CCR 632: Comp Pedagogy · Pedagogy

Interview with David Bartholomae

Last week was an exciting time for our CCR 632: Composition Pedagogy class. After reading some of Bartholomae’s texts for class (“Inventing the University” and Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts), he Skyped into our seminar to talk with us.

These are some of the highlights of that conversation:

  • “I use books of poems [to incorporate models into the composition classroom]. It’s surprising; students don’t imagine that a comp course would begin with poems. I do it because it’s a way of paying attention to the sentence and rhythm and the shape of a line. I give them the book of poems because I tell them that it’s a composition textbook; it makes an argument about writing that is important to them.”
  • “I would love to see more people take up student writing, because that is the subject of composition. Why don’t people do it more often? It’s hard; we don’t know how to do that. […] You tend to not do things that you’re not good at or are not prepared to do when forming your professional life. There are risks involved; you have to be willing to identify with the ordinary and be identified with the ordinary. You’re automatically a more important person if you’re an expert on Aristotle and Quintilian than an expert on student writing, of 18-year-olds. When student writing is written about, 2/3 of the time, it is the butt of a joke or an indicator of absence—’They can’t do this; they can’t do that. They can’t write this; they can’t write that.'”
  • “I think the culture has changed dramatically in the sense that culture is also changing. I think to teach composition year after year, you have to look forward to reading students’ papers. One thing I can look forward to is getting the news […] that I wouldn’t get otherwise. [Students are] more prepared to take a writing course, but they aren’t necessarily better writers. They’re smart, interesting, lively—in my experience, always have been. They no longer write on a yellow notepad and take it to a typewriter, but I don’t either anymore.”

What I enjoyed most about this conversation was Bartholomae’s constant redirection back to the student writers. It is refreshing to hear someone speak so warmly about students and the work that they are capable of producing, particularly someone who has taught composition for many years.

Though he claimed to teach a very traditional, “old-fashioned course,” Bartholomae spoke to the advantages of bringing non-traditional pedagogies into the comp classroom. For example, using books of poetry to teach academic writing is certainly not a common trend. Similarly, Bartholomae praised bilingualism, saying that in a comp classroom, we should embrace students’ abilities to “occupy different voices” within their essays. In “Inventing the University,” he asserts that students need to learn academic discourse to become part of the university, but learning that discourse and being part of that community does not erase relationships to other discourse communities. His commentary about bilingualism reaffirmed this idea for me: It is important to learn a particular mode of argument and writing, yet it is just as important to retain (and use) our familiar discourses.

It was really interesting to “speak” with someone who has made such an impact on composition, and I’m looking forward to more. Next week: Ira Shor.

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