Sunday, June 22, 2008

so let's talk for a moment about rhet/comp and other stuff i'm not supposed to like

I like rhetoric and composition. I like learning about it, I like teaching it, I like other people who teach it. I like keeping up with goings-on in the Writing Center and reading placement exams. I don't see a problem with any of that, but there sure are people who think those statements make me a traitor to my field (just think what people would say if told them that I also spend a fair amount of time in the science and engineering library! the horror!).

My soon-to-be office mate (and already-friend) is a rhet/comp person. I've already warned her that the books I'm bringing to the office will surprise her—I own comp theory texts! Oh no! The world will end! But you know what? Those books haven't engaged in battle with the lit crit texts. Everyone gets along just fine.

I'm on the WPA-L and techrhet mailing lists, and I have picked up numerous tips/sparked many ideas—and not only for the composition/prof writing classroom but ideas for the literature classes I'll eventually teach. I'll tell you another list I'm on: the First Year Experience mailing list. I know, I'm close to getting my literature card revoked. But this fall, my two composition sections are part of the Freshman Focus program. My two classes, and another grad student's two classes, are linked with two sections of World Civ II. I consider myself lucky that the World Civ instructor, and my comp partner, are also totally into this program. We're syncing syllabi, planning activities in the dorms, the three of us participated in a small reading group with the FYE director and two other faculty members around this book, and we're generally just stoked about the whole deal. But as literature grad students, we're not "supposed" to be.

And I think that's pretty dumb.

The chances are extremely high that working with freshmen and teaching composition will be part of my life for years to come. Why wouldn't I want to learn as much about it as possible, in order to do the best job possible? Of what benefit is it to think that working with freshmen and teaching composition is a punishment? Of what benefit is it to denigrate those who do teach it, and especially those who specialize in it?

Even in my lovely little grad program, there are those in literature who won't speak to people in rhet/comp. And I've had rhet/comp people ask why I was reading X or Y or Z when X, Y, and Z are "comp books." I will walk away from conversations when they turn to smack-talking against rhet/comp people. I've made it clear that I'm not picking sides, that there's no reason for it to be a war. I believe it's all borne from insecurity anyway. If that loses me some friends in real life, I'm fine with that. I'll retreat to the comfort of my blogroll, which exists as a spectacular interdisciplinary "virtual department" from which I learn a lot, from people I respect.