Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Which Texts?  Which Streets?  Two-Year College Faculty and the 4Cs
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College 
Session B-27: "Class Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Replication of Class-Based Hierarchies in Composition"
CCCC, 21 March 2002, Chicago
 

First, a quote from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I am no scientist.  I explore the neighborhood.  An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment.  He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn.  In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cock-sure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place.  Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why.  (Dillard 11-12) 

My neighborhood is Whatcom Community College, a medium-sized two-year college in the northwest corner of the United States.  My closest neighbors are students and faculty who are taking and teaching composition courses—basic through advanced.  The majority of the students are working toward the transfer degree, planning to attend nearby Western Washington University or some other four-year institution in the state.  The majority of the composition faculty are part-time (75%), teaching two classes per quarter. 

The students in my neighborhood are the people I interact with the most.  Many of them hold the working-class beliefs about higher education described by Julie Lindquist in the CCC article “Class Ethos and the Politics of Inquiry” (December 1999).   Many believe in knowledge that is useful and that will “get them somewhere,” focusing on the rise in status that a college education can lead to.  They have a tendency to value work over play—work that produces tangible results.  And like the people Lindquist describes, many are skeptical about “all of the questioning” we do in higher education, and even view critical thinking as a manipulative trap that academics use to assert authority (232).  

The faculty in my neighborhood teach primarily composition.  I interact with some of these neighbors once a day, passing in the hallways or stopping by an office; and I talk with them about teaching-related issues maybe twice a week.  The part-time faculty often have other jobs.  The full-time faculty perform numerous administrative tasks.  We all have full workloads.  When asked if they read composition theory these days, most of them, full- and part-time, say no, and when asked why not, most will say “no time.”  They have extremely busy lives—very little leisure time to sit beside Tinker Creek and reflect upon the neighborhood. 

Most of my colleagues, and many like us, don’t participate actively in the Cs.  Our texts are not generally found here, our streets not explored.  I’ve been asking myself why.  We community college faculty are busy, yes, but there are other factors at play.  For one thing, there is a kind of skepticism among faculty not unlike that among students.  Perhaps it comes from our “lower-class status” in academia as community college faculty.  Perhaps it comes from the working-class backgrounds and values that many of us have.  Perhaps it comes from our tendency to relate more directly to the others in our local neighborhood than to those at the four-year institutions where we got our degrees and where the majority of the composition theorists reside. 

At the two-year college, our daily discourse is not the discourse of the CCCC.  Our neighborhood doesn’t look like the ones so often written about in the literature, and our texts (students’ and faculty’s) don’t read like them either.  When we find ourselves reading the journals or attending the conventions, we are often aware that we are Other. 

Yet there are so many neighborhoods like ours.  Nationwide, over 10 million students attend community colleges, 44% of all undergraduates.  In this group are 46% of all African American students in higher education, 55% of all Hispanic students, 46% of first-time freshmen (“About Community Colleges”).  The discipline of composition includes all of those who take and teach writing at these colleges. 

And I?  I am a working-class woman who has been “so startlingly set down” in an academic neighborhood, a composition instructor with professional and working-class values and ties.  Have I become, or will I become, a squatter who has come to feel she owns the place?   

I’d like us to reconsider our assumptions about the students and faculty in a neighborhood like mine, with the hope that this process will lead us to include more two-year faculty and students in the ongoing research and discussions within the discipline of composition.  I invite you to come visit the two-year college neighborhoods and to read some of our texts. 

 

Works Cited 

“About Community Colleges” and “Statistical Guide: National Community College Snapshot.”  The Voice of Community Colleges.  2002.  American Association of Community Colleges.  Online.  23 February 2002. <http://www.aacc.nche.edu/> 

Dillard, Annie.  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 

Lindquist, Julie.  “Class Ethos and the Politics of Inquiry.”  College Composition and Communication 51 (1999): 225-247.


Here is the handout:

Which Texts?  Which Streets?  Two-Year College Faculty and the 4Cs
CCCC Session B-27, 21 March 2002, Chicago
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College

 

Identifying and challenging assumptions:

  • How do we view two-year colleges?  and the composition taught on these campuses?

  • How do we view the students at these colleges?  and their texts?

  • How do we view composition faculty at these campuses?  the part-time faculty?  the tenured faculty?  those who don’t study composition theory?  those who do not participate in this organization or others like it?

  • How do we view the role of composition in education?  How do we view the role of the 4Cs in composition teaching and in education in general?

Rethinking the issues:

  • How might our assumptions about two-year faculty and students work to inhibit rhetorical agency for community college instructors of writing?

  • How does social class affect our assumptions and practices related to two-year college composition teaching?

  • What are some of the reasons for under-representation of two-year college faculty in our organization and at this convention?

  • What do we gain from the system as it stands?  How do we benefit from the assumptions we hold about two-year colleges and their composition faculty?

Two-year college texts and streets:

  • What is being done within this organization to encourage two-year college faculty’s involvement?  How effective are these efforts?

  • What more can we do to encourage two-year college faculty’s involvement in this organization and at this convention?

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Why should compositionists care about two- and four-year open admissions education . . . ?  We want you to see that the “discipline” of composition takes place in the interactions of teachers and students in open admissions composition classes. . . .  [W]e thus ask that you reverse the usual thinking about open admissions education.  Rather than regarding it as at the “margin” of our profession, we want you to consider the teaching of writing in open admissions sites as central to the historical formation and continuing practice of composition studies.  We ask you to reflect on how such a shift in thinking might change views of the profession and redirect attention to work compositionists need to do for the future. . . .  (Lewiecki-Wilson and Sommers 440)

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Factors that can limit two-year college faculty’s participation in the larger disciplinary conversations:

Discomfort and what to do about it: It can be difficult to express the discomfort we feel as two-year faculty, and the responses, when we do so, can make us even more uncomfortable.  Jeff Sommers explains,

At a major conference for composition teachers, researchers, and scholars, I attended a workshop for two-year college teachers.  As part of a small group focused on faculty development, I asked the group at one point whether they felt any sense of discomfort at the conference, any sense of not being entirely welcome.  I asked because I had noticed that most of the sessions in which I participated were attended by either four-year or two-year faculty but rarely by a mixed group.  I was eager to engage in a discussion of our experiences and perceptions, but what I encountered was silence.  No one in my small group had anything at all to say.  I still do not know how to read that silence: Was it denial?  Was I so wrong in my perceptions that they were stunned?  Had I broken some taboo by asking such a question?  (34)

Part-time status and implications: Approximately 65% of two-year college faculty are adjunct, according to the CCCC Task Force on Part-time Faculty.  A need to remain employed can affect these faculty members’ desire to speak out, both locally and globally. Adjunct faculty know that to speak can be risky.  Helena Worthen writes about one adjunct who is told to raise students’ grades; in this situation , a faculty member’s interest and training in theory quickly becomes beside the point.

All the theory in the world won’t help her when she is told by someone whose goodwill she depends on to “raise all the grades one letter.”  In fact, she does read theory.  This particular instructor has a Ph.D.  She keeps up with the journals in her field and pays her own way to conferences.  But how will professional development help her at a moment like this?  What would her knowledge of these impossible choices contribute to a discussion about initiation into the culture of the academy, polyvocalism, dialogic pedagogy, and the appropriation of discursive forms?  It is at a moment like this that the concerns of this instructor’s disciplinary specialty do not seem contiguous to the realities of her work. . . .  [T]he conditions of contingent teaching silence debate about disciplinary concerns: to disagree fundamentally about how to do your job with someone who has power over your job is to risk losing your job.  (44-5)

How much collegiality is possible when instructors are in competition with each other for the scarce resource of the approval of a manager, which leads to getting rehired?  (Worthen 50) 

Resistance to theory: Community college faculty may opt not to involve themselves in theoretical reading and discussions for various reasons (see also Svehla on “anti-intellectualism”).  In “Fear of Theory,” Margaret Price explores the relationship between non-tenure-track faculty—the majority of community college faculty—and theory.

[A]mong this population there may be a fairly high resistance to engaging with theories, pedagogical and otherwise.  I know there was . . . in my case.  First, there was the nature of my job; hired to teach, I was evaluated as a teacher, but never asked to place my teaching practices in a larger context, to link them to the practices of others teachers, or to write down any of my ideas.  In other words, I received an implicit message that my job was to teach and not to theorize.  Second, I was intimidated.  I didn’t know the customs, the passwords, and the gestures of this club comprising “real” academics.  My solution was to decide that most real academics—“theory heads,” as I called them—were posturing phonies who didn’t do much actual work.  (A8)

Professionalization in the field: Composition theorists’ attempts to establish the field as a professional discipline may have widened the gap between two- and four-year faculty.  Along with Joseph Harris and others, Bruce Horner argues against a focus on professionalization in our field, claiming that such an emphasis leads us to try to distance ourselves from the practice of teaching composition—and, by extension, I would add, from the two-year college composition program.

In its attempts to establish itself as a professional academic discipline, Composition has distanced itself from what is often identified as its “traditional” concerns with the immediate demands of teaching.  Within the discourse of professionalism, such concerns are thought to interfere with the efforts to establish an explicated body of knowledge about writing (in general) that compositionists can claim as the subject of their professional expertise—knowledge that they can acquire, add to (produce), and distribute.  (366)

Composition can draw upon [the] practical knowledge embodied in the practices of traditions of writing and the teaching of writing, rather than displacing it with knowledge sanctioned by academic discipline.  For compositionists to do so, however, means foregoing the distinctions between professionals and laity. . . .  It means, in short, redefining the work of Composition and ourselves as workers working with, rather than for, on, or in spite of, students and the public.  Composition would have to recognize, and realign itself with its teaching—not in opposition to research or theorizing, nor to embrace martyrdom, nor as a new strategy to achieve distinction from the public as professionals—but as the primary site where Composition work takes place, in concert with students.  (388)

 

Works Cited 

Horner, Bruce.  “Traditions and Professionalization: Reconceiving Work in Composition.”  College Composition and Communication 51 (2000): 366-398. 

Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia and Jeff Sommers.  “Professing at the Fault Lines: Composition at Open Admissions Institutions.”  College Composition and Communication 50 (1999): 438-462. 

Price, Margaret.  “Fear of Theory.”  Forum 4.1 (Fall 2000): A6-11. 

Sommers, Jeff and Karen Powers-Stubbs.  “’Where We Are Is Who We Are’: Location, Professional Identity, and the Two-Year College.” In The Politics of Writing in the Two-Year College.  Eds. Barry Alford and Keith Kroll.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2001.  19-41. 

Svehla, Lance.  “Philosopher-Kings and Teacher-Researchers: The Charge of Anti-Intellectualism in Composition’s Theory Wars.”  Teaching English in the Two-Year College 28.4 (2000): 383-392. 

Worthen, Helena.  “The Problem of the Majority Contingent Faculty in the Community Colleges.”  In The Politics of Writing in the Two-Year College.  Eds. Barry Alford and Keith Kroll.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2001.  42-60.

 

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015