Horner & Shipka Against Stasis

Response to Bruce Horner’s Rewriting Composition Chapter 4, Value, and Jody Shipka’s Towards a New Composition Intro and Chapters 1 and 2

In response to Bruce Horner’s and Jody Shipka’s ideas about a composition coursed based in translingualism and mediated action, respectively, Alexandria Janney, a colleague, asks “if the general population of faculty and staff in Composition is on board, where is the best place to start with enacting these [curricular] changes?” Initially, this was also the question I was left with at the conclusion of these readings, understanding that such a sea change in Composition would necessitate its embrace by all human agents involved. Should it be the responsibility of WPAs to enact such a curricular change, or would that merely engender a paternalistic tone that’s been to the potential detriment of programmatic coherence? If not them then, what about Composition instructors themselves working towards process-centric approaches in an effort to empower themselves and their students? Or would their efforts solely be seen as avoidance of the real work of Composition classes, and soon enough squashed?

Once I started thinking that maybe the answer is all of the above simultaneously, I started to ask a different question. How would the tension of external relevance (Horner 52) impact attempts at removing product-based ideas of the Composition course? And in thinking of external relevance, I’m not thinking of some tyrannical opponent of these changes in the form of either the university institution or Western neoliberalism incarnated as multinational corporation (although I imagine both may take issue with what Horner and Shipka think). Instead, I wonder how people enrolled in composition would respond to a course that exists outside the realm of static, product-oriented views of composition.

Stasis seems to be one the major underlying principles Horner and Shipka identify to be the fault with Composition as it is currently practiced (Horner 26, Shipka 13). And in this static view of writing there is also the implication of something frozen long enough for it to be tangible, a package one prepays for at the beginning of the semester when someone pays tuition, and they’re plopped into one of many Composition sections. In most other courses with disciplinary status, students would leave better comprehending the manner in which chemical elements or contemporary economic principles function. They leave with a package that they can later refer to when considering just what exactly they learned in those courses. Composition, in the view of Horner and Shipka, disrupts that idea of a package of knowledge. Students wouldn’t leave knowing something reducible to an elevator pitch, they would learn complexity, nuance, and the myriad of ways social and linguistic systems have shaped their world and enforced existing power structures. How would that be received by students raised in a neoliberal capitalist world as anything but a political move that likely calls into question Compositionist instructors’ motives, especially if the curriculum of other courses maintain the status quo?

It seems to me then that for such a curricular change in Composition to be considered anything but a drastic piece of political performance art, we should also look to allies across the disciplines equally exhausted by their perceived ineffectiveness in meeting product-oriented goals. By enlisting them to a larger cause, Composition as a field may reduce the likelihood of appearing as a bunch of eccentrics hoping to get students to do their work for them. So yes, I’m calling for a clearly politicized move, but one that works to enact even more broadly the same resistance to stasis that Horner and Shipka recommend.

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