Time to Bring in the Experts

“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Over the past several blog posts I’ve discussed my desire to adopt a form of pedagogy that embraces minority and under-represented voices and create a place of validation and creativity in the first-year composition classroom. I’ve been reading so many theories lately and have been compiling bits of knowledge that I can apply once I begin teaching formally in the fall. But all this time, though, I haven’t really asked myself these questions: “What do the experts have to say on these positions? What is the general consensus in the FYC education community? Do my thoughts and stances on pedagogy align with any of my leaders?” Turns out, the answer to that last question is YES!

This week in our Composition Theory and Pedagogy class we deep dived into the position statements released by some of the leading organizations in English education – the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCC). There were many position statements to read through, but a couple stood out to me regarding the role of the English educator in FYC classrooms.

1) English Teachers Need to Know a Lot…and I Mean A LOT

According to the CCCC Position Statement on Preparing Teachers of College Writing, “there is a need for direction and clarity regarding what principles should inform the preparation and continued professional development of postsecondary writing instructors”. Further, “the study of writing is multidisciplinary, building on the work of rhetoricians, compositionists, cognitive psychologists, linguists, librarians, educators, and anthropologists”.

Phew, let me catch my breath there.

The overall point is that English requires so much more knowledge than just your basic prescriptive grammar norms, and therefore the FYC classroom should include many different facets of instruction, including: rhetorical knowledge, linguistic knowledge, instructional knowledge, ethical and effective research methods, and technical knowledge. English educators truly are jacks of all trades, and thus need to share their wealth of knowledge properly with their students.

2) With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

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            All of the wealth and knowledge that English educators bring indicate that there is a responsibility to protect English educators’ rights. The NCTE released a specific statement about academic freedom, stating:

“Academic freedom is a public trust earned by way of formal disciplinary training and expertise. It is an individual English educator’s (teacher’s, researcher’s, and librarian’s) right to translate, produce, and curate past and new knowledge and dispositions within broadly accepted disciplinary parameters in order to advance the common good”

What was said further on in the statement, though, was particularly profound and validating to me. The NCTE Academic Freedom statement also mentions, “English educators are responsible for the intellectual, emotional, and social development of all students to ensure that each is able to participate as a peer with all others in the production and decisions of democratic life.”

            Does that sound familiar? It should – it rings INCREDIBLY true to the socio-epistemic rhetoric theory that I’ve discussed before. As instructors, we have the freedom and responsibility to help prepare our students for success in life, not just academically. I’ve been feeling a little anxious about presenting potentially debatable topics in class, but knowing I have the freedom to do so, so long that it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights or demonstrates ignorance. Reader, you bet I’m more bolstered than ever to figure out how to incorporate code-meshing practices in my classroom now!

3) Contrary to What Some Might Say, The Head Honchos DON’T Want Grammar Exercises

            You heard me right. Back in 1985, the NCTE released a resolution on grammar exercises to teach speaking and writing, stating “…class time at all levels must be devoted to opportunities for meaningful listening, speaking, reading, and writing; and that NCTE urge the discontinuance of testing practices that encourage the teaching of grammar rather than English language arts instruction”.

            You read that right, reader: there is a difference between teaching grammar and teaching language arts! So to those who may say that in order to write well you have to have perfect grammar, I strongly urge you to consider why having a perfectly placed comma is more important than other important parts of language arts, like reading comprehension, creativity, structure, and organization. Your prescriptive grammar norms haven’t been popular since the ‘80s, so…

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Mari’s Musing

Reading these position statements was incredibly validating and comforting to me. Not only did I get a better insight into the English education world and the driving forces behind this industry, I was reaffirmed in my positions toward inclusive writing and even grammar norms. As I continue my journey through the theory of instruction I’ll be sure to look at NCTE and CCCC for further information on standard teaching practices and philosophies to make sure I am in line with current methods.

Works Cited

Berlin and the Postmodern Tradition, people.uwplatt.edu/~ciesield/berlin.html.

“CCCC Statement on Preparing Teachers of College Writing.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, 14 Aug. 2018, cccc.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/statementonprep.

Moss, Lauralee. “Grammar Must Be Taught, Differently.” Language Arts Classroom, 21 Feb. 2021, languageartsclassroom.com/2019/02/grammar-must-be-taught-differently.html.

“NCTE – Home Page.” NCTE, ncte.org/.

“Resolution on Grammar Exercises to Teach Speaking and Writing.” NCTE, 30 Nov. 1985, ncte.org/statement/grammarexercises/.

“Statement on Academic Freedom (Revised).” NCTE, 7 Nov. 2019, ncte.org/statement/academic-freedom-copy/.

“Welcome to the CCCC Website!” Conference on College Composition and Communication, cccc.ncte.org/.

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One Comment

  1. Lauralee

    You are so right, Mari. All components of language arts are rich and important. A simple worksheet cannot possibly cover the depth of what ELA teachers need to do. Take care, Lauralee

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