Discussion Questions for Berlin, Elbow, & Bartholomae (4/8)

For our online discussion questions this week, I have attempted to pull some questions from each of the readings in order to generate an online discussion environment.  Some ask merely for your thoughts on the readings while others are formulated in a somewhat activity style.  You don’t have to answer every question (although it is encouraged, of course) but you might want to considered a few questions in order to be a part of the discussion.  Once you’ve posted (even if it is on Thursday), I am suggesting that everyone come back at some point to check on what other people are writing as well.  If you don’t check back, it just becomes another post…not a discussion.  Thanks all!!!

James Berlin:  “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories”

Berlin’s piece discusses the 4 major rhetorical groups and gives a short explanation of their beliefs and approaches toward writing.  Of the Neo-Aristotelians/Classicists, the Positivists/Current-Traditionalists, the New-Platonists/Expressionists, and the New Rhetoricians, James Berlin believes the New Rhetoricians are the “most intelligent and most practical alternative available, serving in every way the best interests of our students” (Berlin 766).  Do you agree with Berlin?  Remember that when evaluating each group, you want to look at how each of them address what I call in my notes “The Big 4″.  Writer, reality, reader, and language.  Also consider Berlin’s statement that, “the Positivist or Current-Traditional group clearly dominates thinking about writing instruction today” (Berlin 769).

Which group do you see yourself falling into as a potential future writing instructor? OR If you are already a writing teacher, which group do you currently fall into?

Peter Elbow:  “Writing Without Teachers”

Firstly, what are your thoughts of Elbow’s teacherless classroom?  What are some of the benefits to it?  What are some of the drawbacks to it?  Does removing the “authority” in the writing classroom seem effective to you?

Elbow talks about a successful teacherless classroom having created “a precious culture to be preserved” (Elbow 139).  He calls this creation of culture the Yogurt Model.  As students that are traveling in and out of classrooms, and eventually as teachers running these classrooms, how can we contribute to the culture in order to create and keep Elbow’s yogurt culture alive?

Finally, on pages 142, 143, and 144 of the article, Elbow creates a checklist of milestones he recalls in from his own learning process and writing experience.  Try and create your own mini-list that recounts your major miles stones in writing.

David Bartholomae:  “Writing with Teachers:  A Conversation with Peter Elbow”

While Peter Elbow argued for a teacherless classroom, David Bartholomae believes that there cannot be a classroom without a teacher.  He believes that there is no writing that is writing without teachers because there is no writing within the academy that is not academic writing.  Bartholomae writes, “to offer academic writing as something else is to keep this knowledge from our students, to keep them from confronting the power of politics of discursive practice, or to keep them from confronting the particular representations of power, tradition and authority reproduced whenever one writes” (Bartholomae 64).

Do you agree with Peter Elbow that there needs to be a teacherless classroom where students learn from the experiences they create or with David Bartholomae that there must be an authority or power present in the classroom in order to create academic writing?

I think that should get us off to a good start.  I look forward to reading and responding to your posts.  Thanks again.

12 comments for “Discussion Questions for Berlin, Elbow, & Bartholomae (4/8)

  1. simi dhaliwal
    April 6, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    The teacher less classroom…..

    I love the idea of students taking the initiative and providing active feedback and discussion by drawing from their own experiences, but is that even realistic? From the early stages of education students are expected to listen and find mentorship through an instructor, teacher, or professor. I just had a conversation today with a freshman Science major who said, “I hate English I just did what the teacher told me”. This student would be completely lost in a teacher-less classroom, but I also feel that is a benefit. Too often students rely on an authority figure to “tell them what to do”; however, students do need guidance in order to suffice in a society that demands academic writing for advancement. Bartholomae states, “to offer academic writing as something else is to keep this knowledge from our students”. It is important to make students understand the difference between different writing styles. I feel academic writing is a “writing style” that sometimes limits students. They are so reliant on a teacher giving them guidance on how to write that “academic writing” starts to appear as a layout, formula, guideline for students to follow. I may contradict myself a lot but I battle with the idea of the teacher-less classroom and David Bartholomaes arguments.

  2. jgreene
    April 7, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I think many of us struggle with the idea of the teacher-less classroom. It seems like a good idea in theory but when you get the students in front of you in a class, the practice of it becomes a little more difficult. I think your example of the science student is a great one because many times, especially in the first-year composition type classes, the course is made up of students from all disciplines and many of them are merely fulfilling a requirement. Sure, we are teaching them a life skill, but sometimes that skill comes across as so specific that it cannot be translated across disciplines. What I mean by this is that things like MLA format and expressing personal opinions in writing are not always wanted in scientific fields where they use APA or Chicago style and want only the facts of a study. Should these differing styles be incorporated into the lower division English courses to incorporate all students’ interests? The teacher-less classroom is more practical in the upper level courses where students have been trained in the process and can work with each other on ideas they have built a base upon at the lower levels.

  3. Alex Janney
    April 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    I’m indecisive, which means that when I was answering question 2 on Berlin, I couldn’t choose just one group. As a potential future writing instructor, I see myself as an Expressionist and New Rhetorician. There were components of both groups that stood out to me, and I couldn’t pick one over the other. I think that a teaching method cannot be centered on one specific area because there is such an eclectic mix of students in the classroom that to restrict them in their writing process would be unfair. I also think that it was difficult for me to select one group because the types of writing assignments vary. A personal narrative may emphasize writing as a personal activity, while a research paper may benefit more from interaction between the writer and audience. Again, all of these is dependent on the person putting their fingers to the keyboard.

    I like how the Expressionists see writing as a method for exploration and discovery. Oftentimes I think students see it as something that needs to be done right the first time, rather than something that can be used as a way to find out what exactly “right” is. I also liked how the Expressionist approach focused on dialogue on the classroom. To me, this dialogue implied collaboration, something that I think all writers can benefit from regardless of their level.

    As I was reading the section on New Rhetoricians, their focus on truth as something to be discovered resonated with me. I also liked how the New Rhetoricians don’t see truth as something that can be possible without language. Language is an incredibly powerful tool, something that makes things possible. One of the most important parts about New Rhetoric and its use in the classroom is the way in which it incorporates the writer, language, reality, and the audience. It’s important for students to be aware of how all of these ingredients work together towards writing. In this sense, New Rhetoricians seem to consider writing to be more of a social than an independent activity, which for some students and assignments it can be.

    Elbow, 1
    In thinking of the teacherless classroom, I don’t necessarily see it as a place where the teacher is completely non-existent, but as one where the emphasis is not on the teacher, but the writer and his/her audience. I like the teacherless classroom because I think it removes some of the restrictions that students sometimes feel. For example, rather than writing for a grade, the student is writing for an audience, which should be more important than a letter or number at the top of the page. In the teacherless classroom writers are allowed to get a variety of feedback while having the final say in what they believe to be valid and beneficial for their paper. It also allows writers to have a dialogue with readers. In the teacher based classroom the emphasis seems to be on a monologue where the teacher tells the student what should be changed and how to do it, giving the student no opportunity to talk out his/her ideas and verbally explain writing decisions.

    I realize that the teacherless classroom seems to neglect things like the mechanics of writing, and that the feedback students receive can be variable from person to person and day to day, as well as messy and potentially contradicting, but ultimately I think the pros outweigh the cons. As a tutor, there are often students who tell me they “hate English.” I always try to get to the root of this problem because I want to try and diagnose it; oftentimes their responses are things like, “I don’t get to write about what I want to,” or they will reference a particular teacher who ruined the subject for them. In these situations, I believe that they may have benefited from a teacherless classroom. Maybe they felt stifled by the teacher based classroom in which writing was a one sided task where the teacher gave feedback and the student made the changes. Maybe they were too focused on getting a good grade to understand the process of writing. Regardless of what the reason may be, I think that a teacherless classroom can be beneficial. Do I think the teacher should be removed entirely? No. In my experience, a classroom without a teacher would not have allowed me to grasp how to use punctuation and tackle different writing assignments, but some of my favorite classes have been the ones in which the teacher responds to my writing as a reader, not a teacher.

    Elbow, 2
    In order to keep the yogurt culture alive I think teachers and students need to promote feedback that focuses on the writing process not the product. As teachers, promoting writers’ workshops, allowing students to do peer revision, and encouraging collaborative feedback in the classroom are ways in which the culture can be kept alive. In this sense, teachers are putting power in the hands of the students. It can be risky, but for the students, I think it can be rewarding. As students, we can seek out assistance from others in our writing. I think that something as simple as asking a friend to read over a piece of writing for feedback before handing it in can allow the culture to survive. I also think that students can keep the culture alive for themselves by taking advantage of the technology based world we live in. A blog is one way in which students can keep the culture alive without the definite timeline that Elbow refers to in the classroom.

    Elbow, 3
    *I tried to put this in chronological order, starting when I was in elementary school.
    •Wrote a story about my cat and had it put in the school newsletter
    •Wrote and published a book of poetry thanks to a self-publishing kit
    •Submitted a piece of writing for a contest and won 2nd place
    •Shared a poem with my grandma; she framed it and hung it on her wall
    •Started to feel confident in my writing because of the framed poem, wrote more, got my Grandma’s approval and kept writing
    •Wrote for school assignments, got no enjoyment out of it, but received decent grades
    •Started to become a hermit writer; it was too personal to share
    •Only wrote outside of school in a journal, didn’t write any more poems to share
    •Wrote a college admission essay on my Grandma as an inspiration, started to find enjoyment in writing again
    •Started college thinking I was an incredible writer
    •Had my first peer feedback experience, had my “incredible writer” ego thrown back in my face, decided to abandon writing
    •Enrolled in an Introductory Writing Class with the hope of improving my basic writing skills; it improved my basic writing skills, introduced me to the writing process (made me LOVE freewriting) and helped me make the decision to become a Writing and Rhetoric Major
    •Wrote a biography on my Grandpa, which I really enjoyed; developed a love for creative non-fiction
    •Wrote a senior capstone piece with the hope of getting it published on being a First generation college student, shared it with my class and family, decided that I wanted to keep writing
    •Messed up the zip code on my submission mailing, wondered if it would have gotten published
    •Got a job as a receptionist and found it challenging to write what I wanted
    •Made time to write what I wanted while at work
    •Shared a story with my grandpa that I wrote while being a receptionist, got his approval, decided to keep writing
    •Got married, moved to California, felt unsure about what to write about. Faced writer’s block on a personal level
    •Had no problem writing things for class, decided to read more of what I wanted over winter break
    •Felt inspired by Dog Years by Mark Doty, decided to start a blog about my dog
    •People actually read my blog (okay, so what if it’s just my mom?), keep writing

    Bartholomae, 1
    Bartholomae made me rethink my ideas of academic writing. When I hear the phrase academic writing, I have this tendency to think of research papers, argumentative essays, and compare and contrast compositions; for me, academic writing isn’t personal. It’s based on research. When Bartholomae lumped creative non-fiction into this group, I found myself rethinking what constitutes academic writing. It would make sense that assignments done for a class would fall into this category. In considering Bartholomae’s definition of the term, I think that an authority or power in the classroom is necessary for some students.

    I think there are some students who can learn from the experiences they create. They can understand how to create an academic paper through practice, rather than directive instruction. Oftentimes I think these students exist at a higher level. Students in an introductory composition class are more likely to need that power or authority. As Simi pointed out in her response, students who are clueless when it comes to English need some sort of guidance to figure out how to write; they can’t magically become capable and competent writers on their own. Some people learn by doing, others learn by being taught. For example, I mastered the art of tying my shoes through doing it. My parents demonstrated the technique to me a few times, but I didn’t truly grasp it until I was left to figure it out on my own. I think the same can be said for learning to ride a bike. Someone can tell you how to do it, but ultimately it’s up to you to ride the bike. Some people learn by hopping on and pedaling, others need more assistance. I realize I’m being a fence sitter here as I was with Elbow, but it’s hard for me to disregard the benefits of the teacherless classroom.

  4. uzma
    April 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Response to Elbow 1

    I do not agree with Elbow’s ides of teacher less classroom. It looks nice in theory but it is fact that there is no class without teacher the presence of teacher is sometimes undesirable for students and according to Bartholomae “there is no writing that is writing without teachers. I think I would state this as a general truth, but for today let me say that there is no writing done in the academy that is not academic writing.”(63) I like the detailed discussion of the different standards and rubrics for writing assessment on the part of the teacher. It is difficult to assess all writers impartially and objectively for a teacher. But at the same time how can we say the reader who is not a teacher will be objective and neutral when every person is shaped by his background and naturalistic elements. If a teacher can be unpredictable, unprofessional and temperamental what could we expect from a person who job is not to give responses to writing? I think there is a need to change the role of the teacher in the classroom. The role of a teacher as a manager is an old chronicle; rather we need a teacher who works like a catalyst to bring student to his destination. A kind of a person who can understand the needs of every student and can come to the very level of students and from that level try to uplift him towards the desired goal.

    Response to Elbow 2

    The Yogurt model of Elbow puts lot amny responsibilities on students. I do not think honestly as student I will do anything until or unless I have a deadline. Frankly speaking every student is like this with the exception of some ‘scholars’. I do agree with Alex that students can keep the culture alive for themselves by taking advantage of the technology based world we live in but what about the students at junior level can we expect same from them what we are doing at Master’s level. Not to forget the students who are new to the technological oriented system like me. It is expecting too much from them. It seems too theoretical to put everything on students’ shoulders and then wait for wonders from them.

    Response to David Bartholomae

    I agree with David Bartholomae “there is no writing that is writing without teachers. I think I would state this as a general truth, but for today let me say that there is no writing done in the academy that is not academic writing.” But at the same time I think that we need to bring some positive changes in the current academic system and totally agrees with Bartholomae that the master trope would be “a desire for an institutional space free from institutional pressures, a cultural process free from the influence of culture, an historical moment outside of history, an academic setting free from academic writing.”(64)

  5. April 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Re: Berlin and “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories”

    In his examination of the four major pedagogical theories of composition, Berlin digs into the “deeper structure” behind each one’s approach to the composing process (765). Berlin argues that teaching composition may be looked at by many as instruction in what amounts to a “mechanical skill,” but in his view, instructors are “tacitly teaching a version of reality and the student’s place and mode of operation in it” (766).

    The Aristotelian Classicists advocate a philosophy of composition that rests on an existential realm where the world may be known, i.e., knowledge constructed, upon the basis of deductive logic, and that what is known may be communicated through language in which mind is connected unproblematically with the universe. Once truth is found through invention, the business of rhetoric (written or oral) is to persuade the reader or auditor.

    Berlin argues that the Current Traditionalists/Positivist methods of composition are rooted in Scottish Common Sense Realism. This paradigm parallels the Aristotelian faith in the correspondence of mind with external world, but replaces syllogistic deduction with scientific Lockean induction—the scientific method. Here rhetoric is disconnected from invention (now the purview of science) and moves into the study of all forms of communication. Arrangement and style take center stage, since connecting with the audience is key, finding the language to communicate empirical reality and “reproduce the objects [truths about the world] and the experience of them in the minds of the hearers” (770).

    The Expressionists/Neo-Platonists, Berlin explains, work from a philosophical worldview that grows out of Emersonian Transcendentalism (and ultimately Plato) that sees the world as a place of flux and shifting sensory perceptions. Truth in this view arises from individual experience, “internal apprehension,” and “private vision” (771). Such truths cannot be fully communicated but only refined through dialectic interaction. Textbooks written from this perspective do not hope to teach truth, but instead put the self at the center of the writing process as it becomes a personal activity. The path to any communication comes through original and creative metaphor that reflects the personal inner vision.

    New Rhetoric, most favored by Berlin, sees truth as “dynamic and dialectic.” Reality is created between writer and audience in the spaces opened through interpretation, structure, and organization (774). Thought, language, and truth intertwine as mutually determining elements of a dynamic process. The pedagogical practice here seems to take the most useful from its predecessors. In a sense, students discover or invent truth through various heuristics, much like the Aristotelians did through syllogisms. The emphasis of the Current-Traditionalists on style and arrangement finds a place in the New Rhetoric as these elements assist the formation and communication of meaning. Style and arrangement have the added advantage of teachability.

    As ways of viewing the relationship between the self and the world, this progression of pedagogical approaches to composition theory parallels the Western experience of cultural development. Berlin’s footnote on 767 says as much when he comments that “one reason for studying composition theory is that it so readily reveals… a great deal about the way a particular historical period defines itself.” As such, it seems apropos that the New Rhetoric draws upon these preceding paradigms for its own constituents, yet reformulates them to serve the truth-constructing sensibilities of our own historical period.

    Commenting from this philosophical standpoint, I have to agree with Berlin that the New Rhetoric offers both teachers and students a more comprehensive and flexible lever with which to move the world as writers of rhetoric. I see each of the first three compositional theories discussed by Berlin as possessing strong elements that are still serviceable—along with certain philosophical and practical limitations. The Aristotelians’ emphasis on clear perception and logical thinking is vital in a world of confusing and conflicting choices. The Traditionalist Positivist emphasis on arrangement and style offers the modern writer an array of tools for being heard above the noise, as well as for addressing the creative concerns of the Expressionists, whose own emphasis on inner experience strengthens the dialectic between the writer’s experience and the interpretation of it.

    To me, these ways of approaching both reality and composition are not mutually exclusive but mutually reinforcing and even necessary. In some ways, we must count the external world as knowable and communicable in order to get through the day. Yet, we all sense that our experiences of it are different, individual, interpretive, and even isolated. The reality and the truths we create mutually through the rhetorical expressions of language and thought is therefore dynamic and dialectic.

    If as instructors, we are teaching a view of reality embedded in our instructions on composition, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to understand what that worldview is. I do not think that a freshman composition class should necessarily be burdened with a deep philosophical discussion of the nature of truth and knowledge alongside their essay prompts, but I do think that the pedagogical approach we adopt should be the one in step with our own socio-psycho-historical period and its operative worldviews rather than one tied too firmly to the past. The New Rhetoric seems to be the one that fits, at least as it is presented by Berlin.

    Re: Peter Elbow: Writing Without Teachers” and David Bartholomae: “Writing with Teachers: A Conversation with Peter Elbow

    My first impression of Peter elbow’s article came to me entirely from its title, which I assume he chose precisely for its provocative implications. One part of me says that writing is something that motivated people learn through a lot of practice, and this process can be and often is accomplished without the oversight of teachers. Another part of me says that writing is a complex and subtle skill for which expert instruction is not only helpful, but vital. I think that these two conflicting ideas reflect the two opposing arguments of Elbow and Bartholomae.

    This tension between Elbow’s model of a classroom of readers giving one another feedback stripped of the demand for evaluation and grading has a lot of appeal on the surface. Sometimes his yogurt analogy of a vibrant, self-nurturing classroom community does happen, and when it does, it is a fine and wonderful thing. The closest I my experience in college has come to this writerly synergism was a creative writing class in which the instructor for the most part eschewed evaluative commentary (it was a credit/no credit class) and the class critiqued one another’s pieces each week. Over the course of the semester, this group began to develop some cohesion and camaraderie, to get to know one another’s work and even to offer occasionally helpful feedback. It was a fun class. On the other hand, a large percentage of the criticism centered on whether the reader liked what was being said, e.g., such things as character motivations and humor. The class had some winners and some who also ran. The problem for me in all this is that the really good writers received little guidance other than recognition that their pieces were appreciated (always welcome to be sure), while the writers facing real challenges in producing well-written pieces also got the same thing and not much more. Sure, the whole experience is an ego boost for a writer’s fragile confidence, but mediocre work is still mediocre, and all the worse when the writer has come to believe that it is great because the class acted like they loved it.

    My experience as a tutor in a community college writing center is another venue where I have encountered the conflict over the paradigm that says do not be a teacher or a corrector, but instead be only a reader giving feedback about how you understand the piece. During my time as a tutor, again and again, we were counseled by our director that we were not there to correct grammar or edit papers. I see the wisdom of this advice, for as Elbow points out, grammar is a late-stage issue and not the essence of learning to write. Nevertheless, the students who came to avail themselves of our services wanted help with grammar and sentence construction more than anything. A table conference was often a tug-of-war between a student’s desire for grammar help and our determination to withhold it. Their papers were often due in less than a day and they were in no mood to listen to our comments about making their arguments more clearly understood. More than once, I heard students tell me that their instructors would fail a paper that had more than a predetermined number of mechanical errors, regardless of its virtues in other areas. These students were writing to a specific audience and they knew what that audience wanted, or thought they did.
    I guess I feel like taking this opportunity to vent all my frustrations with what I have experienced from the student’s perspective as the academic elite argue over how we should be taught, because I want to argue further with Elbow’s techniques as I have seem them translated into classrooms. Many, many classes where I have been a student have incorporated sessions of peer review on assigned essays. I suppose these are meant to draw upon all of Elbow’s idealistic scenarios in which students can profit more from non-professional, distorted, or even biased feedback that informs them about how their writing is being read by real readers (128,134). In practice, I have found that these sessions are a waste of time. As readers we have too little time to process two or three other student papers and comment intelligently on them in a class period. Moreover, usually the teacher has distributed a checklist of things to look for (and turn in eventually), so we are more concerned about satisfying the teacher’s requirement than truly reading another student’s paper. I have had very few peer reviews that offered me anything substantial, and I dare say the same about what I have told others in such situations. The set-up is contrived, forced, and generally ineffective, as far as I am concerned.

    And because of all of the above, I must side with Bartholomae’s argument. I do not dismiss Elbow’s contentions about feedback. All writers want and need feedback. However, I do think that students are done a disservice when teachers talk out of both sides of their mouths about this all this. One stream of conversation runs hot for Elbow’s holistic composition theory of feel-good yogurt culture reading groups and writing without teachers (as authority figures), while the other demands strict adherence to academic forms and standards. No matter how much talk goes around about empowering students and removing authority from the classroom, it is all a sham. Authority is there; deal with it honestly. Bartholomae, recommends being realistic about the production of knowledge and students’ roles in that chain instead of trying to convince them that they are somehow out from under the authority of the academy in egalitarian yogurt cultures where essays are centered on what Bartholomae calls “the ideology of sentimental realism” (69). Students are not convinced, even when the yogurt tastes sweet for a few mouthfuls. There is invariably a message scratched into the bottom of the bowl, and it is a grade.

  6. Alex Janney
    April 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I really like what Anne said about her experiences as a tutor. I often experience this too. Sometimes, students who are receiving tutoring for a class they’re taking a second time reference frustrations with their teachers who failed to let them know how to correct their grammar errors in order to be successful writers. Because of this, the students failed. In this sense, I think the teacher less classroom went too far. As tutors, there is often a conflict between what the students want and what tutors are supposed to do. A part of me wonders if the responsibility shouldn’t fall in the hands of teachers who are such sticklers about mechanical errors or who don’t encourage students to become self-sustaining writers, providing them with the tools necessary to identify and correct these errors themselves. Maybe this is an indication of the teacher less classroom being taken too far?

    Like Anne, I have also been in feedback sessions where students fail to say anything substantial. Comments like, “It’s good” or, “I really like it,” fail to help the writer at all. Sure, it’s great to get positive feedback, but I don’t think that can help the writer improve. Again I think the problem here is that students haven’t been given the necessary tools to provide constructive feedback. If students don’t know how to give it or don’t feel comfortable with it, they won’t have the ability or confidence to do it. I think the teacher less classroom is good to a certain extent, but when it’s taken to the extreme, it fails to benefit the students.

  7. MaryAnn Macedo
    April 8, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Great questions, Jeff! I’ll do my best to answer them as well as I can—
    As far as the New Rhetoricians being the “best school,” I must say that I disagree. While I understood much of where the New Rhetoricians were coming from about Positivism, that sense impressions go through the viewer and are thus filtered, possibly wrecking the original message or adding a viewer’s bias, I feel that the best school (at least for me) is still the Positivist. Though what I said about the filters is true, I feel like this filtering of information is the true benefit of Positivism. After all, what meaning is there in information that is clinical, virtually the same to everyone? None. Meaning is what you make it. The filters that we use to view information are what give us as individuals meaning about concepts and ideas, and if I can’t get meaning through the way I view the world, where else can I get it?
    I respect what he has to say about meaning being an ongoing discussion in New Rhetoric and how meaning has to be acquired through analogies, through the sense of something in comparison to something else, but at the end of the day, I’m forced to ask—who is comparing that object to the other one to make meaning? You still are. The meaning is still going through you and your biased filters, so why is the New Rhetorical way any better than the Positivist? Also, I like the fact that Positivism has a rather scientific element, relying on observation. Perhaps it’s nothing, but it makes me feel like the school is perhaps something more legitimate than old men sitting around all day discussing how no one can truly make meaning from anything because of biases (which is what I mentally pictured when I read about New Rhetoricians, haha).
    As far as what school I will use as a future educator, I will probably respect all the schools and any students who subscribe to them (which I do), but I’m guessing my work and ideas will generally have a Positivist slant, even if I don’t want it to.
    The teacherless classroom is certainly an interesting idea. I liked certain aspects of it…I feel that this setup would really help me get to know my strengths and weaknesses in writing, but I also feel that there are a few drawbacks—this system seems like it would be difficult to implement and maintain.
    I completely understand Elbow’s motivation for trying to take the teacher out of the writing picture. There have been essays I’ve gotten back where a teacher has focused so much on something small—a pet peeve, maybe, like comma splices—that I’m not even sure they understood the message or the meaning of the actual essay. Trained readers look for certain things. They zero in on the fixable. I was a writing tutor for a long time, and after awhile, it became a routine. I’d hear a narrative or paper, and get a feeling…like something wasn’t right, like the message wasn’t getting across right. But what can I do about a shaky feeling? Instead I had to find something I could fix, looking at the cliché thesis statement and working from there…but often, that’s not the problem. You can have the best thesis in the world and still be a fuzzy writer, and one person having to give you all the feedback you’re going to get is a lot of pressure on that one reader.
    I feel like the teacherless classroom model alleviates that reader pressure, even though being as critical and honest as Elbow would like seems like it would certainly still be difficult for me. Also, you asked about whether removing the authority would be effective—well, given that he mentions possibly selecting a leader, it seemed to me that he was on the fence about the issue himself. It felt like he was trying to inject an authoritative leader in a republican model, so perhaps a little bit of authority is still necessary in a model like this.
    The Yogurt model seems to me a nice dream, but I have no idea how it would be maintained and enacted. Maybe at a community center or some place where people went entirely of their own volition would this model be possible, but at a school? I have doubts. First, most of your class would be transient. Second, you might be. Third,it seems like a system like this relies on constancy—same time, same day, same people. Schools have breaks. Students like to ditch. While I see the value in this system, I believe it is a system much more useful to those independently trying to improve their writing as a hobby. I’m not sure that this model would work effectively in a university setting.
    While stated above that Elbow’s model probably isn’t practical for the university, Bartholomae’s opinions irritated me wholeheartedly.
    When I was a writing tutor, I saw a lot of personal narratives. This type of writing—the personal experience, “fuzzy feeling” type—is often looked down upon, just as Bartholomae does here. However, I find an intrinsic value is this genre. I feel that when the students are given the opportunity to write about moments near and dear to their hearts, they become more involved and engaged. They are told, essentially,that their experiences matter, that their voices matter.
    The academic writing that Bartholomae espouses, while undeniably important, does nothing of the sort. Academic writing is basically a glorified way for you to tell your professor what famous people say on the subject, and you adhere to that opinion like glue, or sometimes you fight with it, and get another famous person to use as a crutch. Narratives aren’t that way. It is you, and only you, that matters here—you and the message you are trying to send.
    Now if narratives had no message whatsoever, if they were just “I went to the store. I bought peas. Man, dinner was awesome,” then I would wholeheartedly agree with Bartholomae that the only worth is in academic writing…but these students try to send messages to their audience. These narratives provide students with necessary stepping stones to academic writing—learning how to send messages through their writing, as well as hopefully getting a sense of metaphors and descriptive language.
    While academic writing is undeniably important, I feel that Bartholomae is overlooking the most important element of Elbow’s method—giving writers the freedom to own their writing and write about what they truly know and love, thus making their work more their own than any academic writing ever really is.

  8. jocias
    April 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Berlin 1

    The New Rhetoricians provide some interesting views on writing. I can’t seem to whole heartedly agree with one school, but I do think that (like the New Rhetoricians) we do acquire new information through sensing and interpreting. On the other hand, New Rhetoricians appear to believe that truth cannot be attained through sense perception but only through the process of interpretation can we create meaning. I do think that we shape our world and vis versa. Regarding this, Berlin writes, “The mirrored world is not just the sum total of eardrum rattles, retinal excitations, and son; it is a creation that reflects the peculiarities of the perceiver as well as the peculiarities of what is perceived” This really does capture a portion of my stance on writing and knowledge in general because are own “terministic screens” seem to guide how we process information. Nevertheless, I would categorize myself as a fusion between the Neo Platonists and the Neo Aristotelians. In regards to Aristotle, I find that syllogistic reasoning has allowed myself to convey effective arguments in writing. Starting from a general observation to a specific claim dominates Western thought. Deductive logic has certainly guided my comprehension of new knowledge and the world around me. Despite my adherence to Aristotelian views, I also agree with the Platonic notion that truth is inexpressible and beyond the resource of language. Put simply, I believe that deductive reasoning enables one to understand the physical realm through a scientific approach; nonetheless, ultimate Truth such as the nature of the first cause and human purpose cannot be expressed in these terms. Perhaps this is a question of metaphysics that will forever boggle the human brain. As Rushd says, maybe by our very nature we cannot completely comprehend metaphysical issues whether through language or science.

    Elbow 1
    Upon first hearing of a teacherless classroom, I thought this was a radical approach; however, I still remained open minded to Elbow’s argument. I definitely agree with his comment that writing can be very stressful and that we should “stop worrying about how it will be perceived”. There is a certain stress factor when it comes to performing be it in an academic circle, in sports, in public speaking and other arenas of life. Getting honest reactions from people seems helpful since it provides the writer with many different opinions that explain the strengths and weaknesses of his writing. Furthermore, I think Elbow makes a valid point when he states that members of a teacherless class have an advantage because they see one’s writing every week and don’t evaluate or give a grade. Exposure to writing is crucial for understanding a person’s intended meaning and relieving the pressure of not evaluating does bring constructive criticism. In my own experience, I’ve witnessed this very phenomenon when being critiqued by members of my creative writing class. All of their comments were respectful and either praised or offered helpful criticism for my work. In this situation, there was an open forum where individuals would read their piece and others would then share their comments. It was quite relaxed. While Elbow presents a convincing argument, he makes assumptions that tend to ignore crucial elements of teaching. He writes, “He [the teacher] usually isn’t in a position where he can be genuinely affected by your words. He doesn’t expect your words actually to make a dent on him. He doesn’t treat your words like real reading.” Elbows claim that teachers are not concerned or affected by their students’ needs generalizes and pigeonholes instructors as heartless robots. Moreover, Elbow says that a teacher is “usually too good a reader” because he writes better than students and knows more about the subject. In tongue-and-cheek, Elbow overlooks the fact that instructors should possess these characteristics in order to provide students with knowledge about the material. I surely wouldn’t expect my fellow students to know as much about a topic (say Shakespeare) than an expert who has studied this subject for years. I also think that there are certain objective criteria for good writing. While Elbow says that “there is no such thing as too many adjectives,” I believe his misses the mark when it comes to the appropriateness of writing. For example, I wouldn’t use his loose style when addressing an employer or conducting a speech on a very serious matter. Certain situations call for specific kinds of writing. Lastly, I don’t see the teacherless classroom working in secondary education because it is an unfortunate truth that some students absolutely require an authority figure to guide them and ensure their active participation.

  9. Shirley Miranda
    April 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I agree with Berlin, New Rhetoric provides students with an opportunity to create or discover their own reality. The academic world that we live in is ever-changing, and we can barely keep up with technological advances never mind having time to go back and dwell on Aristotelian or Platonic notions of truth and style, for instance. It is not that they are useless (and anyways they are covered under New Rhetoric); it is just that our realities are too different now. We live in a society that gives us very little time and space to construct our own truths before CNN, Fox, Tweeter or Facebook tells you the way “it” is. Furthermore, the idea of establishing an open dialogue in order to reach agreement about the truth of what is being discussed (777) is more appealing to me than to inset the notion that the speaker or the writer is more educated than the audience. That is in fact a repulsive thought. As a future writing instructor, I definitely see myself following the lines of New Rhetoric, and it is easy to explain why. Students need education that is relevant to their lives. They, as much as me, deserve the right to learn to discover and create their own realities. Language, through writing or speaking becomes then a tool that they can use to communicate that reality or to reject the realities that others may want to impose on them. Who wouldn’t want to teach that over the philosophical and historical views on rhetoric that the Neo-Aristotelians/Classicists, the Positivists/Current-Traditionalists, the New-Platonists/Expressionists put forth?
    In regards to Peter Elbow proposes an interesting model with a lot of reasons why it should be considered. I particularly enjoyed the idea of getting a group of readers to be conscientious enough to provide appropriate feedback to writers and thus helping them improve their skills. Another benefit is his idea of “subjective bullshit.” I too was the victim of “unclear,” “too many adjectives,” and other useless comment that never helped me with my writing. However there a few of Elbow’s ideas that I question; for instance, I am not sure that I agree entirely with Elbow’s on grammar. As for removing the authority from the classroom, sometimes that is a good idea. Nonetheless, I am more concerned about the loss of structure for those kinds of students that needed it.
    I believe that the most efficient way to keep Elbow’s Yogurt Model culture alive is by teaching our students critical thinking and the importance of commitment to a the culture of learning group that Elbow’s talks about.
    My Checklist of Milestones in my writing process:
    1. Learned the difference between a/the
    2. Found out how much I enjoy writing
    3. Learned to monitor myself for common mistakes
    4. Learned more grammar and punctuation rules
    5. Learned to examine others’ writings
    6. Learned to read my writing out loud
    7. Learned to see my second language issues as my signature in my writing versus a weakness
    8. Learned effective use of peer review
    9. Realized that I enjoy writing more than I thought
    10. Learned critical thinking skills

  10. Shirley Miranda- On Alex Entry
    April 10, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Hi Alex,
    I really enjoyed reading your milestone list for your writing process. It is really inspirational to see how your grandma’s approval had such an impact in your writing. I too have had people that have positively left a dent in my life as a writer. One of them is a professor at MJC. He taught me to see what other instructors labeled as “my second language issues” as my signature, my accent in my writing. That helped me overcome many insecurities as a writer.
    Do you wonder what you will do (and how) to become inspirational for your students too?

  11. Joel Manfredi
    April 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm


    Like Alex, I’m not sure I can agree or disagree with one group that Berlin talks about. If I were to disagree with one group in particular, it would be the Neo-Platonists because I find it hard to believe that in a writing class, one would be left to find truth on their own. To say that, “Truth can be learned but not taught” (771) seems ridiculous. I get the feeling that a student could then argue with their teacher that nothing they do is wrong since it is “their” truth as they perceive the truth to be. There have to be some known truths out there, right? Maybe in regards to writing there isn’t, but then why have grammar rules and 5 paragraph essays and thesis statements and conclusions that are supposed to “wrap it all up?” What if none of that was true to me as a writer?

    I do agree with the Current Traditional idea because much of what we know to be true is done through experiment and the scientific method. I’m sure one can argue with statistical analysis regarding the biases that might have been in place, but for the most part I see those methods as reliable to explaining the truth. It doesn’t seem efficient to believe only what we see or internalize as the truth when others have done research to prove something different. I tend to believe the research. “New Rhetoric denies that truth is discoverable in sense impression since this data must always be interpreted… in order to have meaning”(774). Well of course! That’s what our brains are for but can we really expect our brains to deny that the sky is blue when we look up at it? What about the person who’s color blind and says, “Naw, it looks gray to me?” Are we supposed to call that person a liar, tell him he’s wrong, or simply say, “Hey man, I know you’re color blind but the sky is really blue?”

    I think there are truths out there that are indisputable. I don’t know that I agree that “truth is impossible without language”(774) because if I can’t talk, is fire not hot? Perhaps that is not a good example but it seems that the New Rhetoric theory leaves me with questions. “The New Rhetoric sees the writer as a creator of meaning, a shaper of reality”(776). Remember the guy who wrote the book on being addicted to drugs and he got called out by Oprah? That’s what this quote makes me think of. That guy has lost all credibility for future books by being labeled a fraud by a daytime talk show host. But yet that was HIS truth, wasn’t it? Was he not a “shaper of reality?” I feel like even in this class for our midterm, we must supplement our opinions with readings of other people who have done research in the area of rhetoric. Could we bypass this by stating that we “internalized” our own truth about rhetoric?

  12. Joel Manfredi
    April 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm


    This is a tough one for me because I love freedom when it comes to writing. However, in most of my experiences in school, I have felt like there was little freedom in what I chose to write about. Yes, book reports, opinion pieces, persuasive essays aside, I have never felt like I could write what I wanted to write. That is until I majored in Creative Writing in college, when freedom became the standard.
    I like Elbow and agree with almost everything he says, but I am still skeptical that such an approach to teaching writing can be efficient in the classroom. Jocias said, “I don’t see the teacherless classroom working in secondary education because it is an unfortunate truth that some students absolutely require and authority figure to guide them and ensure their active participation.”
    I completely agree with that statement and feel that this type of classroom will work most effectively at the college level. I think it’s a refreshing model of what a writing class can be, but it took even Elbow a long time to get to the level he is at with this type of structure.


    Earlier in this book, Elbow talks about creating the type of classroom that works in this model. I get the feeling that he is talking about creating a class that is not a part of an institution, but one where you/we create the class with people we respect/know, etc. “In the following pages I try to help you set up and use a teacherless writing class. For a successful class you need the sam people writing and taking part each week…. The best solution is to have a few trial classes for people to explore the class. Keep having trial classes and bringing in more people untl you finally get at least seven people who will make an explicit commitment for the next ten weeks… You may want to restrict the class to the committed, or else invite in others who are not sure they can come consistently”(78).
    So I’m not sure if what Elbow is describing is taking place inside of the academic institutional structure or not. It seems that “Yogurt” would have different meanings if this model he describes is taking place outside of the classroom. Inside the classroom, it seems difficult to maintain what was once a great structure for people who have now moved on to other classes in their academic lives. Outside of the classroom, it seems easier for new members to trickle in slowly and get a feel for what this “teacherless class” is all about.

    1. Wrote a poem for my Grandfather which he loved and put on his refrigerator.
    2. 5th grade teacher termed me the “Master of Quotation Marks.”
    3. Wrote a poem about baseball in high school that my teacher kept as an example for later classes.
    4. Kept journals and diaries.
    5. Went to college and got discouraged about how well other people wrote.
    6. Disregarded feedback from peers.
    7. Hate writing for school.
    8. Still hate writing for school.
    9. Love correcting papers in high school job.
    10. Can’t stand writing for school.

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