The CEA Forum
Winter/Spring 2008: 37.1
Linda S. Bergmann and Edith M. Baker, editors. Composition and/or Literature: The End(s) of Education. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006.
by Vanessa Cozza, Bowling Green State University
Over twenty years after Winifred Bryan Horner's 1983 Composition and Literature: Bridging the Gap, the 2006 publication of Composition and/or Literature: The End(s) of Education accomplishes more than simply “bridging the gap” between composition and literature. Linda S. Bergmann and Edith M. Baker have gathered a collection of essays that addresses the problems between the two disciplines and argues for departmental reform; Bergmann highlights in the book's introduction and first chapter that the purpose of their book is “to reconsider the teaching of literature in composition classes, to examine the extent to which the division between literature and composition affects teaching practices in colleges and universities of various kinds, and to document cases of success and failure in attempted collaborations between literature and composition” (2). Divided into three parts, the essays offer teachers in both disciplines valuable insight into the aged, but continuing debate about the relationship between composition and literature.
The essays in Part One trace the history of the divide between composition and literature, and present the problems that continue to exist between the two disciplines, providing the reader with a review of this debate or offering an introduction to its roots. Dominic DelliCarpini's essay opens the first section, arguing for both disciplines “to prepare students as active citizens within a democratic society” (17). To support his claim toward civic education, DelliCarpini “makes a clear case for a mission of writing as public discourse that cannot be fulfilled by the teaching of literature as usually defined, that is, as imaginative writing valued primarily by aesthetic criteria” (3). He suggests that redefining literature will help to better serve its purpose in civic education.
Other essays in this first section include works by Timothy J. Doherty, Edward A. Kearns, and Eve Wiederhold; they expand the discussion further by focusing on other important issues. In particular, Doherty calls for change, which she contends can only begin with an open discussion among educators, and will hopefully lead toward a clear understanding of what constitutes literacy as well as discovering how the separation or union of composition and literature will benefit and contribute to the fulfillment of literacy instruction. On the other hand, Kearns' essay takes a different, yet creative approach, describing what he views as a “malady” in English departments and suggesting “cures” to solve the problem. Kearns proposes moving English departments “to the College of Fine Arts” because he believes that composition and literature have similar aesthetic values, setting them apart from other departments (62). Lastly, Wiederhold feels the need to bring back literature into the composition classroom in order to examine “the beliefs and values that comprise the commonplaces upon which communication within a culture depends (xii). The authors in Part One provide various institutional contexts for where composition and literature reside.
The essays in Part Two look at how institutional and departmental relationships play a role in the composition and literature debate. This section offers the reader a more detailed look into the English department's place in relation to other departments in the university. First, Barry M. Maid believes that the problems between composition and literature include “issues of privilege, power, and economics” and argues for independent writing departments in his essay (93). Next, John Heyda begins his chapter by asking whether “composition and literature move together to a new, more interactional space?” (121). He explores the answer to this question by sharing his experiences revising the syllabus for the composition program at Miami University. Heyda concludes that the interaction between composition and literature is possible and necessary for curriculum reform. Lastly, Dennis Ciesielski “argues for the value to composition faculty of teaching literature, making the case for a ‘whole-language' approach to reading and writing for both students and teachers” (10). He believes that the joining of composition and literature will create what he calls “the whole English teacher.” Ciesielski describes this type of teacher as a person who is well prepared to teach reading and writing, and can help his or her students understand the connection between both abilities. The authors in this section set the context for the reader to understand the last section of the book, which focuses on classroom applications.
The authors in the last section provide several classroom applications that demonstrate “the integration of materials and practices drawn from both literature and composition” (4). The essays offer the reader concrete ways to incorporate or draw from both composition and literature. Fischer, Reiss, and Young's essay opens this final section, supporting the use of computer-mediated approaches to teach reading and writing. Providing several students' sample projects, the authors clearly demonstrate how electronic technologies contribute to students' understandings of aesthetic values from composition and literature. At the end of their essay, they offer tips for prompting online discussions about literature. In the next essay, Edith M. Baker argues “for the inclusion of literature in first-year composition (FYC),” (171) and believes that “[literature] can help students question and change their worlds” (176). On the other hand, Mary T. Segall brings students' voices “into the conversation by reporting the results of a survey of [their] responses to literature in composition courses” (10). Patricia Harkin closes this final section and the rest of the book by requiring educators to think both as teachers and theorists, and asking themselves to define what they mean by “writing, reading, and literature ” (214).
While this collection is useful for both experienced composition and literature professors, it also appeals to novice teachers who may have a literary background, but are heading toward composition studies or vice versa. Although there are mixed feelings about the separation or union of composition and literature in English departments revealed throughout the essays, the authors see value in both programs. Readers will learn how important it is for English departments to discuss the relationship between the two disciplines as well as how they can do more than simply “bridge the gap” between them.
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