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Four Comments on "Two Views on the Use of Literature in Composition" Author(s): Gregory S.

Jay, Elizabeth Latosi-Sawin, Leon Knight and Jeanie C. Crain Source: College English, Vol. 55, No. 6 (Oct., 1993), pp. 673-679 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/378709 . Accessed: 24/06/2013 03:44
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subversive, that the personal is political, and that foregrounding personal writing is one way to enable practitioners of an expressionist pedagogy/ideology (and their students) to move toward creating a social-epistemic rhetoric, one that questions and critiques all social constructs, including the self. New YorkUniversity

agogy of the classics, when mastery of composition in Greek and Latin was supposed to provide the student with intellectual, cognitive, and stylistic benefits. Courses in "English"were the awkward successors to composition in the classics, especially as the student body became democratized and the purpose of the course more utilitarian. The disintegration of the canon also undermined the English course, though in practice there is no reason ON "Two FOUR COMMENTS why an expanded canon cannot well VIEWS ON THE USE OF serve the purpose of such a class. IN LITERATURE Perhaps Lindemann would be the COMPOSITION" first to agree that "English" would be a misnomer for the "first-year writing course," and the first to argue that In "No Place for Literature" (March "writing" should replace English. Still 1993), Erika Lindemann states: "We she retains the term, as in her provocacannot usefully discuss the role of tive assertion that "Freshman English imaginative literature (however de- offers guided practice in reading and fined) in freshman English without writing the discourses of the academy first asking what the purpose of a first- and the professions" (312). In this foryear writing course is" (312). One does mula, "English" is replaced by "the disnot have to be a professor of rhetoric to courses of the academy," surely not a spot the sleight of hand in this sen- development to welcome uncritically. tence. Before any discussion can hap- In any event, Lindemann should grant pen, Lindemann has already defined that the teaching of English and inthe "freshman English course" as "a struction in writing the "discourses of first-year writing course," thus win- the academy" are not the same thing. But they are, institutionally, and that ning her argument before she makes it. Let's be clear: a course in English is is a second crucial point Lindemann is not the same as a course in writing. The silent upon. Except on those few camformer, as we know from the history of puses with separate writing programs, our discipline, emphasizes the growth the first-year required course is housed of a language, the texts that have con- by, paid for, and staffed by the English tributed to its character, the resources department. Rhetoric and composition of that language, and the current state faculty, often justly resenting the snobof its practice. The use of model texts bery and disrespect they have suffered, in such courses has its roots in the ped- have worked mightily to establish the

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autonomy of their discipline. The exclusion of literature from the first-year English course was absolutely crucial to the politics of this institutional struggle, as Lindemann well knows. None of the good points Lindemann makes about abuses of literary texts in writing courses explain the blanket prohibition that has settled in; only the disciplinary drive to justify a separate program can explain it. Many English departments now stand divided between their writing and their English programs, often with little or no overlap of staffing or subject matter. Lindemann ignores this in her discussion of teaching assistants, most of whom are graduate students in English or literature, not in writing. By her logic, there is no reason why the instructors of writing should be drawn from the pool of English TAs; indeed, her polemic suggests they are a poor choice, since their interest and expertise is not in writing. Still, most English departments now require their TAs to become writing instructors, effectively making them exploited, parttime help doing a job unrelated to the rest of their academic program. Lindemann's position leads inevitably to the proposal that we create independent writing departments to teach writing across the curriculum, devising them in line with her ideals. I am not necessarily opposed to that plan. But I am seriously concerned about the tendency to do this surreptitiously from within the English department at the cost of the department's coherence. As long as the first-year course is an Eng-

lish course, it ought to accommodate the mission and interest of the department, which includes a substantial attention to the history of imaginative writing and its contribution to the language. A limited and pedagogically sound inclusion of literature in the freshman English course would allow us to reintegrate the freshman program with the rest of the department. The alienation of many TAs would be moderated. Faculty who now never teach freshmen might be brought back into these classrooms with the added benefit that they would start teaching writing more systematically. This could in turn influence their upper-division and graduate course, where indeed we need to do more writing instruction. Freshmen might also learn that writing is something more than a utility tool for academic success. I end, then, by returning to Lindemann's opening question: what is the purpose of the required service course that most English departments are obligated to offer their freshmen? Is it to teach English or to teach writing? Many colleges and universities agree with Lindemann, though like her they seem to ignore the misfit between the course's purpose and its institutional setting. I urge departments to take up the challenge of reexamining the purpose of this course. I suggest that we question the presumption that this should be a writing course of the type that Lindemann describes. Couldn't it be an English course instead, in which writing is an important but not exclusive concern? Such a course need not, I

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Petrosky outline a creative incorporation of literature into a college reading and writing course that begins in autobiography, moves through fiction, and ends in the kind of thinking that gives rise to disciplinary knowledge. Bartholomae and Petrosky show us how literature can lead students naturally into the discourse of the academy. The argument about the place of literature in a composition program has an especially hollow ring given the fact that literature is being used to study human life in fields as varied as business management and abnormal psychology. I gave a presentation at the national Organizational Behavior Teaching Conference in Bellingham, Washington, two years ago, only to observed that human bediscover that faculty from other uniJohn Dewey like to think in of terms extreme versities were using contemporary ings opposites, but "when forced to recog- films and the St. Crispin's Day speech nize that the extremes cannot be acted in Shakespeare's Henry V to discuss upon [they are] still inclined to hold principles of leadership. In sociology that [extremes] are all right in theory and psychology classes, I have also seen but... circumstances compel us to literature used to illustrate issues rangcompromise" (Experience and Educa- ing from family to religion, from social tion). The debate in the March 1993 control to work, and from race relaCollege English between Erika Linde- tions to anomie. mann and Gary Tate is no exception. What I find intellectually parsimoHowever, their extreme positions are nious is that while other disciplines unnecessary given the creative com- have conceded the power and usefulpromises already in the field. The ness of literature in teaching their genquestion is no longer whether there is eral principles, many of us remain or isn't a place for literature in a com- married to a romantic and Kantian noposition program, but how literature on tion of some higher "purposefulness occasionis to be defined, selected, and without purpose" that keeps us used. ashamed of teaching anything that is of In Facts, Counterfacts,and Artifacts, "service" to the academy. Being of David Bartholomae and Anthony service is not without honor. Helping would add, reinforce discriminatory "English-only" prejudices, since a rigorous knowledge of English must be multigeneric and multicultural, including contributions by diverse historical, racial, ethnic, and linguistic populations and practices. Such a study of English could benefit student literacy in ways no writing workshop can. But an attempt to make the first-year course bothan English class and a workshop in writing across the curriculum makes no sense, since these have different purposes. If literature does not belong in the first-year writing course, then the first-year writing course does not belong in the English department. GregoryS. Jay Universityof Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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to guide students to a fuller and active an awareness of what the purpose of critical literacy is no small task and no higher education is. The purpose of mean goal. But there are as many ways (required) public education is to raise a to achieve it as there are people to child to be an adult within the village; teach it. To see, as I did recently, a the purpose of (voluntary) higher edufirst-semester composition student cation is to provide the student with laugh out loud while he read The the information, skills, and, most imCatcherin the Rye, or to hear from an- portantly, attitudes for functioning other "nonreader" that she "couldn't outside of the home village, perhaps put down" I Know Why the CagedBird even becoming a citizen of the world Sings, is to witness literature being read who can answer "yes"to Rodney King's for life and not for some validation of poignant question, "Can we all get the entire apparatus of our profession. along?" For about twenty-five years, my colMy composition students are not writrestricted of pieces literary analysis, lege, North Hennepin Community ing nor are they reading literary criticism. College in suburban Minneapolis, has Reading books has become the occa- had freshman English courses that are sion for their own questions about hu- described as "literature based composiman growth and change. tion courses." Periodically, I find it Polar opposites no longer engage necessary to defend the decision to me. There are just too many possibili- combine composition and literature in ties to consider in the rich middle required freshman English courses. I explain that literature should be reground. ElizabethLatosi-Sawin quired in these courses because too MissouriWesternStateCollege many people, including many college teachers and administrators, view litAs a community college English erature as entertainment and, thus, imteacher for about thirty years, I support practical in the "real world" of with no equivocation at all Professor employment. Tate's position that freshman composiIronically, no one questions whether freshman English courses should retion is "a place for literature." I would remind Professor Linde- quire composition. That is ironic mann (who opposes the use of litera- because, in spite of what Professor Linture in freshman composition) of two demann writes about students "producthings. First, a characteristic of an edu- ing texts," how much actual writing cated person is the ability to transfer most people will be required to do in learning. Thus, those of us who teach the future is open to question. An everthe basics of composition do not have decreasing percentage of people, even to teach different writing courses for those with employment requiring colevery discipline within "the academy." lege degrees, will be called on to genBut even more important than that is erate information and to organize that

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information in coherent written form. The technology of today-and certainly of the future-has eliminated or will eliminate many of the traditional reasons for learning how to write. But no one has seriously suggested that people in the future will be able to succeed in any real way without knowing how to read. Be that as it may, college degrees for the foreseeable future will continue to require the successful student to both read and write. Being based on reading is what separates academic writing from other types of writing. College, more than most other human environments, is a literate environment that rewards those who read clearly and who write coherently based on that reading. Thus, having freshman English classes require writing based on reading makes sense. Further, requiring that literature be the primary reading in freshman English classes can be supported by at least four points. First, in spite of the claims of many well-meaning people, reading literature is practical.A friend who teaches at another community college ruefully told me of a visiting "expert"who told her assembled colleagues, as the college's administration nodded wisely in agreement, that teaching students to read computer manuals was more practical than teaching them to read short stories. What nonsense! Because literature is the subject matter that deals most directly with learning through metaphors, learning to read literature properly is the most direct (and, therefore, the most practical) way of learn-

ing to image properly what is read. The person who is able to read literature well will have the skills to read computer manuals-if (and this is a big "if') the manual is well written. This leads me to the second reason for requiring the reading of literature in freshman English courses: reading literature is enjoyable. That is, it can be enjoyable if the skill is developed under the guidance of a good teacher. (On the freshman level, the good teacher of literature will reject three common approaches that consistently fail-emphasizing the art forms of literature; emphasizing the history of literature; and emphasizing what was taught in the teacher's most recent graduate school course in literature.) Reading literature can be enjoyable if it is fun, or if it deals with important human topics, or if it helps empower students personally-or, better yet, if it does all three. (Maybe Johnny can't read because Johnny was never given anything enjoyable to read.) Third, readingliteratureis an efficient way for students to becomecritical thinkers. The basis of critical thinking is drawing reasonable conclusions after carefully considering available evidence. In literature, this evidence centers on characters and conflicts-the same things that a student's life centers on, people and relationships. Thus, if critical thinking is taught through responding to literature, the student brings to the critical thinking task a lifetime of relevant experience. The student then becomes aware that critical thinking is part of everyday life,

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rather than an exercise for some college course. Finally, readingliteraturein freshman English classesis the easiestwayfor a college to encourageawarenessof and respect for cultural diversity. Colleges will not educate people to become citizens of our global village by concentrating exclusively on skills (such as writing on the job) or information (such as found in computer manuals). Certainly as important as (and probably more important than) skills and information are the attitudes of the person who would claim to be educated. When I went to China the first time, our delegation of editors and publishers included only two people who knew Mandarin at all. Yet the one who knew the language best is the one who got along worst in China. He had a PhD and an important position in the United States, and he knew the language better than anyone else in our group. So why didn't he get along in China? Because he was a jerk-in whatever language he was using. Perhaps if he had been encouraged as a student to respect "the other among us" (and within us), he could have been successful in China. Culturally diverse literature can help the student to develop respect for "the other among us." For that literature to be part of a required freshman English program is the easiest way for a college to introduce cultural diversity to the majority of its students. Thus, combining composition and literature in required freshman English classes makes sense not only because it introduces first-year students to the

type of writing necessary to succeed in college but also because, if it is done right, it is practical, enjoyable, an efficient way to develop critical thinking, and the easiest way to introduce large numbers of students to cultural diversity. But to "do it right" will usually require freshman English instructors to grapple with two issues that are not covered in graduate school courses: 1. how to deal with the literature in a required first-year course, and 2. how to incorporate culturally diverse literature into the reading list for the course. But after those issues have been addressed, a college should be ready to combine literature and composition in its freshman English program. Leon Knight North HennepinCommunityCollege Before entering into a discussion about place or no-place for literature in the composition classroom, I would want to ask at least one question: exactly what kind of writing is nonimaginative, nonliterary? I would also urge that we expand our definition of literature to include more than poetry, fiction, and drama;no need exists to build a false dichotomy between discourse and literature. All disciplines have evolved a very rich canon of literature of their own, even composition! We have evolved a literature of science, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, music, art, and so on. These give us a rich and varied approach to human life. Literature-based or essay-based courses need not "focus on consuming

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texts" rather than "producing them," as Lindemann charges. Nor should the teacher have to talk "75 to 80 percent of the time." It is possible to use literature in a classroom without spending very much time at all lecturing or discussing. Students can do a great deal of writing, group work, and peer evaluation as they plan, draft, revise, use data, evaluate sources, read critically, interpret evidence, and solve problems concerning the literature they are reading and responding to in writing. We should not allow the misuse of literature to discourage us from "right use." Tate is far closer to my way of thinking than Lindemann when he emphasizes thinking of students as people "whose most important conversations will take place outside the academy, as they struggle to figure out how to live their lives-that is, how to vote and love and survive, how to respond to change and diversity and death and oppression and freedom." I, too, would like to see students master genres, styles, audiences, and purposes for writing, but I see no reason why such mastery should limit itself severely to discourse study or the conversation of the academy. Human beings always have more at stake than simply becoming historians, mathematicians, and biologists. Sometimes when I survey what I have seen going on in composition classes (many still taught largely by graduate students and adjunct faculty, with the push now being more and more toward the offering of dual credit to cover both high school and college writing), I begin to fear composition

may become only a skills or service course. All writing has to be interpreted, and interpreting texts is essentially the same act whether the text is literary or nonliterary in the too narrow definition: both have evolved conventions which must be understood if interpretation is to be possible. As for disciplines other than literature "having different methods of knowledge-making," I would simply ask whether close observation, resistance to generalizing, or purging some aspect of the personal are really absent from a broader definition of literature. If someone can prove to me that each discipline has its own claims to its own unique logic, perhaps I could be swayed to different methods of knowledge. From what I've observed, however, it seems that human beings (and their writings) are locked into a dialectic of rationalist-empiricist, particularistic-holistic tendencies. Tate is "right on" to urge us "to adopt a far more generous vision of our discipline and its scope, a vision that excludes no texts." Humanists really aren't so different from scientists; the academy isn't divorced from "real life"; and it is oversimplifying to say that "personal writing differs from academic discourse." All of us probably agree that writing should be taught in a writing course, and once the emphasis is on writing, what literature we use should be a matter of teacher and student choice but always with an eye toward "inclusiveness." Jeanie C. Crain MissouriWesternStateCollege

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