An Ethic of Service in Composition and Rhetoric

By Adler-Kassner, Linda; Roen, Duane | Academe, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview

An Ethic of Service in Composition and Rhetoric


Adler-Kassner, Linda, Roen, Duane, Academe


Serving the profession through principle doesn't mean teaching "service courses."

Research, teaching, and service-the traditional tripartite division of academic work. The kind of institution and the nature of institutional priorities have some bearing on the arrangement of the first two parts, but service always comes last. From our shared perspective as faculty members and administrators in writing studies, though, the nature of service is both more meaningful and more complicated than this seemingly straightforward arrangement would suggest. For us, service is simultaneously an integral part of the teaching and research that we do (which, we should note, are also virtually inseparable) and a problematic label that is often attached to many of the courses that we teach, especially at the first-year level.

In our work, the term service applies to a range of activities. Certainly, it includes participation in departmental, campus, and cross-campus committees. But to conceive of service only from this perspective negates the principles that lie beneath our approach to activities in which we partake in the name of service. This approach affects both the choices we make when we serve and the perspective we bring to the sites of service. For us, service is an important practice that involves working from a set of principles. At their core, these principles are reflected in a portion of the mission of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), the organization that Duane currently serves as president and Linda as immediate past president. That mission, in part, says that we "believe in writing and writers" and "advocate for effective writing programs." Extending from these principles, we see service as an opportunity to build alliances with others on campus and within the community, thus enlarging our experiences (which contribute to our research and our teaching) and, ultimately, the experiences of our students.

These principles have also led us to talk from a particular perspective with others in and outside our field about composition and rhetoric and the classes we teach. The content of our discipline involves studying how texts are produced, used, distributed, and circulated in particular contexts. In our classes, students study this content by analyzing and practicing textual production in context. Theory and practice are blended. Too often, however, composition courses-especially first-year writing courses-are conceived of only as service. They are seen as serving students, faculty members, and the institution by teaching writers particular kinds of skills that they will use elsewhere-in other classes and in other contexts such as internships or jobs. And although we do help students develop writing, reading, and thinking strategies that can be used across contexts, that development is grounded in the content of our discipline. Conceptualizing writing courses only as service, then, erases the content of our discipline. Thus, although we embrace the concept of service, we are careful to attend to the ways it is applied to our work as researchers and teachers and to the courses that we teach.

ADVOCACY FOR WRITERS

Our perspectives on service have led us to make a number of choices throughout our academic careers- for Duane, a career now in its fourth decade, and for Linda, one now in its third-that have involved advocating for students, courses, and our discipline as something that extends beyond conventional notions of service.

Duane has served the CWPA as an executive board member and an officer. In the Conference on College Composition and Communication, he has served as an officer, an executive committee member, and a member of numerous other committees. He has served on several committees for the National Council of Teachers of English. At the state level, he has served as an officer, executive board member, and conference cochair for the Arizona English Teachers Association.

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