Sunday, March 20, 2005

CCCC, Day One: Chair's Address

Doug Hesse was the Chair of CCCC this year--he directs the University Honors Program at Illinois State University. His talk began with singing, which raised nervewracking memories for me of my own college's previous president, who began his term by singing at his initial convocation, before proceeding to bankrupt us (nearly). However, it got better, because Hesse showed us an essay he "wrote" by using this link: http://radioworldwide.gospelcom.net/essaygenerator . He then used the Intelligent Essay Assessor to evaluate the essay (it's a Pearson product, you can google it). That was a pretty great demonstration, because the essay scored very high.

The talk itself was called "Who Owns Writing?" and Hesse was trying to get us as compositionists to think about the ways we think and talk about writing. For instance, if we're trying to think about writing as a means to "accomplish something in a world of writers and readers," he wants us to consider whether school has much to say to that world. He asked us to think about the notion that writing is "so profoundly contextualized" that it may "resist any pedagogy."

For me, the most important idea from his talk was a binary (which he said he was fully prepared to deconstruct--he was using it "heuristically"--that's a good argument strategy, by the way, for any of us) between what he called "obliged" discourse and "self-sponsored" discourse. Obliged discourse would be that done in vocational or work settings as well as academic settings. On the other hand, self-sponsored discourse would include personal writing, creative writing, belle-lettristic writing, and civic writing (a very useful notion for those of us working with the idea of writing oriented to public settings).

He also pointed to some instances of self-sponsored discourses--journaling, certainly, but also scrap-booking; and the website that military commanders (mid-level) in Iraq and Afghanistan started, called companycommand.com, which allowed those commanders to communicate informally the strategies they had found helpful for armoring their vehicles, etc.

One more pithy observation: "the nature of an activity changes depending upon who organizes it." I could meditate on that for awhile, and on the idea of sponsorship, and seeing if there are ways to attenuate my sponsorship of the writing in my classroom, or if that's even possible at all.

Finally: he used PowerPoint as well as anyone I've ever seen use it--what was on the screen at any given time bore a figurative relationship to what he was saying, as opposed to merely condensing it literally. This meant that my experience, at any rate, of the presentation felt layered and enriched rather than didactic and reductive.

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