Surprisingly, the readings we have been doing in this class week to week have been fitting seamlessly with the work I am doing with my freshman Composition classes. I don’t know if the connection is really there, or if I am just forcing these readings to correspond with each other because I don’t have room to make other connections with my fried brain. None the less, I am finding aha moments that are helping me stumble through this class and the two I am teaching. Haswell quotes the ‘’Hitopadesa’’ in his chapter about growing: “Learning is a companion on a journey to a strange country; learning is strength inexhaustible” (30). This concept fits with the idea that our students today, like many throughout history, are fumbling their way through writing in college. They need to find authority (which is the million dollar word for my students’ upcoming writing project) in their writing in order for it to matter to them and to the community of the university. But the problem with assessing this (which also seems to be a theme in this discipline: what is the best way to assess…) authority is found in miscommunication between student and teacher. This disconnect is discussed in the findings of the ethnographic research: “the approach has found that students rarely imagine their status as nonlearners, as nongrowers, the students….have a certain right to their view. What looks like recidivism from our perspective may be growth from theirs” (33). Who are we to say they aren’t growing in their own eyes? We are expecting them to grow one way, and while we are looking for that development, we miss this entire new way in which they are developing.
Then to make matters worse, when they move into the advanced writing classes in their sophomore and junior level years, there is a one of two things they can expect: (1) they are no longer beginners in their writing and are not treated as learners, or (2) they are held to the same expectations as they were during their freshman writing classes (Haswell 34). So they’ve hopefully made some change in their first year, but what if the change, the new authority, is what the advanced writing teacher is expecting them to have made. This battle of whose authority is in charge of the classroom has never reached the sort of publicity it demands to find resolution, and Haswell intends to give it just that: attention. Who standards are most important in the content of the course: the teacher’s or the students? And who is evaluating who? He continues by offering an unfinished list of what the advanced writing teachers expects from the second and third year student. However, these changes are not found consistently in a blind holistic grading project of writing from freshman, sophomores, and juniors. So what is the answer in this new age question of whose standards are at the center of the course content? Haswell offers that the next step in deciding is maturity: “growth alone does not establish standards, which change with learning but remain standards. Teachers are paid no to help students grow but to grow up” (62). And in his next chapter he will explore the foundation of the argument that with maturity comes better writing.
This shift in teaching methods and outlooks is also discussed in Chapter 2 of Otte and Mlynarczyk. BW has been a field of this discipline that has more than not been shoved on the bottom back shelf of the storage room. Ira Shor is quoted explaining BW’s position on the totem pole: “In education, BW is less than freshman comp, below comp” (Otte and Mlynarczyk 47). With this hierarchal structure already towering over BW and its students, there is no room for the growth or maturity that is unexpected from the teachers. Not only were the expectations (or lack thereof) of the schools, teachers, etc. weighing heavy on these students and their performance, but their own critical eye of being labeled into this status also causes hindrance on their performance. However, a change did occur and it helped develop a direction for BW: “teachers who five years ago questions the educability of these students now know of their capabilities and have themselves undergone many shifts in attitude and methodology” (Shaughnessy qtd. in Otte and Mlynarczyk 48). So what it seems is the recurring downfall is the expectations and standards that are put on these students before they even step in the classroom. And I’ll tell you, this isn’t easy to admit in this response that will be read by my peers and my supervisor for teaching comp, I have already been guilty of this. I catch myself being surprised everyday by the work and effort that comes from more than half of my students. I realize now that there will always be the few that don’t care and never will, but for me to have established that ground for all my students to start off on is wrong, but it seems to be a better surprise then to holding a standard that is unattainable by my students and leaving them in the dust to figure it out.