In her piece, Lauer argues that the teaching of strict composition is stifling and does not fit in with the reality of our interconnected world. The following explains a pedagogy that is stiff and highly formulaic:
From the mid-1960s, members of the emerging field of rhetoric and composition began to challenge the teaching of writing as ‘product’ in which papers were assigned, handed in and graded. Such teaching also focused on reading and discussing essays, completing exercises on style, and repeating drills on grammar. Little, if any attention, was paid to helping students get started, investigate ideas, consider readers, receive feedback on drafts or revise (Lauer page 112).
Lauer explains that the use of rhetoric as a means of communicating ideas should also be incorporated in teaching students how to write a traditional essay (example of the latter: development of an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion). Unfortunately, she does not give a laser depiction of what rhetoric is and leaves the reader guessing. As cited by Lauer, the art of rhetoric went back to the time of the ancient Greeks (page 107). Rhetoric is “a technique of using language effectively and persuasively in spoken or written form. It is an art of discourse which studies and employs various methods to convince, influence, or please an audience” (https://literarydevices.net/rhetoric/).
The following video explains the use of rhetoric by classical Greek philosophers, which is still just as important to writing in these post-modern times. It also examines the terms of ethos, pathos and logos, which Lauer mentions on page 109:
Lauer encourages instructors to incorporate rhetoric in their teaching of composition so that their students can benefit from a richer writing education. She also explains that writing is very much tied to individual experiences and that professors should encourage students to incorporate their own lenses in their writing (i.e. feminism, gender-identity, race). I see this as a dual ambition. Writing with the use of a particular lens develops voice and also anticipates a distinct audience.
The methodologies that should be implemented in marrying rhetoric to composition are: planning, brain-storming, pre-writing , the submission of drafts and peer review. Lauer appears to emphasize that writing is an organic and evolving art and that it should be taught in a manner that reflects that fact.
Lauer elucidates the 1980s “rhizomatic spread of theory,” which involves making connections among others as well as conceiving thoughts among peers and across social, economic and cultural borders. A rhizome is:
a stem that grows underground. It usually grows horizontally, just below the soil’s surface. Since it’s a stem, it has nodes and is able to put out other stems, usually straight up and above ground. This means a patch of what looks like several individual plants grouped near each other may actually all be shoots of the same plant, put up by the same rhizome (Lizz Baessler, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/bgen/what-is-a-rhizome.htm).
Photo of a rhizome in nature
Lauer explains that writing should not be taught in a strictly linear, hierarchical way. Ideas breed in a horizontal manner and are affected by the writer’s society, interpersonal and cross-cultural connections. She stresses the importance that the teacher should not be the intended spectator; rather, the student writer should develop his or her own sense of who his or her audience is. This makes writing dynamic, current and important. Imposing borders on students on what type of writing is acceptable serves only to frustrate their learning processes.
It is important to note that Lauer never states that the teaching of composition should be discarded. Traditional conventions such as composing sound sentence-structure are important. Rather, her thesis is that rhetoric and composition must be taught as one.
Lauer’s article resonated with me because I was like the child in the photo above, frustrated by my writing classwork and homework. My elementary education was very formulaic in the sense that we were shown what was good writing in our readers and then we were told to write an essay on a topic. Certainly, we were taught grammar and that such a piece should contain an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion and what those things were, but that was the extent of it. What resulted was an endless flow of book reports, which are glorified summaries that do not capture student perspective. Developing unique critical lenses were not lauded in my very traditional Catholic elementary school. Written expressive art was mostly reserved for days on which we had talent shows. I did have one seventh-grade teacher, Miss Kuehl, who rocked the boat by having us read unexpected novels like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George and having us write about the story lines from different characters’ perspectives. We also wrote alternative endings to novels and she taught us to appreciate art in all forms and cultures. We even had a potlatch, which is a North-American Indian ceremonial feast. This was frowned upon by Sister Superior Inez because we were out of our seats (the horror). Needless to say Miss Kuehl did not last long at our school.
I was very frustrated by writing to yield a product because I did not feel that I was exploring something new. I did not have the vocabulary then to express it, but voice and peer interconnectedness were among the things that were missing. Moreover, formulaic writing affected my own pieces in my early years because I simply did not understand the concept of a draft. Consequently, there were many crumpled loose-leaf pages containing one or two sentences in my trash bin at home. I was hard on myself because I perceived that the order of the day was to get things right the first time. I had no notion of what pre-writing was until I went to high school.
However, the real metamorphosis came when I went to college. It was there that I learned the power of rhetoric, drafts and using a paper to pose new questions to my audience. A conclusion was no longer a summary of what had been written; rather it was a challenge to both myself and my audience about what further themes could be explored. I also learned the importance of brainstorming with classmates of diverse cultural backgrounds about topics in order to gain fresh perspectives.
In terms of my own creative writing today, I sometimes feel demoralized if I have to write more than one draft after my first original try. However, I am learning that this is a necessary part of the process of writing. As Lauer and other literary critics have explained, the pedagogical crux of writing lies in the process and not the product.
I would have liked Lauer to cite more concrete examples of her theories rather than bolstering her opinion based on the scholarship of other colleagues in her field. This would have been helpful to create a more tangible understanding of the points that she made.
With that, I leave you with a poem inspired by Lauer’s article and my early elementary school self:
Chalk on a blackboard, dust
Cursive instructions explained in Sr. Ruth’s double starched voice.
Do this, Do not do that
Write like the classic writers.
This is not a talent show
Wait until next month
To use your own voice and create.
I did not ask for a poem.
Today I want you to obey and emulate.
#2 The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging (Powell and Menendian)
Visual depiction of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1890).
I was inspired to include this image due to the stunning photographs that were part of this article. The main character in this short story is a woman who feels trapped by the rigorous social conventions of the time. Thus, she seeks to unravel herself from her bedroom’s kaleidoscopically confining yellow wallpaper that that threatens her selfhood and sanity (the wallpaper moves and tries to ensnare her). She tries to rip herself away from her own otherness.
The authors of this piece argue that the language of “the other” is one of alienation and feeling separate from the majority. This reminds me of the song “Creep” by Radiohead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nZqfWo5UN4). This otherness is not innate; rather, it is learned in social groups.
Politicians can act as demagogues by appealing to our next door neighbors’ fear of “the other,” and thus they capitalize on this fear so as to create a culture of exclusion. This includes perpetuating organized and entrenched prejudice against illegal immigrants, minorities, and other marginalized groups. The authors state:
The idea of stoking anxiety, resentment, or fear of the ‘other’ is not a new electoral strategy in American politics. Appeals to nativism, racism and xenophobia are evident in almost every period of American history….
Many autocratic and authoritarian leaders stoke nationalism or resentment or fears of the ‘other’ to prop up or reinforce their own support…Demagogues actively inculcate and organize that fear into a political force. Where prejudice was latent, it is being activated; where it is absent, it is being fostered (Part I, Demagoguery and Power).
It is interesting that by embracing the concept of the other, people can huddle together and belong to insular groups where they are bonded by their fear. In essence, they can create a perverse sense of “belonging.”The authors explain that “othering” is an active process in which perpetuating the recognition of sameness is the order of the day. In this framework, people are taught to identify exclusively with their own cultures and religions. This creates the inculcation of organized division, which breeds hate and concomitant violence. This reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s appeal to society in asking “What’s Going On?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6jKE6YIxmc). As in Nazi Germany, the sharp and cruel delineations of “others” is just the first step. Campaigns of exclusion, violence and death often borne by such categorizations.
The authors argue that the only manner in which “otherness” may be overcome is by creating “belongingness” in our communities and throughout the world. First, the “other,” must be humanized and his or her distinct features as a human being must be understood and embraced. That is not to say that national identity or unique religious/racial identity should be shunted. Inclusion is not a zero-sum game. Powell and Menendian argue for “empathy and collective solidarity” to be developed as bridges from one group of persons to another (Conclusion) (emphasis added). This reminds me of Atticus Finch’s exhortation to his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it” (https://bookroo.com/quotes/atticus-finch). Once we can understand each other, we can have meaningful conversations that are conducive to solving problems. A conversation cannot be had unless distinct voices are recognized and respected.
Powell and Menendian make arguments that are essential to our changing political and socio-economic landscape. However, I disagree with them on several points. In the Introduction, the authors refer to the Paris and Brussels terror attacks and they suggest that they resulted from “the lack of cultural and geographical integration of ethnic and racial immigrant groups.” I find this to be false. There are people who exist on the extreme fringes of society who are so filled with venomous hatred that violence is their only outlet. It is these individuals who are responsible for terror attacks and such extremists will always be attracted to destruction.
I also disagree with the characterization of Israel as a colonizer of the Palestinians, which is cited in Footnote 51 in Section II, The Mechanics of Othering. I find that media viewers tend to collapse all of Israel into the territory of the West Bank. Without getting into the politics of that particular issue, it is important to understand that the country is actually beautiful and peaceful. Moreover, it would be folly to deny that Israel is a small, but mighty ally of the United States as well as an innovator in the burgeoning field of cybersecurity.
Powell and Menendian’s article has tremendous implications for my own writings. It makes me aware that I should push to think as Atticus Finch would and then incorporate the results in both my poetry and prose. While my own personal and familial experiences are important to me, I should be aware of different perspectives and should diversify my literary audience to include people who do not look and speak like I do. The United States is such a rich tapestry of people (gay, straight, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, etc.) that we must recognize all of its threads. As implied by the authors, this is not something that can be done overnight; however, it behooves us to make sure that the threads of the tapestry do not fray or are cut off entirely and indiscriminately. It is only in this manner that true belongingness can be created.