric & Reality: objective, subjective, transactional; or to his ideological classification in “Rhetoric and Ideology”: cognitive, expressionistic, social-epistemic)


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