I’ve been spending time again with that revolutionary composition thinker Winston Weathers (who died around 2010, I believe). His little known book An Alternate Style: Options in Composition was published in 1980 and I encountered it years ago in developing readings for my advanced writing course “Writing Process and Practice.” Far few people spent time with Weathers’ ideas while he was living, but I returned to him as I have recently been challenged to re-think, again, the place of traditional rhetoric in the classroom.
These challenges have come from multiple places both in and out of my classroom space. Of note, one of my best students this semester wrote this to me about our class:
“It is interesting to have been writing philosophy papers, poems, and a research paper concurrently this spring. Now I feel I can switch more deftly between these genres of writing, which are admittedly worlds apart … . I understand the importance of rhetoric, and the importance of using words to persuade and explain, but part of me truly believes that this kind of research paper writing is what’s wrong with the world.”
Ugh. Ouch. Now she is of a dramatic temperament, but still, her comments were both deflating and challenging to me. I seek to motivate and empower students to write cleanly and coherently, and I certainly don’t want them to see the work they do in my class as emblematic of “what’s wrong with the world.” If I had her here before me, I would ask her to elaborate so that I can better understand her judgment. Instead, I am left with a vague feeling of dis-ease, a reminder that perhaps the time has come to shake things up and seek ways to intersect my heart-felt yet traditional learning objectives with composition styles and products options that do not leave students feeling as though they have been on some sort of rhetorical death march.
“Our … compositions [must] become emblematic of and analogous to our social and political ‘compositions.’ If we come to composition with options, open-mindedness, adaptability, we not only fulfill ourselves the more but we obviously are capable of giving more to others.”
Thanks for the reminder, Professor Weathers.