Sunday, September 27, 2015

Murray/Fulkerson

If read out of context, Teach Writing as a Process Not Product,  by Donald Murray has the potential to be mistaken as an out-of-touch, sort of “Well, duh!” essay about the process-based pedagogical underpinnings of current composition theory.  However, after one considers the time in which it was written (1972), it becomes quite the opposite indeed- a revolutionary and ground-breaking take on the (then) long-standing tradition of teaching writing as a product, rather than a process.  In this relatively short but passionate essay, Murray clearly outlines the reasons why teaching writing as a product does not work, and specifically details the way in which it should be employed in the classroom (prewriting 85%, writing 1%, revising 14%).  He defines the teacher’s role as more of a facilitator, rather than instructor, whose job it is to create “environments in which our students can experience the writing process for themselves.”  Murray closes the piece with a list of implications for the composition curriculum. The sheer clarity, directness and brevity of Murray’s article could be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the state of composition studies then, as compared to now, particularly when juxtaposed with the bulky and complex issues presented in the Fulkerson article.
Richard Fulkerson’s Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century was written just over 30 years after the Murray essay.  The, this article gives us a comprehensive analysis of the past and current state of the discipline, with particular regard to the dominant axiological views and, in-turn, the major pedagogical approaches currently employed. The article begins with a side-by-side comparison of two collections of essays outlining the major theories on teaching writing, one written in 1980, and the other in 2001.  Not coincidentally, Don Murray’s Writing as a Process opens the first volume as chapter one, thus setting the tone for the collection.  Murray’s piece seems to mark the significant and seemingly permanent shift from product to process-based instruction in composition studies.  
In addition to acknowledging the many similarities between the two collections, Fulkerson highlights a major difference as being the addition of four chapters rooted in critical/cultural studies (CCS).  This, he states, represents the major new areas of scholarly interest in the discipline.  A large part of the essay is spent discussing some of the main axiological views and their current approaches to college-level writing instruction.  These are loosely categorized as the following (1) Social Theories & Critical/Cultural Studies (CCS), (2) Expressivist Composition, and (3) Rhetorical Approach (discourse analysis, argumentation and genre-based).  A good deal of his discussion is centered around the Social and CCS approaches, as they are the newest additions to composition studies.  Fulkerson does a good job of detailing the specifics of each approach’s instructional practices and he is quick to point out the potential shortcomings and contradictions of each, too.  
  
A perfect read for a writing studies student, Composition at the Turn of the 21st Century gives us an up-to-date look at the current pedagogical approaches/conflicting views and offers us a chance to reflect upon our own practices.  As a relatively new writing studies student, I have had a subtle “sense” that there is a shift towards CCS practices looming in our discipline.  While this may primarily due to the fact that my Writing Research course professor was a “social constructivist” through and through, I still wonder what impact this shift will have on writing instruction.  At this stage in my development as an educator and composition studies student, I tend to align my own practices slightly more with the Rhetorical approaches.  I worry about the practical implementation of such changes as they relate to curriculum development.  
After reading these two articles, I am left with a feeling I often get after reading many other writing studies essays: it is an exciting time to be a composition studies student.  While some may, perhaps, feel a bit of frustration or lack of security from the fact that their chosen area of study is in a constant state of flux, I, on the contrary, am surged with a sense of purpose and drive.  We are all, in a sense pioneers, assisting with the development of a new era.  To me, writing is both an art and a science and there is no one style nor formula which can produce the perfect piece.  

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