Teacher to Teacher

Andrea LunsfordANDREA A. LUNSFORD is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.

Blogging as Pedagogy

posted: 8.21.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Colleague Adam Banks and students in our Bread Loaf summer course on Writing, Technologies, and Digital Cultures gave me a link to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog, Langwitches, and specifically to a posting in which she argues for the pedagogical value of blogging.

As I travel around the country visiting teachers and students, I find that a lot of them are blogging—both for classroom work and out of school.  And in a recent informal poll of students at my own university, I found that almost all of them followed at least one blog—and that a majority of them kept a blog of their own.  Of course, as the students pointed out, some blogs are “too stupid for words,” and “not worth a minute of time.”  But that’s true of all forms of communication and it doesn’t seem to stop students from pursuing those blogs that do make a lot of sense to them.

So Tolisano’s posting on the pedagogical importance of blogs struck me as being right on target, but not overstated in that rah-rah way that some use for advocating technologies of various kinds.  In it, Tolisano says that no matter what the grade level, blogging can enhance learning in classrooms in four key areas:  reading, writing, reflecting, and sharing.  She goes on to explain what she means in each instance.  Writing on a blog, for example, is about more than words, allowing students to use sound and images to create their messages.  In addition, bloggers write for particular audiences, which builds a sense of community, and bloggers can create conversations and inspire other interactions.  Finally, writing on a blog allows for hyperlinking and other activities that give writers practice in participating in the digital world.

 Blogging as Pedagogy by Silvia Tolisano on Langwitches

Tolisano offers equally compelling ways in which blogging enhances reading, reflecting, and sharing.  And while she doesn’t mention anything that I hadn’t already thought about in terms of the efficacy of blogs, she puts all of it in such clear and succinct form that I found myself nodding in agreement at the end of the post.  So check out what she has to say and perhaps you may decide to comment on her statement—or to follow her blog.

I’ve been keeping this teacher-to-teacher blog for three years now, and I’ve recently had a great time looking back over entries that I still like a lot.  So I plan to keep blogging away . . . and wonder if you are blogging too??

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Do You Do ALP?

posted: 8.14.14 by Andrea Lunsford

This past summer, I had a chance to attend the 2014 National Conference on Acceleration in Developmental Education, held in Baltimore and organized by the ALP group at the Community College of Baltimore County.  This is a program that Peter Adams founded some years ago and is now being coordinated by Jamey Gallagher and Susan Gabriel; it has also spread to an impressive 178 colleges, and five states are moving toward implementing statewide adoption of ALP.

As Dawn Coleman describes it in “Replicating the Accelerated Learning Program: Preliminary but Promising Findings” (January 2014, Center for Applied Research funded by a grant from The Kresge Foundation), ALP takes

ten students who placed into the upper level of developmental writing [and mainstreams them] into the college-level writing course [for credit] along with ten students who placed into college-level writing. The college-level course is not modified to accommodate the developmental writing students; the high standards of the college-level course are maintained. However, the ten developmental students are co-enrolled in a developmental writing course [noncredit] which meets immediately following the college-level course. The same instructor teaches both classes.

This is a no frills, common sense approach to developmental writing, and it’s one that has seen a lot of success:  you can read a study reporting findings about how well the ALP program can be replicated at other institutions here.

At any rate, I saw plenty of evidence of the program’s success in Baltimore, where colleagues shared case studies on individual students and reported findings from local studies of student achievement.  While I’ve known about ALP for quite a while, I didn’t know it in this up-close-and-personal way:  I came away deeply impressed by what a committed group of faculty can do with limited funding but unlimited imagination and good will.  Best of all, the ALP program respects student learners and rests on the assumption not of “deficits” but of strengths that students bring with them to the writing classroom.

At a time when colleges and universities everywhere are being pressed to do away with anything called “remediation” at the same time that students are arriving with a need for academic support, the ALP program and its offspring offer a model that is well worth examining.  I learned a lot from listening to colleagues at this conference and came away inspired by their passion and commitment.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Flashback to 1978

posted: 8.7.14 by Andrea Lunsford

I’ve been cleaning out all my files in my university office – about time, too, since I retired 18 months ago! – and it’s been one blast from the past after another.  I’ve come on all kinds of drafts of early articles and also some priceless student work.  But the thing that really took me back was a newspaper article from 1978.  First, a bit of background:

I finished my Ph.D. in 1977, with a dissertation on basic writing and on what became Ohio State’s exemplary basic writing program, called the Writing Workshop, and headed off to the University of British Columbia for my first post-Ph.D. job.  I had finally managed to publish an article or two, one of them in College Composition and CommunicationI was thrilled to have this publication, of course, but I didn’t have much time to enjoy it, because on June 19, 1978 the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a “back page” story called “Vowing Academic Poverty: Is this what all of our education can be expected to produce?” by Harold Fromm, then an associate professor of English at Indiana University Northwest.  Fromm was especially outraged by this paragraph in my article:

For me, the pressures and frustrations paled dramatically one day early Winter quarter when a former pilot project [Writing Workshop] student hurtled out of a crowd and ran toward me waving, bursting with good news:  ‘Today in English, we got back our first papers, and I got a C+.’  For that student, and for his teachers, those pressures and frustrations and disappointments were worthwhile.

Well, this little paragraph really set Fromm off:  he called me, among other things, satisfied to be a “humble servant of the Lord.” Well, here’s a little of what he had to say:

Although not totally worthless, since they do help a small percentage of able but poorly educated students, remedial writing courses are apt to be founded upon an unlimited faith in the power of pedagogy to transform sows’ ears into purses of silk, . . . Slogging away at getting marginal students to overcome their astonishment at learning that “we is” is not the traditional locution of the middle class professionals and technicians whom they aspire to become, professors soon come to believe that salvation for everyone lies in pummeling these students into mouthing a syntax that is too sophisticated for them to intuit and hence impossible to master.

     In a recent issue of College Composition and Communication, for example, one reads a veritable horror story by a professor from Vancouver, Andrea A. Lunsford, about her efforts in remedial pedagogy.  In “What We Know—and Don’t Know—About Remedial Writing,” Professor Lunsford describes the demoralizing regimen of trying to find new ways of reaching students with catastrophic language deficiencies. . . .

After quoting the paragraph about the student who is happy with a C+, Fromm goes on with his diatribe:

As for society, it will not so easily be tricked into thinking that C+ is good enough to satisfy its professional and technical needs. For when Professor Lunsford has to visit a physician, she will not choose to put her money and her life in the hands of some proud C+ product of a medical school. . . .  I don’t really believe that Professor Lunsford’s gratification at producing a C+ will be quite so great when she finds herself the helpless victim of a similar product of someone else’s gratification.

            Note that this blast was written in 1978, FOUR years after the Students’ Right to Their Own Language was ratified.  Re-reading this piece was a shock all over again, and believe it or not the piece goes on, and on, and is so full of egregious misrepresentation and fallacious thinking as to be breathtaking.  I remember reading it at the time and doing a double-take when I realized he was talking about ME and MY STUDENTS.

In the next week’s Chronicle, many scholars talked back to Fromm, noting the not-so-latent racism and elitism, not to mention the nearly hysterical tone and the deep disrespect of students evident in Fromm’s essay, and patiently explaining that he had, spectacularly, missed the point of my essay.  My dissertation director, Edward P. J. Corbett, immediately sat down and did a full rhetorical analysis of the essay and sent it to me, saying “He’s the one who needs some ‘remedial’ education.”

I will write in future weeks about the lessons I drew from this encounter with Professor Fromm, but for now I’ll just say that after 36 years, many still hold to Fromm’s attitude and to his view of student learners.  This attitude makes me as furious now as it did all those years ago, and I’ve spent much of my career trying to counter it and to demonstrate that students with so-called “deficiencies” have a great many strengths of their own and that our job is to teach them and to teach them in ways that will allow them—and us—to learn. And needless to say, I’m not giving up on this goal now!

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

What happens when teachers of writing from around the world get together?

posted: 7.31.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Good things happen.  Big things.  Small things.  Things that will help students happen—and keep on happening.

At least that’s been my experience working over the last 15 years with Bread Loaf International Conferences.  The first one occurred in Karachi in 2000, and the one next month in Haiti’s Port-au-Prince will be followed by one in Mumbai in August 2015.  These conferences are modeled on, and inspired by, the Andover/Bread Loaf Program (ABL), begun 27 years ago by Bread Loaf graduate and Phillips Academy teacher Lou Bernieri.

Every summer, ABL—a partnership between Phillips Academy, the Bread Loaf School of English, and the public schools of Lawrence, MA—offers a two to three week series of writing workshops for teachers and another series for students.  The students prepare to become junior writing leaders, then writing leaders in their schools, which is something you almost have to see to believe as they take on greater agency, autonomy, and leadership roles.  ABL has been saving students, and lives, for a long time—and now it’s being replicated in other parts of the world.

In early July, I had the good fortune to attend an International Bread Loaf Forum on Bread Loaf’s home campus in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  We  heard from Jennifer Brown, who works with Paul Farmer with Partners in Health, about their plans to collaborate with Navajo leaders and students to help teach students about food security and justice—and eventually to build a teaching hospital at Navajo.  We also heard from Mohsin Tejani, who runs The School of Writing in Karachi, Pakistan, resolutely bringing education to young people, in spite of the Taliban and other hostile forces  And from Chantal Kenors from Haiti, Patricia Echessa-Kariuke from Nairobi, and  Lee Krishnan from Mumbai.  All have student-driven projects related to writing, food, and health, and all are using their Bread Loaf connections to expand this important work.

Rex Lee Jim (center) and Mohsin Tejani (right)

One of the most exciting reports of the day came from Rex Lee Jim, Vice President of the Navajo Nation, who told us about the “Navajo Kentuckian” food literacy program.  As Rex told us, the Navajo Nation covers 27,000 square miles and has 300,000 members, not all of them living on Navajo.  So it’s a vast country, much of it desert, and health issues (such as diabetes and obesity) are huge concerns.  Rex’s long-time goal is to train 1,000 Navajo doctors, and to keep at least 25% of them in the Nation.  In the short run, Rex and students from Navajo public schools have teamed up with Brent Peters of Fern Creek High School in Lexington, KY.  Fern Creek has been a pretty tough school, with lots of dropouts and failures.  But Brent, a Bread Loafer, convinced the administration to let him teach a course on food justice, and in just a few years that class has expanded to four and the students have turned themselves around—gardening, shopping, cooking, and investigating pressing issues related to food in their community.

Now the Navajo students have their own program going in partnership with the Fern Creek students; in fact, they have visited Kentucky—and the Kentucky students have visited Navajo.  Together they study local foods, the techniques for growing (and over-fertilizing) and harvesting food, and food distribution systems, all with an eye for inequities and injustices—and possibilities for positive change.  In the last year, the Navajo Kentuckians have taken their show on the road, speaking with policy makers and leaders in local communities and presenting the results of their work at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and at the National Council of Teachers of English annual meeting.  Perhaps more important, they are taking their show home, teaching their parents and relatives about healthy foods and healthy eating habits (no more three-soda-meals in the Navajo Nation, for instance).  I came away wishing that every elementary and secondary school in the country had a food literacy program that partnered with an undergraduate or graduate program at a college or university (as the Navajo Kentuckians do with the Bread Loaf School of English).  And if you know of similar programs around the country (or world), I’d love to hear about them.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Do your students write poetry in, and out of, class?

posted: 7.24.14 by Andrea Lunsford

As I’ve said before, my sister teaches high school in Florida—history and psychology, with a lot of writing in all her classes (she says she’s “notorious” not just for assigning writing but for teaching it and taking it very, very seriously).  I love hearing about the work she is doing and about her students, and recently she wrote to share a poem one of her seniors had written, not for class but just on her own.  It speaks powerfully, I think, to the experiences of many young people today, so I wanted you to read it too:

I think I’m addicted.

Like a freed prisoner that keeps getting convicted

It’s that feeling you get when the whole world is on your shoulders

And it starts off as kind gestures, then it becomes favors, then it’s my job, it’s all mine

This pressure they hand to me

And I say don’t pick it up….but if I don’t it will fall….

Fine I will pick it up, I will load it, carry it, struggle with it

Why not

While I’m at it, you pile it on, too

I’m addicted

And it is definitely something that is self-inflicted.

It is that decision to make a commitment that you cannot keep

But still you decide to take that leap

But really what do you expect to reap

Because pretty soon all you will have is a heap of responsibilities

And in the middle of the night, when everyone is resting, you can’t fall asleep

I am addicted

It is not something that I would have predicted

Another class, another club, another party, another favor, another paper, another deadline, another contest

And just like that I’m under the gun again.

So at night when I open my eyes after my amen, I wonder if God is tired of me

Because although I know that he gave me the key

I still continue to climb the tree

And like a cat afraid to climb down

I am that frozen little girl who is afraid of a clown

And right now there is so much at stake

And when they ask me how I make it

I shrug, because right now, I am just trying not to break

And as I am drowning in this lake

Someone reaches in a hand for me to take

But I push it away,

I fight it

This is my crucifixion

This is my addiction.

That’s some poem from a young African American woman trying to work through the pressure she feels to perform—in so many ways and so many different arenas.  And she is using writing on her own time and in her own ways to do some of that work and to communicate to others what she is living and feeling.

I’ve been impressed, over the years, with how much poetry writing students are doing, and almost all of it outside of class.  Once again, we can look to what’s going on outside our classrooms to help us think hard about what is and should be going on IN them.  While I think, though, I’m going to read this poem one more time, this time aloud, so I can hear the cadence and rhythms in it.  I’ve asked my sister to thank the student writer for sharing it.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Bread Loaf Anyone?

posted: 7.17.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In late June, I drove from the Burlington airport down Route 116, eventually turning east on Route 125 to drive up into the Green Mountains to Bread Loaf, a campus of Middlebury College that looks up toward Bread Loaf Mountain.  For many of the last twenty-five summers, I have made this trek, yet every time I make the drive it is entirely new.  This year, the sky was shatteringly, immensely blue, and the dark green trees set against it took my breath away.  The sun scattered sparkles on the river that runs down the mountain and around every turn lay familiar sites:  the tiny Ripton Country Store (once featured in the New York Times); the overflowing flower boxes adorning the bridge over the river; the Robert Frost park (and just a bit off the road, Robert Frost’s old cabin, inhabited this summer by Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Paul Muldoon); and then the Bread Loaf campus, a group of 19th century buildings painted a distinct yellow or occasional white that dot the landscape, looking like visitors who turned up here long ago and simply decided to stay.  I arrived on a Friday with nine others, and we settled down to get caught up with each other’s lives and to talk over plans for the summer.

By the following Tuesday, 240 students (most of them secondary teachers), thirty-one faculty members and directors, and six staff members surged through the buildings and across the landscape, looking for the first sighting of moose (or bear!) and breathing in the cool, clean air.  Tuesday night’s opening session was a celebration from start to finish, as various faculty members spoke of this special community and the goals it has for transformation of education.  Michael Armstrong, as usual, stole the show, inspiring us with his reading of a story written by a six-year-old.  (If you have not read his Closely Observed Children or Children Writing Stories, check them out immediately).  This summer, Michael’s classes (Describing the Imagination and Borges, Calvino, and Beckett) are among the most sought after.  But there are so many fabulous courses to choose from: Doug Jones’s Black/Performance/Theory; Isobel Armstrong’s Vision and Optical Culture in Romantic Poetry; Robert Stepto’s Autobiography in America; Angela Brazil’s Using Theater in the English Classroom—and a lot more.

This summer I am team-teaching Writing, Technologies, and Digital Cultures with Adam Banks (from the University of Kentucky); we’ve met our fifteen students twice now and already I am impressed with their experience and insights.  They are almost all teachers and hail from all parts of the country, from private boarding schools, from rural and urban schools public schools, from severely challenged schools, from elite schools.  What we all share is our dedication to engaging our students, to teaching them with care, with respect, with love, and to learning with and from one another all summer long.

We kicked off our class by reflecting on our own initiation into digital culture, by describing our students, and by summing up the gap we see between the kinds of writing students are asked to do in school (still largely print based and formulaic) and the kinds of writing they are doing on their own: writing that is participatory and collaborative, that is multivocal and multimodal, that ranges across genres and media to reach audiences with their messages.  Needless to say, I am exhilarated at the prospect of the next six-and-a-half weeks and what I know I am going to learn.  Stay tuned to this blog for some of those lessons.  In the meantime, I’ll be writing and reading and talking and teaching and learning away.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

College Celebration Season

posted: 7.10.14 by Andrea Lunsford

So here I am, supposedly retired. But this past spring, as with all others I can recall, I was busy celebrating students and their achievements.  Kalyn came by with the good news that she got a fellowship to graduate school in history, and we reminisced about her early days in college when she wondered if she belonged or would be able to truly “make it.”  Halle, whose honors thesis I worked on with her, was thrilled to learn that her thesis won a major award in the English Department—AND that her oral presentation of her research for the thesis took first place.  We recalled a seminar of mine she was in, one in which we worked particularly hard on presentations, and she was glad to say that all that work had paid off: where once she was painfully afraid of getting up before a crowd, she now feels confident and knows she can do it.  Thanh brought me an inscribed copy of a graphic novel he had co-authored and we talked about his plans for working with a medical group in Malaysia, and he shared the pride he felt in this accomplishment because in his earlier years at school he had such a very hard time following through on things.  And Andrew dashed in between his Phi Beta Kappa induction and the Provost’s dinner, where he was to be the speaker, to give me his new address.  I met Andrew in his frosh year when he came to the Writing Center looking for advice about his first college writing assignment, and over the years we had many meetings there, including some that focused on what would become his honors thesis.  The unsure first-year student I tutored has become a writer who will have his first publication very soon.

These students are representative of thousands upon thousands for whom college makes a real and lasting difference.  One of the great pleasures of teaching these students is the chance to see them blossom, to grow beyond their self doubts and stumbles and fears into strong, committed communicators.

And that’s late spring term at my university and at colleges across the country, a time I think of as Celebration Season.  At Stanford, one of my favorite celebrations is the annual Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Award (nicknamed the LOPRAs).  This prize goes to one or two students each term, of all those nominated by their instructors as worthy of the award, whose instructors have nominated their presentations as exemplary.  The nominees then make their presentations before a judging panel and first place and honorable mention awardees are chosen.  Then in the spring, in Celebration Season, the winning students present their research to a large group of invitees, including parents and friends.  It’s a gala occasion, with each student being presented a certificate and a book (or two) chosen especially for him or her by the instructors, before we wind up with a reception during which they receive congratulations from all of us. This spring, Heather Glenny won for her presentation on “The Art of Breakfast:  Are Skinnier Spokescharacters Harmful to Society,” which she composed for her second-year writing class, The Rhetoric of Spokespersons.  And Christie Bao Thu Nguyen also won for her “Confronting Rape: A Comparison of Modern Anti-Rape Protests Facilitated Online with Those in the Streets,” for her class Global Protests and Civil Unrest.

I’ve seen all of the LOPRA presentations for the years since the inauguration of this award, and I’m delighted to say that they seem to me to just be getting better and better:  better scripted, better designed (especially in terms of multimedia components), and better delivered every year.  So part of the Celebration Season, for me, is a celebration of the teachers who have worked so brilliantly with their students.  The college years, as I have been insisting, are crucial to the development of communicative abilities, and we would do well to celebrate not only the students for their accomplishments but also the instructors who have helped make those accomplishments possible.

As you can tell, I love this time of year, and I love the fact that I have had an opportunity to be one of those teachers whose students we celebrate.   That may be one of the best retirement rewards ever.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

You Can Do It!

posted: 7.3.14 by Andrea Lunsford

A little over a year ago, I wrote about having the great pleasure of funding a small college scholarship for a student attending Interlachen High School in Florida, where my sister Liz has taught for many years.  It’s called the Liz Middleton “You Can Do It!” Scholarship and is awarded every year to a student who shows good promise of doing college work but who needs support to get there.

Last year, the award went to Skylar Midkiff, who matriculated this last fall and has been on the Dean’s list both terms since beginning her college career.  This year has been even more exciting because there were TWO recipients of the award:  Richard Midler, who will attend the University of Florida in the fall; and Keely Brown, who will go to Santa Fe Community College before transferring to a four-year university. Both these students were in Liz’s 10th grade world history class and she has had an opportunity to watch them both develop (and struggle) and be admitted to the National Honor Society, which she sponsors.  Richard wants to major in computer science and minor in theater (hooray!); Keely has so many interests she’s not sure what she will major in (she has been taking an online course in Latin, “just for fun”).

Here’s a picture of Keely and Richard along with their teacher, Liz Middleton.

When I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps about the state of learning in this country, I like to think about these students (and their teacher) and reflect on the fact that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of young people across the country who are as energetic and bright and ambitious as Richard and Keely. My hope is that they are finding support from members of their communities as well.  Sometimes it doesn’t really take a village:  just a dedicated teacher and another teacher ready to come up with the financial support to help make a few dreams come true.

So hooray for these Interlachen High students and for their teachers—and for teachers everywhere who are making good things happen for young people.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Rhetoric Society of America, 2014

posted: 6.26.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Attending the Rhetoric Society of America meeting in San Antonio (May 22-26) reminded me of why I chose the field of rhetoric and composition some 40+ years ago.  Rhetoric, I soon discovered, is an art, theory, and practice that is infinitely portable, and scholars and teachers can apply it to a wide and diverse range of topics and questions.  Not so much a traditional discipline as a way of being in the world, rhetoric fit beautifully with my eclectic interests.  When it came time to write a dissertation, in fact, I found myself working simultaneously on two big projects:  a study of the writing of college students who were labeled “remedial” and another of 19th century Scottish rhetorician and mental philosopher Alexander Bain, whose influence we still feel today in matters of organization and paragraph structure.

So RSA, with its broad base in rhetorical studies and its catholic approach to research, was (and is!) a natural home for me, along with CCCC.  This year, I came to the RSA meeting a day early to participate in the meeting of the American Society for the History of Rhetoric, which regularly convenes the day before RSA officially begins.  In addition to hearing a series of top notch papers—from Barbara Biesecker’s meditation on the very different functions of “until” in two speeches (one by Bush, one by Obama), to Scott Stroud’s witty and utterly clear exploration of Kant’s relation to rhetoric, to Ekaterina Haskins’s gripping analysis of “spatial freedom,” all of which offered new avenues of investigation.

During the lunch break, I ran into Janice Lauer, legendary leader of Purdue’s exemplary Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D. program, convener of the Purdue Seminar for many years, and author of a series of important works on invention. In her typically low-key way, Janice began to reminisce about the “pre-RSA” days, beginning in 1964 when a handful of scholars (including Edward P. J. Corbett from English and George Yoos from Communications) began to envision a new organization.  Janice was there from the beginning (the only woman, of course) and is a treasure trove of institutional memory.  Looking from those early days of meeting in a small hotel room at CCCC to this year’s RSA conference suggests how successful the organization has been:  there were 1300 + participants in San Diego.

Listening to scholars from philosophy (such as Biesecker and Linda Martín Alcoff), communication studies (such as Kirt Wilson, Dana Cloud, and Ned O’Gorman), Rhetoric and Composition (such as Krista Ratcliffe, Jordynn Jack, and Jessica Enoch), East Asian Studies (such as Hangping Xu), and several other disciplines assured me that the interdisciplinary nature of RSA is still intact.  But I can still only dream of a robust institutional structure that could make room for such variety. A few universities have long-standing collaborations between rhet/comp scholars and those in communication studies (Penn State or the University of Wisconsin at Madison, for instance), but most traditional disciplinary boundaries are still firmly in place.  This fact of life was made vivid and visible in the friendly but telling conversation between Roxanne Mountford (from rhetoric and composition) and Bill Keith (from communication studies).  In a lively hour-long discussion, they identified a bit of common ground between the two fields (a focus on audience and purpose) along with very different approaches to pedagogy and to concepts such as invention and process.  These two disciplinary fields were both once part of the MLA, as were linguistics and English Education.  But communications (then speech) left MLA 100 years ago, followed shortly by the English Education folks (who founded NCTE), and linguistics.  Some rhet/comp scholars in English remained in MLA, though the last couple of decades have seen a diminution of those numbers, most likely in favor of belonging to RSA and CCCC.  Thus the once large and inclusive field of “English Studies” is now widely fragmented and dispersed.

In general, I approve of this move though it’s hard for me to see fifty or seventy-five years into the future in terms of rhet/comp scholars.  Will we still be scattered across departments and disciplines?  Will we have coalesced into a new disciplinary home outside both English and Communication Studies, as is happening with the creation of new departments (such as those at Michigan State, Kentucky, and Texas)?  If so, what will be the eventual shape of this new home and its discipline? What do you think?

For now, I can’t see that far into the future. But I am hoping that RSA will still be around and will be able to help answer some of these pressing questions.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

What’s the Future of Punctuation?

posted: 6.19.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Is punctuation disappearing in an age of ever more succinct and rushed communication?  Or is it proliferating, some say at a dazzling pace?  Megan Garber favors the view that we live in a time of “punctuation inflation.”  Citing the famous example of Victor Hugo’s one-character message (“?”) to the publisher of Les Miserables and the publisher’s equally succinct reply (“!”), indicating that sales were going very well indeed, she argues that today, given the infinite space on the Net, Hugo would likely have sent a bevy of question marks (“??????????”).  Garber also points to the blog Excessive Exclamation!!, which documents example after example of the tendency to over-exclaim (“Prime Rib Saturday!!!!”).

But Garber thinks we may have hit a punctuation peak and are now slowly moving in the opposite direction, to minimal use of punctuation or to the use of image-based punctuation (think emoji), a shift noted by Georgetown linguist Deborah Tannen, who says “I do think there’s an evolution for young people to use images more and words less.”

Garber also points readers to Emoji Dick, an all-“emojicon” telling of Melville’s classic tale.  Such experiments seem to argue against Garber’s hopeful meditation on minimalism, though I don’t think the emoji telling of stories is really going to catch on—and in any case this work is about images far more than punctuation.

Still, we are clearly living in a time of flux as far as punctuation goes, and that’s exciting to me.  I love teaching Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” in which he introduces punctuation marks unique to his family (including a snowflake and a spider web).  Students have a grand time inventing special punctuation marks that seem appropriate to the kind of communication they have with family members or friends, and doing so gets them thinking about those little marks they use in their academic writing, often with very little thought.

To feed my curiosity, I just ordered Keith Houston’s Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks and look forward to learning more about these fascinating characters.

Any good tips out there for books or articles about punctuation and its future???

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford