Academic journal article Reader

The Vanishing Presence of Students in Composition Studies

Academic journal article Reader

The Vanishing Presence of Students in Composition Studies

Article excerpt

CCCC, 1996

The last twenty years or so of composition studies mark a trend worth examining: the more theoretical the talk, the publication, the reflection, the less audible and visible are students' voices and perspectives. Indeed it can be argued that the language of composition studies, long considered the lowbrow version of literary studies, tends to circulate beyond disciplinary boundaries, and be engaged and responded to in other sectors of English Studies when and if that language is not contaminated by particular kinds of student vernaculars. Even "pedagogy," the theory and science of how teachers communicate with, walk along (rather than in front of) and learn with and from students, once exported to or requisitioned by areas bordering with composition, has become a means of showcasing the theory or the theorist, and "forgetting" the student.

In my talk today, I want to look at the kind of visibility that two major refereed journals grant students and their writing. I examined almost every issue of College English and College Composition and Communication published in the last fifteen years or so to get a sense of the kind of statement these journals make about the place of student work in the scholarship of teaching. I do this to point out the power of editorial practices as shapers and indicators of consequential cultural trends. In so far many scholars of composition first sample the field's reaction to their projects in the pages of these journals (which is not to say that these are the only two journals), it can be argued that the journal's implicit or explicit position on the visibility of student writing can powerfully influence directly a scholar's work and indirectly the field.

I began my analysis with the assumption that there would be significant correlation between specific critical theories and the visibility given to students in articles on teaching that put those theories into practice. But in the process of trying to test this assumption, I became interested more than I had expected in something else, something that I thought would only be a footnote to my talk. Let me provisionally call this something else the "structural design" of the article-something that has to do with the place, that is the appropriateness, and the placing, that is the location, of student writing in a scholarly article.

As I began to read through the journals looking for relevant articles, two things soon became evident: One, the word "pedagogy" in the tides was not a reliable predictor of students' presence in the articles. This did not surprise me, given the work I have done tracing the history of the term in U.S. education. Although the word "pedagogue" and its derivative "pedagogy" were coined to describe the role of the teacher as the one who leads or guides, the student, the first part of the word itself calls attention to the student (pais, paidos). However, the more theoretically sophisticated scholarship on teaching has become, the more the student has been ignored, or left behind. Two, the actual presence of student texts in the publications was not an index of visibility, if by visibility we mean adequate and responsible representation.

Here are some provisional conclusions. Even scholarly articles informed by theories of reading and writing which construct teaching as a knowledge producing interaction of teachers, learners, and subject matter, do not necessarily make visible the part that students play in this dynamic process. More often than not, scholarly writing on teaching unsettles or obscures a part of this relationship by exclusively focusing on the teacher as theorist or the subject matter she is trying to teach. In the first case, we have the type of scholarly article that introduces and argues for the adoption of a particular approach to and theory of knowledge production-be it in reading, writing, communication. In the second case, we may have scholarly writing that introduces and argues for a particular reading of a particular text in a classroom. …

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