4.0380 Texas Comp. Controversy, cont.; Jim Sledd (3/108)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 9 Aug 90 16:59:20 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0380. Thursday, 9 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Wed, 8 Aug 90 21:04:56 -0400 (55 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Texas Syllabus vs. Texas Issues

(2) Date: Thu, 09 Aug 90 09:08:47 EDT (28 lines)
From: Clarence Brown <CB@PUCC>
Subject: Jim Sledd and the Comp Wars

(3) Date: Thu, 09 Aug 90 14:34:43 +0100 (25 lines)
From: Tony Bex <arb1@ukc.ac.uk>
Subject: Texas controversy

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 8 Aug 90 21:04:56 -0400
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Texas Syllabus vs. Texas Issues

There seemed to be two issues in the Texas Syllabus Debate and I fear
the mixture of both in one solution led to an unfortunate confrontation.
The first issue was that of English being taught without a syllabus,
such that individual variation between sections of the course were
uncontrollable. The second issue was whether racial and minority
predjudice were running rampant among the freshmen class and whether the
English department wasn't forced to take a stand that could undo some
the implications of prior selections of readings appearing to foster the
notion that all worthy writing came from all-white authors, largely of
the USA and a few nations in Europe.

The first issue required a syllabus be developed, however the second
issue seems too broad for an English Department (much less a subset of
an English Department) to have single-handedly decided it had to correct.

The Humanist discussion has broadened this second issue into a
discussion of the generic problem of the legitimacy of the
`politicization' of a curriculum in order for some group to get their
message across.

I believe that it probably is important to identify possible predjudice
in a curriculum and take steps to neutralize it, but in applying
corrective measures it is JUST as dangerous to over-correct and attempt
to `legislate from the bench' as our courts have been accused of doing.
This seems the flaw in the solition proposed.

The English syllabus proposed, civil rights court case decisions, is
specific to one issue. It doesn't address `thinking' about issues in
general and leads to an equally objectionable notion that the English
curriculum is both the vehicle to correct racial and minority predjudice
and that the other issues our society faces are less important than this
social issue.

We need students who can apply critical reasoning to MANY issues. If
the only thing one sees in issues such as abortion, labor vs.
management, environmentalism vs. development, funding in the arts, etc.
is that these can be reduced to issues of racial or social minorities
one has become just as prejudiced, only in some form of social activism.

If the human race survives, I suspect it will be more due to
DE-EMPHASIZING that predjudice can and does exist than to EMPHASIZING
that there are issues that transcend racial and minority standings and
that what can be seen of you from the outside in no way describes what
is inside your head. Teaching anti-prejudice doesn't seem as useful as
teaching the need to quest for understanding of the issues that exist
and what the viewpoints on each side might be. Prescribing the issue to
be seen ahead of time seems a far less effective approach to this than
providing powerful generic writings in which multiple issues can be

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Thu, 09 Aug 90 09:08:47 EDT
From: Clarence Brown <CB@PUCC>
Subject: Jim Sledd and the Comp Wars

Jim Sledd's name having come up in a recent contribution on this topic, I
cannot resist a salute to this great man. He was my Freshman English
teacher at Duke in 1946 (his first teaching job, perhaps). With no
previous experience, I did not think it in the least odd that I was
set to learning the syllogism, the distributed middle term, the square
of opposition, and other tools of valid reasoning. His teaching was not
limited to classical logic, for I somehow learned the use of the
semicolon and that "existence" is so written. Came termpaper time, and
I went to my conference with him proposing to write about "Negro
Poetry." Reader, please consult once again the locale and date of this
story; the topic was a part of my rebellion against my background.
Sledd, pushing back onto the bridge of his nose glasses that were
forever in danger of slipping off the end, said, "Very well, Mr. Brown,
so long as you understand that you will be writing about Negroes and not
about poetry." Part of my quest to understand what on earth he might
have been talking about involved writing a paper about the
NeoAristotelian critics in Chicago. Years later, crossing the Atlantic
on the last voyage of the France, I ate breakfast every morning with
Wayne Booth. We eventually discovered that we had both known Sledd.
Booth said, "Jim Sledd taught me more than any other man I have ever
known." That goes for me, too, and I am proud to acknowledge my debt to
a remarkable teacher and scholar.

Clarence Brown, Comparative Literature, Princeton.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Thu, 09 Aug 90 14:34:43 +0100
From: Tony Bex <arb1@ukc.ac.uk>
Subject: Texas controversy

>From this side of the pond a lot of the arguing looks peculiar. I missed
the first mailings but have watched the developing whirlwind with
fascination. A "writing" course? To me it reads more like a critical
thinking course (and more power to it). Surely, a writing course should
be primarily concerned with the relationship between the authors and
their (potential) readers. Nobody I've ever met just sits down to write
about a court case for its own sake. Either they're writing journalism,
academic papers, letters or whatever. And each of these genres has a
specific audience. Similarly, what might count as a powerful argument
in one genre may misfire completely in another.

When I teach my students to write I rarely start from a topic - they are
perfectly capable of supplying that. I prefer to start from a
hypothesised audience and get students to write convincingly to that
audience following analysed models that have been addressed to a similar
hypothesised audience. The imperatives of accuracy and truth remain
constant across topics and audiences; the ways in which they are
expressed vary. Surely it is the latter we should be teaching in
something called a Writing Course?

Tony Bex (arb1@ukc.ac.uk)