4.0357 Texas Controversy, Part I (4/124)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 3 Aug 90 18:51:49 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0357. Friday, 3 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: 2 Aug 90 10:59:00 EDT (33 lines)
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: UT Freshman Comp.

(2) Date: Thu, 2 Aug 90 12:05:32 EDT (40 lines)
From: David Sewell <dsew@uhura.cc.rochester.edu>
Subject: Texas composition debate

(3) Date: Thu, 2 Aug 90 14:26:57 EDT (15 lines)
From: w mccutchan -- computing services <walter@watserv1.uwaterloo.ca>
Subject: responses to the responses to the Texas Writing Course.

(4) Date: 03 Aug 90 10:06 EST (36 lines)
Subject: Texas controversy

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 2 Aug 90 10:59:00 EDT
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: UT Freshman Comp.

I can't resist pointing out to Humanist readers that when I was one of
the original Assistant Instructors at the University of Texas at Austin
from 1968 to 1971, we were in the midst of the Freshman Comp. wars. In
three years we had three Directors of Freshman English, including the
(in)famous Jim Sledd who brought in CLASSICAL RHETORIC, much to the
horror of the faculty at large. I think he followed the Director who
brought in the theme "Identity and the Sense of Self" with the notion
that students needed something to write about and they were already
concerned about their **search for identity**. We had a choice of books
to teach, including _The Autobiography of Malcolm X_, _The Invisible
Man_, Erik Eriksson's book _Identity ..._, and some others I don't
recall. At that time Maxine Hairrston (sp?) was Assistant Director of
Freshman English (now one of the "reactionaries"). I remember her
explaining in a training session for TA's that it really isn't that hard
to discuss penis envy in a Freshman English class. (Not everyone was

I don't mean to trivialize the struggle going on in the Composition
program at Texas. Teaching freshman to write is exceedingly important,
exceedingly difficult, and immensely rewarding. But it is, and always
will be, fraught with controversy.

John, keep up the good work!!

Mary Dee Harris

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------49----
Date: Thu, 2 Aug 90 12:05:32 EDT
From: David Sewell <dsew@uhura.cc.rochester.edu>
Subject: Texas composition debate

I don't think John Slatin's postings concerning the Freshman Comp
situation at the University of Texas were inappropriately long. (As for
length of postings, would Humanist be Humanist if people weren't free to
submit astonishing volumes of words concerning arcana that only a dozen
or so scholars in the world comprehend... <add paralinguistic irony>.)
While the issue is of primary interest to teachers in the U.S., it
touches on questions of institutional politics and the nature of writing
instruction that are universal. And for humanists in the U.S. it is
important indeed. Texas has been a de facto national leader in certain
respects in higher education and research (computer consortia,
super-collider physics); the writing program at UT is one of the largest
in the country; and what happens in Austin will be watched carefully by
faculty and administrators alike all over the country.

And I think members of Humanist might want to ponder and perhaps discuss
a statement like that of Alan Gribben, the UT faculty member who has led
the opposition to the Civil Rights comp course, who said in the course
of attacking multicultural studies requirements (I'm quoting from memory
from a NY Times interview, but this is pretty close to the original),
"The university is by definition multicultural. If I'm reading Greek
epics and studying Roman history, I'm having a multicultural
experience." (Were a Yale closed to Jews or a Cambridge closed to women
therefore offering "multicultural experience"?)

So freshmen at UT are going to be put in their comp classes this fall
and told to just "learn how to write." But they mustn't think about
civil rights in the meantime. A little bit like spending five minutes
not thinking about elephants. Perhaps some of them will be inspired to
write research papers on the bizarreness of academic politics, and about
the peculiarity of a discipline (composition instruction) which nobody
wants to do and which everybody looks down on, but which everyone knows
how to do better than the people who spend their professional lives
doing it...

Me? I, like Alan G., am just a Mark Twain scholar. What do I know
about freshman comp?
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------25----
Date: Thu, 2 Aug 90 14:26:57 EDT
From: w mccutchan -- computing services <walter@watserv1.uwaterloo.ca>
Subject: responses to the responses to the Texas Writing Course.

In response to Hoke Robinson and his comments regarding the Texas
Writing Course I should like to raise my voice in a loud "bravo!"

I couldn't have said it better myself.
I wish I had said it.

..walter mccutchan

p.s. further comments about just _how_ I can go about a malpractice
suit against the (well meaning) "educators" who perpetrate on their
students their misguided adventurisms will be most appreciated.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date: 03 Aug 90 10:06 EST
Subject: Texas controversy

I'm surprised by the reactionary nature of a number of postings about the
dean's back-burner veto of the new writing course at Texas. I find the
view that such a course is unfairly "political," and that students should
simply be taught "writing" and "the classics"--as if anyone can teach
anything without a political stance, and as if the view that "the
classics" should be taught and not newer "political" works is not one of
the most sharply political positions--amusing at best and scary at
worst. As Terry Eagleton puts it, "Hostility to theory usually means
opposition to other people's theories and oblivion of one's own."
Neither "writing" nor "literature" (or "the classics") are value-free
lenses that the teacher can simply hold up in front of students and
teach them to look through devoid of any implicit political stance.
People who support "the classics" and the status quo regularly accuse
teachers to the left of them of being "political," amusingly and
irritatingly pretending that their own position has nothing to do with
politics. I never could figure that out--or actually I guess that I
can: It's a lot more convenient and self-serving to pretend that
oneself is "objective" and "impartial" and that people with whom you
disagree are "biased" and "political." Certainly the view that students
should read Homer and be kept "neutral" and quiet, rather than debate
racism in Texas and learn to write about the broader issues of which it
is a part meaningfully and from their own individual points of view, is
a powerfully reactionary and above all political position.

P.S. Even more relevant to the Texas controversy than the quotation from
Terry Eagleton that I posted a little while ago is one from Kenneth
Burke: "Whenever you find a doctrine of 'nonpolitical' aesthetics
affirmed with fervor, look for its politics."

Jim Cahalan, Graduate Literature <JMCAHAL@IUP.BITNET>
English Dept., 111 Leonard, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705-1094 Phone: (412) 357-2264