This week I wanted to look into something that has been pecking at my brain for a little while now, regarding the teaching of composition, and that is in looking for a balance. We learn so many theories regarding writing and its purpose, and in First Year Composition (FYC) students to understand writing and its purpose. Combined with my Descriptive Grammararian/Non-Privileged Dialect/TESOL linguistic background, I sometimes find myself in a rabbit hole and I finally find myself thinking “…but where do I draw the line?” as in, where do I draw the line between living and letting linguistically live and teaching how to produce cohesive, impressive, readable text? I chose this article in an attempt to understand…

Marcus, M. (1964). Dilemmas of the college composition teacher: As humanist and technician. The Journal of Higher Education35(9), 481-487. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1978842?&Search=yes&searchText=composition,&searchText=teaching&searchText=humanist&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=teaching+composition%2C+humanist&gw=jtx&acc=on&prq=humanist%2C+composition&Search=Search&hp=25&wc=on&prevSearch=&item=13&ttl=5141&returnArticleService=showFullText

I was a bit apprehensive about this article because of its publication date—it was published in 1964, and in my program it has been kind of drilled that we want to be cognizant of publication dates in research, and that we want to be choosing more recently published articles (>15 years). In this case, however, I thought that the article’s timeframe could be a strength because it was published in the timeframe when the dialogue between Current Traditional Rhetoric, Classical Rhetoric and Expressivism was unfolding.

About three pages into a lofty description of the composition teacher as someone who probably does not want to be a composition teacher and is most likely ill-prepared to teach composition, I think I stumbled upon the answer that I was seeking, which is that the composition teacher struggles to convey to students that “he is criticizing the logic, detail, clarity and consistency of their presentations, and not their intrinsic ideas…and to point out the difference between fact and opinion, and between rant and grounded opinion” (Marcus, 1964).

Marcus’s main argument, however, lies in the difficulty of conveying the point above in the current language environment and in relation to students’ fixed (and sometimes contradictory) values/beliefs. Although here “current” is 1960s, the supporting points made in the article remain relevant. Marcus points out the difficulty of learning how to write with honesty and clarity when inflated, untruthful language is so rampant. He uses advertising as a supporting point, with the example that his baby’s “meat jars” are labeled “‘our most precious product'” (Marcus, 1964).

Regarding students’ sometimes contradictory values and beliefs (for example that everyone is moral, but expediency is valued over morality), Marcus points out that it may be sometimes difficult to find a framework within which to criticize students’ detail, reasoning, clarity and themes (Marcus 1964). Critiquing from outside this framework may alienate the teacher from the students; criticizing from within may reinforce these views.

Although I think that this article was written with a somewhat condescending tone toward students, I nonetheless found it to be interesting and valuable. Marcus points out that it is our duty to analyze the misuse of language and the underlying desire for power without presenting our analysis as the final truth. He effectively details the complex negotiating process involved in teaching composition. This article provided me with the answer I was looking for, so I would definitely recommend it.

 

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