Collin College’s Third Annual Trends in Teaching Composition Conference brought teachers of writing from neighboring campuses together in late October, and I had the honor of spending a day with them. My visit actually began the day before, when I attended a graduate seminar in composition theory at Texas Christian and, following the class, a reading group discussion/potluck dinner. I’ve always enjoyed and benefitted from such occasions (and held many at my home over the years), but since I’ve “retired,” I especially savor these times, full of camaraderie, good will, fellowship, and talk about teaching and about students: Teachers enjoying and sharing and learning from one another. These sessions took me back to some of my earliest experiences in teaching graduate courses to new teachers, when I had an opportunity to build an intellectual and personal community that nurtured and shared ideas. Looking back over the years, I can see that these communities inspired a great deal of good research and scholarship as well as lasting friendships. I also see that such communities seem particularly characteristic of the field of rhetoric and writing studies. So now when I get to join one of these groups, even for a day, it feels very much like going home. At the reading group, I soaked up the atmosphere (as well as the great food!), and listened to the ebb and flow of conversation (we were talking about an essay I had co-written about students in the Stanford Study of Writing) swirling around me about research in pursuit of better teaching and learning. Indeed, it felt like home.
Joining the conference at Collin College the next day continued a celebration of the best goals of our field. The conference’s theme was on argument, and I got to share my thoughts on the subject (and you know I have LOTS of them!) and then join in a large-group discussion of how best to teach argument today—and, indeed, why we need to teach it. For me, helping students engage successfully in the world of argument—that is to say, in the world we currently inhabit—offers them a way to become active and productive participants in that world, to learn to listen to and respect other viewpoints, to see that their voices are always in response to the voices of others, and to enter the global and endless conversation of humankind. I view argument not as a form or even a genre, but rather as a way of being in the world. We argue to learn what we think and believe, to understand our relationship to other people as well as to ideas, to make the best decisions we can about inevitably complex and difficult issues, and to build and sustain networks of exploration and understanding. We teach argument so that students can and will pursue these same goals.
And what a feast of exchanges the conference provided. In a panel on Teaching Comics, scholars talked about how to argue for the inclusion of comics in our curricula and presented brilliant activities and assignments used in their own classes. In another panel, students and faculty from Texas State explored “Strategies for Teaching Argument and Persuasion in Relation to Latin@ Literary and Cultural Spheres,” reminding us that modes and ways of arguing differ from culture to culture and that we still have a lot to learn by paying very close attention to the writing and reading strategies of all our students, including those who attend Hispanic serving colleges and universities.
So it’s true: I love writing teachers and being with such teachers. With teachers learning from and sharing their wisdom and successes, their missteps and failures, with each other. Yes, I know that higher education is under attack from all sides, that working conditions for teachers of writing are in many places disgraceful, and that the work we do can be bone-wearying. But I also know that we have been meeting these challenges for longer than I can remember, and doing so with grace and good will and persistence.