Culture Shock and the Practice of Profession: Training the Next Wave in Rhetoric & Composition

By Blue, Tim | Composition Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Culture Shock and the Practice of Profession: Training the Next Wave in Rhetoric & Composition


Blue, Tim, Composition Studies


Culture Shock and the Practice of Profession: Training the Next Wave in Rhetoric & Composition, edited by Virginia Anderson and Susan Romano. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2006. 352 pp.

I have come to discover that many fellow rhet/compers choose the field for similar reasons as I did: First, the field teaches a practical, useful skill: writing. Second, jobs abound (supposedly) in rhetoric and composition whereas jobs in literature can be tough to come by. Finally, the relative youth of the field leaves much to study, to theorize, to write, and to learn, and we all want to be a part of something seminal and exciting. From my vantage point, with only the above list motivating my hopes and dreams of what my career might look like, I found the essays, stories and reports in Culture Shock and the Practice of Profession both refreshing and harrowing.

Anderson and Romano have set out to craft a series of essays that offers three perspectives on what the work of a rhetoric and composition professional looks like: "Experienced teachers and administrators designing the preparation of future faculty . . . graduate students grappling with their own unstable situations . . . and newly hired PhDs [who can speak about] what it feels like to be suddenly 'out there'" (4). These three perspectives are offered within three sub-categories that divide the book. Section 1, entitled "Being (Out) There: What We Got and How It Served," focuses on stories from new and old members of the field reporting on how well served they have been by their PhD programs. Section 2, called "Models and Frameworks for Change," offers practical advice on how PhD programs in rhetoric and composition should consider changing to meet the realities of the work said PhDs will be asked to do. Finally, section 3, "Visions Light and Dark," suggests new (sometimes radically new) ideas about how to shape a different sort of future, one that better meets the needs of up-and-coming professionals.

In chapter 1, Lisa Langstraat and Julie Lindquist lead off the book with a common theme: a sense of under-preparedness for the "emotional demands" and "pragmatic skills" of real-world work in rhet/comp. Chapter 2's authors, on the other hand, claim that their doctoral work was too focused on practice and not focused enough on training scholars to engage a relevant audience. Chapters 3 through 6 delve into specific types of programs and institutions, such as Technical Communication studies, online teaching, two-year college teaching, and Writing Program administration, and all three come to similar conclusions: PhD programs need (but often fail) to "respond to the communit[ies] of diverse students [they] teach, rather than relying on an abstract definition of what graduate school is supposed to be" (84). At the end of this opening section, Scott Stevens succinctly sums up the problem, saying that "graduate study fails by not teaching us about the seemingly trivial things" (140).

Section 2 of the book picks up where section 1 leaves off, calling in chapters 7, 8 and 11 for future WPAs to be trained as citizens-rhetors by faculty who maintain a "leader-with-others ethos" rather than a "leader-above-others" ethos (146). Too much information about the realities of writing program administration gets transferred merely by observation rather than by explicit education in such matters. Textbooks are needed that directly address the practical, intellectual and political work that goes into writing program administration. In the midst of much repetition, Carter et al., in "It's a Two-Way Street," offer particularly helpful insights into issues of race in mentor-mentee relationships among faculty and graduate students. They, along with Sosnoski and Burmester in chapter 16, call for new models of authority in the teacherstudent relationship in the belief that "strategies for cultivating individual relationships" are much more helpful in promoting intellectual achievement than traditional "helping behaviors" offered by teachers to students (257). …

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