July 2009 Archives

We'll Do Without the "Rescue," Thanks

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A Rescue Plan for College Composition
http://chronicle.com/article/A-Rescue-Plan-for-College/47452/

I responded to this article in the comments, under "barnwani," so have a look there if you want my full take on the piece. The nutshell: Prince takes the old-school view that composition itself is not a subject worth teaching nor studying, just something that students should all know how to do and something that should be taught in every class. Noble ideas, both, but not realistic ones. I got interested in this piece because the author addresses both first-year comp and high-school English, but he does not seem to be a teacher of either.

A Chief Learning Officer at a School?

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Teacher Magazine: Help Wanted: Leader to Promote a Culture of Learning
http://www.teachermagazine.org/tm/articles/2009/07/01/tm_kolson_web.h20.html?tkn=SVWFLdDiZxT1UMaxAQtyPI1dvx0M0va4QGgP

This piece explores the idea that many schools do not have someone charged with seeing to the overall learning environment of the school. As some of the commenters point out, this job should be taken on by the heads of school; but the reality is that in an independent school, these people are tied up with fund-raising and development, human resource issues, budget management, and student-parent relations. They don't have enough time to devote to the core mission of the school (at least not at my school they don't) so they have left the teaching and learning to the instructors. There's an element of that that's good, of course: the teachers are the experts and can do a good job without micromanagement of their work. But the Olson piece uses one of my favorite metaphors to describe the school's learning culture: an ecosystem. My school's ecosystem is an untended garden in a place with rich soil, abundant sunshine, plenty of water, but almost no land. There's a lot going on, but it is happening in a completely unorganized way, and there isn't room for all of it to happen all at once, since some of the happenings are at odds with others and cannot coexist effectively. Someone needs to be attending to the overall garden plan. What kinds of succulents do we need? What sorts of flowering shrubs? Any trees to work with and around? What looks best in that corner of the plot? If the school heads cannot take this on, someone ought to.

A vision for what might happen after the economy turns around...
Brainstorm: The Figure of Writing and the Future of English Studies
http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/article/?id=1473&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

This is a long two-part article (first part linked above) describing why English departments have been literally decimated in terms of their tenure-track faculty in the last several years while writing programs have been gaining appointments in a variety of ways, some good, some not. Even for someone like me who has been witness to a great many of these developments, the details are enlightening and insightful. Bousquet's main reason for the rise of writing programs and affiliated doctoral programs is that the need for the teaching of writing has created low-level management needs in university administration, so doctoral graduates are being asked to take these on in order to supervise the nontenurable workforce involved in the teaching of writing. It's a strange paradox, that the rise in adjunct and part-time labor has given rise to more tenure-line faculty in some fields. But there it is. The whole piece is worth reading, if you have ten minutes to spare.

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