Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Coming to (Believe in) a Common Ground

I think a lot of the articles we have read for this class have been getting at a similar idea, in one way or another. Here's the gist of it: Writing program work is tricky, and sometimes frustrating, because of the competing agendas of all the players and stakeholders. Writing programs are situated in the middle of a big web, and they can't function without a recognition of the connections that have constructed that web. The field of writing studies, community business leaders, upper administration in various branches of the academic institution, composition instructors, and students all have an impact on the development of a writing program. A WPA needs to be able to see those pieces and act appropriately within the context, and--here's the important part--they need to be able to communicate effectively with this wide audience in mind in order to get good work done.

I have been somewhat resistant to the idea that WPAs would need to compromise what they know and value, professionally speaking, in order to appeal to an audience of upper administrators. Why do we need to prove that composition classes should be smaller when our entire field recognizes that as truth, for example? Why do we have to couch a request or a report in admin. lingo, when that lingo is, at times, counterproductive to the field's way of knowing? But Mirtz and Cullen's piece, "Beyond Postmodernism," gave me a new understanding of this reoccurring idea that, yes, sometimes we have to compromise, and, also, it might not be terrible.

Mirtz and Cullen promote a Rogerian style of leadership in WPA work. As a fan of Rogerian argument, this just makes sense to me. They explain, "Rogerian leadership focuses on leading by listening, learning, and finding common ground" and "leading is about persuading" (97). From this perspective, leadership is like a good rhetorical argument in that it necessitates an understanding of the bigger picture, it attends to competing perspectives, and it sets forth a plan that values the ecology of the situation and privileges the whole rather than just a piece of the whole. Previously I've been able to understand this idea clearly on a small scale in that I value collaborative work within a writing program. Now, I see more clearly the reason for extending that sense of collaboration beyond the writing program into the community and institution so that all the strings of the web are working together, negotiating and compromising, to make things happen in/for the writing program.

So this post isn't about a new idea. It's just about me finally being able to come to terms (<3 that Roger) with an older idea that I had been stubbornly resisting. Where are you guys currently sitting in this debate of whose voice should be the loudest in the writing program? Has your perspective changed over time? Which readings have informed that perspective?


  1. Great questions, Margo. I think I've also been influenced by the feminist readings we've discussed, which seem similar to the postmodern theories of fragmented identities, the need to collaborate with and listen closely to the ideas and concerns of others, and the desire to complicate rigid boundaries. I think that if a WPA is going to be effective, these are aspects that will inform their thinking as they interact with others. If we are too entrenched in our own perspectives and agendas, we are not only less likely to get what we want, but we are guilty of the rigid, narrow thinking that we are trying to overcome in others. I also think there is something to be said for taking a step back to see the larger perspective that we are all (hopefully) working toward the larger mission of the university. I think we'll be more productive if we try to see other people on campus as partners as opposed to adversaries.

  2. Ahhhh--the similarities between feminist comp theory and WPA theory. I, too, have noticed this. While the similarities in viewpoints were undercurrents in Discord and Direction, Mirtz and Cullen's piece is dripping with feminist values (collaboration over competition, the value of listening and considering others and their beliefs/experiences, opposition to either/or thought processes, building relationships out of TRUST instead of FEAR, etc.). Outside of WPA, I noticed feminist values being a clear undercurrent in the books read in id601 (particularly our Student-Centered Learning text). The fact that multiple study groups are finding these values to be worthy is a sign, I hope, that this is the general direction humanities, and academia, and even society is heading in. Rather than hierarchical, vertical structures being enforced, collaborative, horizontal, relationship-based structures are built. The key difference is that in the horizontal structure, each of the cogs values and makes use of the values, beliefs, and opinions of the other various cogs in the machine.