News. To honor and remember deceased Chairs, the CCCC Executive Committee approved four $750 scholarships for fulltime graduate students to attend the annual convention. The application deadline for Chicago is February 1, 2006. Complete information is http://www.ncte.org/groups/cccc/highlights/123300.htm.
The CCCC session at MLA is #600, at 7:15 p.m., December 29, in the Kennedy Room of the Marriot. Our timely topic this year is “The State of American Writing: Perspectives Popular and Professional,” with speakers Peter Mortensen, Sue McLeod, and Ann Wysocki, and chair Doug Hesse. Afterwards, some folks may want to attend the annual WPA party.
My annual report to the membership and my Chair’s address are in the December issues of CCC, recently mailed. You can view the contents and, if you have a membership, link to full text at http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ccc/contents/111785.htm.
The Professional Equity Project, which awards $250 worth of support to nontenure line faculty to attend the convention, has been enormously successful this year. We will make 100 grants for the Chicago meeting. I’d challenge anyone to identify a professional organization that provides such support to so many people.
Views. Blogs start bravely, and some writers stick to them. I’m clearly not one. Among the things that have surprised me this year is the sheer volume of correspondence going that happens between the Chair and all the many people doing all the great work of the organization. I fancy that thirty years ago, pre-email, this happened at the pace of the post and the occasional phone call. Whether would be better or worse is beside the point; there’s no going back.
As chair you learn a lot more about the highways and back roads of our profession than you’d really thought existed, even if you thought you’d been paying attention. There’s a lot of creeks and draws in the loping fields between rhetoric and composition. There are places where people are still speaking the modes of discourse, and there are places that speak Greek, Latin, and French, though less this last now than a few years ago. There are places that speak Drupal and Wiki, sometimes through the voice of podcasting. If there’s any personal disappointment over the past year, it’s that I haven’t helped the organization move nearly as far as it needs to in terms of shaping the spheres beyond our own. We’re caught generally in a responsive mode, as, for example in the recent release of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy .
I’m not naive about how much or little CCCC can shape the national discourse on writing and literacy. Still, I worry that we’re too comfortable in the role of outside critics; it’s easier to say smart things to each other about how stupid or malicious this or that report, bill, or speaker is than it is to find ways to make public to popular audiences what we know about writing. The very blog you’re reading is an ironic instance.
I just worry a little about our motives. In his farewell address, Dwight Eisenhower famously worried about the emerged military industrial comple, in which perpetuating a certain state of affairs for the economic benefit of some supplanted concerns for the broader health of the country and its citizens. Though it’s melodramatically pretentious to imagine myself as Ike-plus-50, I wonder what drives writing teachers today and that includes me. Or maybe it's just me.
Properly, we worry about the state of the profession and our status in academic culture, and we want CCCC to advance both. But to the extent we regard teaching writing, reading, and literacy as mere pretexts for bulking our collective identity as a profession, becoming ever more enthralled with analyzing our own profession-ness, we drift paradoxically further from our calling and mission. These are musty terms, I admit, hardly suited to current political realities, except through a kind of fundamentalist rhetoric that surely scares me. But my own challenge is to see CCCC clearly always, at least in part, through the lens of our students’ best-imagined literate lives.