Academic journal article College English

Writing and Rhetoric And/as Posthuman Practice

Academic journal article College English

Writing and Rhetoric And/as Posthuman Practice

Article excerpt

"We are habits, nothing but habits-the habit of saying 'I.' Perhaps, there is no more striking answer to the problem of the Self."

-Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing-a 2011 joint report outlining a general arc for preparing students for writing into and beyond college-is provocative in two related ways. First, the report assumes writing and writing instruction to be a continuous activity, positing that "[w]riting development takes place over time as students encounter different contexts, tasks, audiences, and purposes" (2). This claim is evident in that the report is itself a venture undertaken by three national education organizations that span several stages of writing instruction (Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project). Second, the report proposes cultivating students' "habits of mind" as the essential task for educators, countering current pedagogical orientations that instead focus humanities education on developing conscious and critical attention. "Habits of mind," the Framework states, "refers to ways of approaching learning that are both intellectual and practical and that will support students' success in a variety of fields and disciplines" (1). The document identifies eight such habits that writing instruction should value and cultivate: curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition. By characterizing writing and writing instruction as a continuous cultivation of habits, the Framework offers writing studies an occasion to reframe its practices for a time when always-on digital media and connected networks are upending our most deep-seated habits.

In a professional context, the report offers opportunity to revisit longstanding issues regarding preparation for college composition and materially influencing pedagogy at the local level. In fact, the report included and interested so many composition scholars that College English published a symposium (O'Neill, et al.) wherein scholars responded to the Framework by examining issues of articulation between high school and college (Severino); guidelines for discussing transitions (McComiskey); opportunity for extracurricular areas of assessment (Hansen); and an opening for engaging character (Sullivan). In another response, Kristine Johnson proposes that the Framework provides occasion for renewing classical rhetorical education in concert with the report's designed aims for writing studies and instruction. By positioning writing as a "way of being in the world," Johnson argues that the Framework isolates writing instruction to be an ideal site for shaping of ethical comportments though "ancient rhetoric and liberal arts" (519).

Johnson's central claim that the Framework offers possibility for renewing ancient rhetorical training is especially apt since, as noted, the report frames writing education as continuous and habitual, both key attributes of rhetorical training in antiquity. I further agree when Johnson argues for "positioning habits of mind as practices" and not as end goals in themselves (536, emphasis added). I pause, however, when Johnson and other responses position metacognition as central to rhetorical practice. Johnson connects metacognition with reflection, writing, "Beyond the seven other habits of mind outlined in the Framework, metacognition figures most prominently in our disciplinary landscape as reflection" and that, given the field's growing interest in transfer research, "the habit of metacognition will likely remain a significant area of disciplinary inquiry" (525).

When considering the moment to which Framework responds-a reconsideration of writing's central role in a humanities-based education-we could be falling back on outmoded habits by reemphasizing reflection as central to metacognition and practice. We might instead understand this moment as calling on us to respond differently by elaborating further on Johnson's rhetorical response to the Framework, connecting rhetoric to emerging appreciations for materiality and mediality. …

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