Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Corporate Composition

(not directly reading specific)

I wonder how well the corporate university translates to composition in the English department. In, say, pulp and paper science and technology, there are certain methods that must be learned, and your choices are to learn them by running busiwork (visions of organic chemistry labs come to mind) or by running projects Georgia Pacific would like you to run. If Georgia Pacific can give you the cash for the lab and there is absolutely no functional change in the filler for your method learning, what's the harm? (Don't get me wrong -- I think the potential for undue influence is pretty clear, but the connection feels fairly innocuous in theory and, often, in praxis.)

What's the advantage for having corporations in the composition classroom? There are analogous situations to the hypothetical GP-subsidized methods labs that appear in English departments, as in using a "real" non-profit for your fundraising assignment and "donating" the end result. Even here, the activity owns its own politics and ethical issues when you find that passively using your authority to coerce students to write for a particular cause, even one "they" select, may not protect your class' minority (here simply meaning "not majority") interests particularly well. That is, those who don't like Amnesty International but feel the peer pressure and won't admit it could be forced into an ethical dilemma. Though the same could happen in Pulp & Paper (perhaps there's a tree-hugging plant (pun wasn't initially intended) taking the course to go into environmental law and they'd prefer not to help GP in any fashion), the rarity of a student's being placed in such an ethical hotspot, in large part because of the curriculum's design (engineering is conceived to help industry, duh), minimizes the social impact of such corporate involvement.

When English departments allow corporate involvement, they have changed their presentation and reasoning behind their traditional curriculum, which has not been quite so cozy with corporations (Puritan synods? Perhaps, but much more rarely GP). If it's okay to accept corporations into the English composition classroom, does the instruction remain English instruction? Perhaps in business writing or technical writing classes, but general composition?

Again, what's the pedagogical goal of composition? To be better writers, or to be better writers for the workplace? If the latter, what does the workplace look like? Does a land grant institution owe its students this workplace-based composition? How does workplace-oriented composition mesh with the goals of the English-as-literature department? What are the practical advantages for the students of teaching them corporate composition against teaching literary composition? Do they become better communicators? Writers? What is a writer? (etc, ad infinitum)

And how many drops of corporate support are necessary before a classroom moves from belle lettres to the letters of the acronyms of these new patrons? This, of course, is the question that lurks behind every high-tech addition to the classroom, of which I'll table discussion until later, but that is the question that popped up a bit for me during the first two readings I got to (CCCC Statement and Hrastinski & Keller) this week.

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