Academic journal article College English

Rhetoric, Mathematics, and the Pedagogies We Want: Empowering Youth Access to Twenty-First Century Literacies

Academic journal article College English

Rhetoric, Mathematics, and the Pedagogies We Want: Empowering Youth Access to Twenty-First Century Literacies

Article excerpt

In recent decades, a committed group of English studies scholars has participated actively in public debates about education, particularly in relation to the ongoing standardization movement. Among the more notable of these efforts is the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, the result of a collaboration between members of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project. With its emphasis on habits of mind that are "essential for success in college writing," the Framework seeks to impart disciplinary expertise on the question of what constitutes "college readiness" while simultaneously encouraging relationships between college writing programs, English departments, and K-12 language arts departments.1 Granted, the Framework is not without its critics, as was made clear in a July 2012 College English symposium (Hansen; McComiskey; Summerfield and Anderson). But, as Linda Adler- Kassner argued in her plenary address for the 2012 Writing Program Administrators' (WPA) Conference, scholars are much better offarticulating to a broad public what they want to see happen in education rather than merely expressing dissatisfaction to disciplinary colleagues about what they do not want to see ("The Company(ies)").2

The exigence of this struggle is enormous. Too often, decisions about pedagogy and assessment override the voices of teachers and scholars in favor of other agendas amid the nation's growing education-industrial complex. In regard to the Common Core State Standards, for example, Doug Hesse contends that the "overall view of writing is out of sync in vital ways not only with professional writing teacher views but also the expansive literate practices currently in play." Hesse fears that "one result will be to widen the gap between writing in school and 'writing in life,' in ways that will make many students even more cynical about academic writing" (13). Beyond writing, the standardization movement has broad social justice implications, in that the harmful effects of high-stakes testing have been disproportionately felt by low-income students of color. Pauline Lipman likens this "regime of inspection, testing, probation, and student retention" to a system of "colonial governance" that assumes poor and minority communities are incapable of collective agency and selfdetermination (58).

In light of these concerns, I seek to consider here how English studies teachers and scholars can fight for the pedagogies they want in partnership with like-minded colleagues in mathematics. After all, mathematics is perhaps the only discipline in American higher education other than rhetoric and composition that people outside the field consistently frame as a service discipline.3 Further, though it is commonly assumed that fields associated with English and mathematics have little in common, there are several important areas of intersection. As Joanna Wolfe explains in her essay "Rhetorical Numbers: A Case for Quantitative Writing in the Composition Classroom,"

[r]hetoric and composition, literacy studies, and quantitative literacy [. . .] have all embraced the influential ideals of John Dewey, who persuasively argued that civic participation in a democratic society requires a liberating literacy that prepares citizens to think for themselves. They all emphasize communication and reasoning, not as they occur in isolated academic settings but in complex, real-world contexts where individuals must reason through a sea of often contradictory information in order to come to an informed opinion. (454)

Though she does not address these harmonies from an explicitly social justice perspective, Wolfe does emphasize a civic connectedness across disciplines. She also perceives numerous opportunities for interdisciplinary reciprocity, noting that "[q]uantitative argument (including statistics, charts, and numbers) is saturated with rhetoric. We need to move beyond epistemologies that limit rhetoric to something one does with words and extend our rhetorical principles to numerical arguments and their visual representations" (456). …

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