Rather than respond to a response, I’m entering a post because I can see that I am going to go on at length:
Irv, I wonder: do you think your system is viable (in terms of the grade distribution and/or the timing of when grades attach attaching grades) for untenured faculty (whether they be pre-tenure TT or adjunct)? Despite the extent to which it is theoretically, pedagogically, and operationally sound, might it not offer too much exposure–too much fuel, maybe–for contingent faculty to use? The “academic freedom” position is, for many who teach writing, an ideal rather than a practice. Thoughts?
Thoughts in response to Kurt (and thanks for your note, Kurt):
We can’t shy away from the social stratification system and unequal distribution of pay, prestige, and privileges (reproducing the more general cultural system) at play in English departments. Sometimes, there are phatic gestures of equality that no one believes. I wrote in “Acting Justly” about the social stratification system in English departments–tracking back to the Wyoming Conference Resolution and its watered-down descendants (also see “Whispers from the Margin”). English departments are simply usually unconsciously articulating the larger function of the university–one of Althusser’s ideological state apparatuses (with some gestures of pushing against orthodoxy).
Social reproduction theory is only the frame for my response. As actors, we have some degree of consciousness but it’s easy to overstate our case. Grades–and the way they are institutionally naturalized–are only one more strategy in the social reproduction game.
So . . . yes, the less privileged take more chances when they challenge orthodoxy. Tenured full professors can challenge grading systems relatively unscathed, although people might avoid them in receptions. Part-time teachers will not be rehired. NonTT teachers might be dismissed. Assistant professors might not get promotion and tenure, and associate professors might associate forever.
This scheme might be mitigated and even countermanded by a writing program administrator or (less likely) a chair or (more less likely) by a dean who might commit themselves to teaching rather than social reproduction (I know–this is not a hierarchical opposition–more of a dialectic: I know a lot of very good writing teachers who still grade essays and literature teachers who grade tests).
However, what does it say about our system if we recognize that our pedagogy contradicts our goals but we hang on to it because the structure within which we teach (which usually includes in its Essential Learning Outcomes something like self-sponsored/life-long learning) threatens dismissal if we refuse to engage in counterproductive teaching habits–like grading?
Let me give two more examples of mis-education (Dewey)–ones with which most people in our field would agree but still dominate education: the focus on testing, “measurable” outcomes (I cringe whenever I hear this phrase)–and its link to the testing industry; and formula writing. Even though most of us in the field have endlessly dissed the five-paragraph essay and its cousins, it and other models of formula writing dominate secondary (and in some places, postsecondary) education.
Let’s imagine that we want our students to love writing, to love learning (both of which would lead to self-sponsored writing and learning); then we should always ask at the end of our course or curriculum, do they go out of our courses and programs with a more positive attitude toward writing and learning than when we first met them? And by “they,” I mean at least 90% of our
students. If the answer is no, then we need to think (critically).