Kory has asked for some discussion of the question of locating Elbow. Here are a few thoughts.

  • In one of the articles Kory has collected for us, Elbow defines academic literacy as how professors write for other professors. When last week we listed on the board terms we associated with ‘academic literacy,’ there were quite a few negative-sounding phrases—rigid, rule-oriented, prescriptive, formal, etc.—which suggests that we were to some extent linking academic literacy to the deservedly maligned current-traditional approach to composition theory and pedagogy. That is, how professors write for other professors often is portrayed as old-fashioned, formal, and not creative.
  • Elbow argues that in FYC we don’t have to teach students how to write exclusively like professors. Life is long and varied, and there is more to writing—at work, say, or for fun—than producing academic articles. Perhaps professors need to learn to write like students as much as students need to learn to write like professors…

Source: The New Yorker, September 10, 2012, p. 89

  • We should also consider the political dimensions to the current-traditional definition of academic literacy. To borrow Brian Street’s words (which were quoted in last week’s reading, “Blinded by the Letter”), the values we place on being able to write like academics “are merely those of a small elite attempting to maintain positions of power and influence by attributing universality and neutrality to their own cultural conventions” (723).
  • So if like Elbow we teach a variety of writing styles in FYC, extending ourselves and our students beyond the current-traditional definition endorsed by those in authority, and since we are teaching these styles in the academy, what is to stop us calling what we are teaching “academic literacy”? (The answer is: those who have the power to stop us.) To put it another way, if we drop the limited, hegemonic definition of academic literacy and include literacies which people can use not just in writing for professors but in writing at work, for the newspaper, to friends, and so on—real-world writing—Elbow can be welcomed back into the academy. (Did he ever really leave?)
  • What about the new literacies? Does Elbow belong there? It is interesting to note that we seemed to find it difficult, if not impossible, to put Elbow in the ‘new literacies’ category on the board, also. And yet, and yet…If a key feature of the new literacies is collaboration, then why doesn’t Elbow’s pervasive inclusion of collaborative writing (in his and Belanoff’s textbook, Being a Writer, for example) count? Is it because we have already defined him exclusively as an individualist and cannot see beyond that category? Is it because he is not associated with the technical stuff of new literacies, or new genres such as blogging? What about that new literacies ethical stuff—the emphasis on texts being written, shared, read, and rewritten together? Elbow seems to be as keen on that as anyone else.
  • If academic literacy isn’t just current-traditionalist literacy, if, indeed, it isn’t just how professors write to each other but, more broadly, how people write to each other within the academy in a variety of contexts and for all sorts of reasons, including readying themselves for writing to non-professors, and if the ethical stuff is at the heart of new literacies, then I would say that Elbow fits fairly into both categories: academic literacy and the new literacies. Which, it seems to me, problematizes the categories rather than Elbow’s approach to writing.

One comment on “

  1. You brought up some interesting points which made me think (God forbid). I like you pointed out about Elbow encouraging students to experiment with various writing, “real world writing.” But since those practices are taking place in the academy, then perhaps we can say Elbow is teaching academic writing. I always enjoy reading about Elbow and seem to never be able to get enough of him. One question though I do have, is you mentioned how we, as instructors should possibly attempt to write more like our students, not just have our students write more like us, as academics. I’m curious what you mean by this? Do you think perhaps we should become more casual with our tone and voice? Also, what sort of activities do you think we should conduct in order for instructors to write more like students?

    Interesting ideas you’ve got going, thanks for making me think! ~Luke

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