Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"The Worst Part of the Dead Past": Language Attitudes, Policies, and Pedagogies at Syrian Protestant College, 1866-1902

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"The Worst Part of the Dead Past": Language Attitudes, Policies, and Pedagogies at Syrian Protestant College, 1866-1902

Article excerpt

The discipline of rhetoric and composition has emerged, and defined itself, largely within a US-based, monolingual context. As a result, it has proven dif- ficult for the discipline to consistently shift its gaze to writers, writing, and the teaching of writing outside of this framework. Two emerging conversations, focused respectively on international exchanges and translingual approaches, outline ways in which the discipline can productively broaden its scope beyond US borders and also challenge monolingual assumptions about writing prac- tices and pedagogy. Given contemporary political and global concerns, these conversations are both timely and necessary.

However, these emergent approaches-perhaps because of their very time- liness-have tended to focus on the present instead of the past. In this article, I hope to advance these conversations by adding a historical dimension using the case of Syrian Protestant College (SPC, today the American University of Beirut, AUB), located in Beirut; a site broadening our notion of what "counts" as com- position history. The archives suggest that the issue oflanguage(s)-including which language(s) should be taught and why, the effect of language(s) on students' identi- ties, and the power and cultural value at- tached to language and education-was of central concern to the college's founders, ultimately determining the pedagogical approaches taken and curricular decisions made at SPC in its early years. Indeed, the founders' attitudes about and personal experiences with language learning and its politics, particularly in relation to the multisectarian, multicultural, and multilingual context of the region, shaped language policies at SPC.

The case of SPC, between its founding in 1866 and the beginning of the twentieth century, demonstrates that there are many histories of writing in- struction outside of the United States worth exploring. A handful of scholars, including Charles Bazerman et al., Mary N. Muchiri et al., Chris Thaiss et al., and Xiaoye You, have begun to address international locations of writing, calling for increased attention to "countries that have different, complex, but well-established traditions in both writing research and writing instruction" (C. Donahue 241). As Christiane Donahue explains, the discipline will benefit from an increased focus on, and mutual engagement with, international loca- tions of writing because such a shift will allow the discipline to "adapt, resituate, and perhaps decenter" our assumptions about writing practices and pedago- gies (215). We will be more likely to make this shift if we can demonstrate that composition can claim not only an international present and future but also an international past.

Moreover, studying histories outside of the United States provides strong evidence that multilingual and translingual writing practices and pedagogies have a much longer history than is currently acknowledged in our scholarship. Some scholars have recently begun to call for compositionists to adopt a "new paradigm"-a "translingual approach"-to address the question of language dif- ference in writing (Horner et al. 303). These conversations, which have emerged out of conversations related to the politics of globalization, multilingualism, second-language writing, World Englishes, and Students' Rights to Their Own Language,1 provide an important critique of the monolingualism that often haunts our research and pedagogy, despite the fact that "[l]anguage use in our classrooms, our communities, the nation, and the world has always been multilingual" (Horner et al. 303). Because the translingual approach "view[s] [language] difference not as a problem but as a resource," composition scholars and teachers can understand "error" in a more productive way, one that attri- butes agency to writers (305). There is much to be gained from this approach, but its history-as well as its practical application in the classroom-remains underexamined. …

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