compositionists as public intellectuals

A while ago I commented at The Blogora that it seems that the positive press about composition and student writing always comes in the form of newspaper articles written by reporters about the classroom, but negative press always seems to come from teachers themselves in the forms of essays. These seem to carry a lot more credence and be printed in national publications rather than regional or city ones.

This was written after the Atlantic essay by Professor X, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. I’m thinking about how composition is portrayed in the national media — especially those periodicals that seem to get the most attention: The New York Times, Atlantic, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and so forth. And I’m thinking about who gets to do the portraying.

This is especially true after reading this Feministe post:

Apparently a new study shows that academics chosen to write op-eds for three major newspapers are overwhelmingly male. The Wall Street Journal was the worst of the bunch, with 97% of their op-eds by academics written by men.

The study doesn’t get into the fact that this gender bias isn’t limited to op-eds by academics. At the New York Times (which features 82% male writers of op-eds by academics), two out of 11 regular op-ed columnists are women. At the Washington Post, two out of 16 columnists are women.

Ashley at Feministe also quotes The Campus Climate Revisited: Chilly for Women Faculty, Administrators, and Graduate Students:

In one study, first done in 1968 and then replicated in 1983, college students were asked to rate identical articles to specific criteria. The authors’ names attached to the articles were clearly male or female, but were reversed for each group of raters: what one group thought had been written by a male, the second group thought had been written by a female, and vice versa. Articles supposedly written by women were consistently ranked lower than when the very same articles were thought to have been written by a male.

So, then, I wonder when rhetoric and composition scholars write for a general public audience, who is speaking “for us” and how are they listened to? How does the work of composition get portrayed. I’m reminded of some of Lisa Ede’s comments from classes, that even within Composition Studies, it’s not even those that do the most teaching of first year writing that do scholarly work in it, and the within the public of composition scholars, composition is often represented/portrayed by those no longer teaching first-year composition (or teaching it much less frequently than graduate students and adjuncts).

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One Response to compositionists as public intellectuals

  1. Laura D. May says:

    oooh, yes, important question. I’ve wondered about that, too.

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