Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Pomo Blues: Stories From
First-Year Composition
Lee Ann Carroll

Lee Ann Carroll is Professor of English and Director of Composition at Pepperdine University. She has published articles on adult literacy and composition pedagogy in College Composition and Communication and College English. The following article is from College English, 59, December 1997.

I begin my essay with some examples of fairly conventional, but, I believe, effective student responses to some typical writing assignments. These do not represent a startling new pedagogy, but should sound familiar to those who actually teach writing, to first-year students rather than those who like to think about how others should do it. A postmodernist perspective, now permeating composition studies, challenges us to rethink what we are doing when we read, write, and talk our way through projects like the ones I will describe. What difference does it make to think of the stories students tell not as the authentic reflections of autonomous individuals but as verbal artifacts heavily structured by the cultural and institutional contexts in which they are produced? What do first-year students need to know about decentering the subject, the multivocal text, and the interrelations of discourse and culture? The classroom is our second home, and our writing assignments can seem like natural, fairly straightforward transactions between a teacher and students. But playing in the background is what Lester Faigley at the 1993 CCCC called the “Pomo Blues. ” We have read Faigley's Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition, Harkin and Schilb's Contending With Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Postmodern Age, Susan Miller's Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, and articles drawing on postmodernist theory by Kurt Spellmeyer, James Berlin, Gary Olson, and others. These sources examine the work of postmodern thinkers in philosophy, literature, and political theory and argue for the impact they might have on the practice of teaching writing.

At the heart of the postmodernist shift in the classrooin is a shift in the conception of the teacher and the student writer. In the past, both might

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