Part 1: Source Analysis
I analyzed the fourth chapter, Error, in Joseph Harris’s A Teaching Subject. In this chapter, Harris takes many ideas and viewpoints from an immense ensemble of sources. Most of the sources he uses come in five year clusters with the first cluster of sources coming out from 1976 to 1981. The second cluster of sources at 1989 to 1994. His final cluster of sources have come out more recently from 2008 to 2011.
Timeline – http://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=1idYt_4p_fe4PoITj4BCFVL_-GF4TuVigyysO0winOH8&font=Bevan-PotanoSans&maptype=toner&lang=en&height=650
While Harris does not seem to purposely sort his chapter into different clusters, each key idea he touches on uses sources from a specific cluster in time. This seems to say which issue of error was discussed at that time. To find the clusters when Harris’s sources were published, I used a timeline of all of his sources. To examine when each source was cited and how most issues were discussed at one point, I sorted the sources by the page they were first cited. When Harris first introduces a source, he typically explains what that source is about and the purpose of that source. In Error, the sources that Harris seemed to use the most were Mina Shaughnessy’s 1977 book Errors and Expectations, John Rouse’s 1979 article “The Politics of Composition,” and Geneva Smitherman’s 1977 book Talkin and Testifyin. With these three sources, Harris uses Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations as a point of comparison between Rouse’s article and Smitherman’s book. While Rouse’s article is written as a direct response to Errors and Expectations, Smitherman’s book attempts to tackle similar issues to Shaughnessy’s although from a different direction.
Although Harris does not agree with Shaughnessy at what seems to be every point in her book, she is cited the most as she provides useful comparison for his message. His standing on Error is most similar to Rouse’s and Smitherman’s and uses their arguments to point out the flaws he sees in Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations.
How Each Source is used
- John Rouse – “Politics of Composition”
- Used to provide comparison for Shaughnessy in his response to Shaughnessy’s book.
- Gerald Graff – “The Politics of Composition: A Reply to John Rouse”
- Provides counters to Rouse as his article was a direct response to Rouse.
- Mina Shaughnessy – Errors and Expectations
- Probably one of the most distinguished works on error, presents itself as a basic guide to teaching FYC.
- Bruce Horner – “Mapping Errors and Expectations”
- Harris uses this to point out a glaring issue of Errors and Expectations.
- John Dixon – Growth through English: A record based on the Dartmouth Seminar
- Although Shaughnessy’s book is referred to as a first of its kind, this is a book that was published preceding Errors and Expectations.
- David Holbrook – English for the Rejected
- Another book published preceding Errors and Expectations, yet Errors and Expectations is at the “frontier.”
- Geneva Smitherman – Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America
- One of Harris’s main sources in Error. Emphasizes the focus on responding to what is said instead of grammar.
- Mike Rose – Lives on the Boundary: A moving account of the struggles and achievements of America’s educationally underprepared
- Proposes to teach standard classes to BW and not remedial courses as they are capable students and just underestimated and looked down on.
- David Bartholomae, Anthony Petrosky – Facts, artifacts, and counterfacts: Theory and method for a reading and writing course
- Proposes to teach BW in a course structured like graduate seminars.
- Malcolm Kiniry, Mike Rose – Critical Strategies for Academic Writing
- Proposes to engage students in literacy through issues in other academic fields.
- Gary Olson – “Social construction and composition theory: A conversation with Richard Rorty”
- Shows the viewpoint of someone not directly in the English field on FYC.
- Maxine Hairston – “Not All Errors Are Created Equal: Nonacademic Readers in the Professions Respond to Lapses in Usage”
- Adds to the point that Williams makes.
- Joseph Williams – “The Phenomenology of Error”
- Urges readers to focus on mistakes that count and not just grammar.
- Min-Zhan Lu – “Reread of Errors and Expectations”
- Points out some deficiencies in Errors and Expectations.
- Calvin Trillin – Runestruck
- Exemplifies the problem of the debate between grammar and content.
- Peter Medway – Finding a Language: Autonomy and learning in School
- Reports on how to teach English not for higher education but for critical thinking.
- Kurt Spellmeyer – “Travels to the Hearts of the Forest: Dilettantes, Professionals, and Knowledge”
- Previously this was only discussed in a closed circle, this opens it up to allow laymen to join the conversation.
- Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, John Trimbur – “Language Differences in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach”
- Talks about a move away from a standardized singular way to teach academic writing in today’s global society.
- Andrea Lunsford, Karen Lunsford – “Mistakes are a fact of life”
- A study on the errors made today and the affects of the word processor on errors.
- Suresh Cangarajah – “Multilingual strategies of negotiating English: From conversation to writing”
- Used to define codemeshing to label strategies for the multilingual world.
- Scott Lyons – “The Fine Art of Fencing: Nationalism, hybridity, and the search for a Native American writing pedagogy”
- Talks about how English can contain the feelings of the Native American pride and language.
Part 2: Rereading Harris’s Sources
Mina Shaughnessy – Errors and Expectations
Mina Shaughnessy was a professor in the field of basic writing at City College of New York. During her time at this college, the school would face a large influx of unprepared college students. As a result, Shaughnessy set out to write this book to address how to teach these students. She would later go on to call these students Basic Writers. Shaughnessy emphasized how the Basic Writer was a new issue that would have to be dealt with in the near future and how it was an uncharted territory by saying, “this book is intented to be a guide for that kind of teacher, and it is certain to have the shortcomings of other frontier maps”(Shaughnessy 389). In her book, Shaughnessy places a huge emphasis on grammatical correctness and spelling. She “divided this territory of difficulty into familiar teaching categories, which serve as headings for the main sections of the book: Handwriting and Punctuation, Syntax, Common Errors, Spelling, Vocabulary, and Beyond the Sentence” (Shaughnessy 389). As it is made very clear, almost all of Shaughnessy’s book is purely on error with little care for what the student has to say.
When comparing this to Harris, Shaughnessy places too much emphasis on correctness. So much so that if you were to follow Errors and Expectations, there would be little to no attention to what the writer is trying to say. In this way, this focus is unhelpful as the writer is not recognized and is only stigmatized and deterred from writing.
John Rouse – “The Politics of Composition”
While I could not find very much information about John Rouse himself, he finds very much wrong with Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations. Despite being relatively unknown and Shaughnessy’s work being a very well known work in academia at that time, he was undeterred from writing his scathing article in College English. While Shaughnessy interprets a student’s essay as a fear of making errors, Rouse sees it completely differently. When the student stops and starts writing multiple times, he sees it as a student’s struggle to find something to write about the assigned topic. As someone who usually draws a blank when I first see a writing prompt, this diagnosis seems much more accurate to me. Rouse questions the accuracy of the results Shaughnessy provides as many of the writing prompts she gives her students do not attempt to deeply engage, or even engage at all their interest. Due to this, Rouse believes students would probably have no prior knowledge or experience in these topics and therefore be completely dry of ideas or words to put on paper. He says “no wonder they seem inarticulate or unthinking” (Rouse 2). As a result of their inability to write anything, it is easy for Shaughnessy to infer that students are too wrought with anxiety to write and need to start with the basics like grammar. As something concrete that students can learn, it seems obvious that it would provide a better response than the writing prompts nebulous to them. Rouse points out that Shaughnessy does not give enough credit to the Basic Writer. Although they may not know how to write eloquently, they still understand the basic rules of grammar as they are shared with the basic rules of speech. This heavy emphasis on form and grammar somehow assumes that once form is correct, meaning will just naturally be sorted out by itself. As Rouse points out, “most syntactic errors do not result from ignorance of forms but rather from inconsistencies in thought, and we improve our sentences by testing their meaning and their sound” (Rouse 7). This is Rouse’s main criticism of Shaughnessy’s “analytic method.”
Geneva Smitherman – Talkin and Testifyin
Geneva Smitherman is an English Professor at Michigan State University. Heavily embracing her African American heritage, she is commited to the education and development of Black youth. As a result, while teaching in primarily black High Schools, she earned the nickname “Dr. G” and goes by both “Dr. G” and “Dr. Smitherman.” Smitherman, while a much larger player in academia than Rouse, pushes a very different message than Shaughnessy. While Shaughnessy places an emphasis on correcting grammatical error to teach the Basic Writer, Smitherman attempts to approach teaching with an emphasis on what the writer has to say. While both Shaughnessy’s and Smitherman’s arguments represent the sides considered by CCCC, CCCC came out with the Students’ Right to Their Own Language that clearly supports Smitherman’s side. Smitherman’s position allows the student to exhibit “the richness and complexity of African American English” (Harris 109). Although I could not find a copy of Smitherman’s Talkin and Testifyin, I used an homage to her work “Thirty Years of Influence: A Look Back at Geneva Smitherman’s Talkin and Testifyin” by Daniel C. DoBell. In this article, it talks about the previous advances in the field of African American literature that led to Talkin and Testifyin. In the 60s was “a ‘virtual explision of work on the language of U.S. slave descendants'” (DoBell 158). In 1966, work was published that “dispelled the racist myth that African American Language is illogical or ungrammatical” (DoBell 158). This would legitimize the study of African American English and eventually allow Smitherman to publish her book. “According to Smitherman and Baugh, Talkin and Testifyin ‘dealt with the use of black speed’ while earlier sociolinguists like Dillard and Labov ‘focused primarily on structure'” (DoBell 159). This book itself “put to rest the notion of Black English being representative of cognitive deficiency and … took the message to the lay public” (DoBell 158). In this way, Smitherman’s book while not directly for the teaching of the Basic Writer, provides a very good way to evaluate what the Basic Writer writes. Smitherman asks for a focus on “communicative competence” rather than correctness. This approach listens to and responds to what a student writer has to say instead of nitpicking at the grammar and losing the what they mean. As a result, Smitherman creates a way to approach both an experienced and capable writer and a Basic Writer and give useful feedback to both without requiring giving special treatment to one. This alleviates the issue that treating the Basic Writer as natives and savages and having to provide a special approach just for them.
Part 3: Implications of Close Readings
After reading what seemed to be the three most important sources in Harris’s Error, I feel like his emphasis was misplaced. I think most of Error was focused on the places that Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations was deficient, I think he was too critical of Rouse and did not place enough emphasis on Smitherman. While Rouse may have “sometimes seemed to deliberately aim[ed] to provoke” (Harris 103), Rouse had very many good points that questioned Shaughnessy’s approach. The extremely strict system of control set out by Shaughnessy does not seem to help the growth of students but instead inhibit it. It prevents students from explaining their own personal experience which Rouse points out and Smitherman pushes to emphasize. As Rouse states, “they must learn that language is a way of presenting your separate and individual experience to others, of making your subjective intent explicit” (Rouse 8). Throughout Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations however, students never get to do this and never truly grow as writers. The way Rouse criticizes the reading Shaughnessy has her students do and the emphasis she places is also telling of how the extent of the focus on grammar inhibits learning. Shaughnessy has her students read with such a heavy emphasis on the book’s structure that students were unable to see the meaning in the text and the experiences that could be extracted from them. I think with the way Harris wanted to steer Error, Smitherman’s book would have been a much better one to place the most emphasis on. Especially with what Harris talks about towards the end of the chapter with his excerpts from Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts, Finding a Language, “The Phenomenology of Error,” “Mistakes are a fact of life,” and “Language Differences in Writing” it makes sense to place Smitherman’s book at the center. Smitherman emphasizes a way to evaluate and respond helpfully to any type of writing, whether it be a Basic Writer or a regular student. Towards the end of Error, most of his sources are used to emphasize a method that does not push one standardized form of writing. This is due to the interplay of society and technology that probably was not in anyone’s mind at the time that Shaughnessy and Smitherman published their books. With the way technology connects people all over the world, sentence structure will not necessarily translate perfectly from one language to another nor will the meaning of words stay the same from one region to another. In this way, each writing needs to be dynamically evaluated and Smitherman’s approach offers a solution to that. Along with that, the existence of word processors solves the need for most grammar rules to be studied and spelling to be memorized. What needs to be taught is evaluation in context and Smitherman again solves this problem through her approach.
- Thirty Years of Influence: A Look Back at Geneva Smitherman’s “Talkin and Testifyin”
Daniel C. DoBell
The Journal of Negro Education
Vol. 77, No. 2 (Spring, 2008) , pp. 157-167
Published by: Journal of Negro Education
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25608678
- The Politics of Composition
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Sep., 1979) , pp. 1-12
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/376355
- Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York. Oxford University Press, 1977.
- Harris, Joseph. A Teaching Subject. Logan. Utah State University, 2012. Print.