Author: Scott Campbell

Old New Ideas

Apropos of very little, I wanted to offer a few snippets from what has to be my favorite article of the last year or so. It took me a while to get around to it (it’s from the November 2011 issue of College English), but I am fascinated. The article is itself comprised of snippets from the 1920s and ‘30s, excerpts from the journal that eventually became College English. These selections provide only the smallest glimpse of university life in this period, but what we see is remarkable. See much more in the article itself, “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of the English Journal”  (access may be restricted).


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Flow and Eddy

I like easy puzzles. My favorite puzzle, in fact, has only one piece.

In a recent conversation with other writing instructors, I raised the question of why so many students come into the Writing Center asking for help with the flow of their writing: “Does my paper flow?” “Do my paragraphs flow?” It’s an understandable concern, I suppose, suggesting a desire to overcome awkwardness or unevenness. The metaphor of flow, like similar physical metaphors such as polish or refine, suggests a removal of obstacles or extraneous matter, impurities that may clog or blemish or just generally disturb the reader’s movement through this now flowing text. Flow operates on the border between style and organization, at the places where the components of this text are groomed or grooved or smoothed over so that no rough edges are visible. Flow is matching the belt to the shoes, the hat with the gloves. Continue reading

Snow Write and the Eight Habits

In the last year, there has been some buzz in the field of rhetoric and composition over a document called the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, which, from what I gather, is designed to provide some key terms for ongoing debates about what writing instruction should be. The document, however, is rather quiet about the particulars of teaching writing, choosing to get at the subject obliquely, through the privileging of two descriptive categories, “habits of mind” and “experiences.” In carefully worded, committee-approved prose, the authors assure us that the habits of mind they delineate here “are crucial for all college-level learners” and that the particular forms of experiences described herein “contribute to [these] habits of mind.” Continue reading

Improvisation and Composition #1

In an afterword to his extensively researched history, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, George Lewis expresses his disappointment with the limited rhetorical form of the scholarly book, especially as it pertains to his subject, the Chicago-based musical collective, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Although this remarkable book is sedulously researched and documented—more than ten years in the making and over 600 pages in length—it cannot “cover” such a complex, evolving network of diverse and often contested voices, only perhaps represent its energies and activities in a limited manner. And, even then, its authority will come from the authority of its author, who must present a narrative that places these voices within a recognizable ordering form. Continue reading

Son of “Panopticism”

I’ve been using Michel Foucault in first-year writing courses since I began teaching, and I’m not alone. There have been portions of Discipline and Punish in Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Ways of Reading for as long as I can remember. I may be misremembering, but I recall Foucault’s first section, “The Body of the Condemned,” in editions from the 90s. Recently, it has been “Panopticism.” Beyond this, I remember using “The Discourse on Language” for honors FYC sections at Rutgers and portions of the History of Sexuality with a writing course linked to a content course on literature and sexuality. In that latter class, we read Nancy Friday’s collections of sexual fantasies through a Foucauldian lens. Part of my assignment read as follows: “From a Foucauldian perspective, then, Nancy Friday’s project of collecting and publishing ‘unexpurgated’ sexual fantasies (and our project of analyzing them) can be seen as a small part of this ‘incitement to discourse,’ an act which is as regulatory as it is liberatory. How does this change or re-direct your understanding of Friday’s project? How does Friday enter into the matrices of power?” Oh, the 90s.

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First Words

What to do about beginnings? So self-conscious, so artificial. Well, let’s start with a word of explanation. This blog is meant as a notepad or sidebar to the UConn Freshman English Program, as a place to stash ideas, work through first thinking, or just generally rehearse pieces of our evolving catechism in short form. We shall see what comes of this. Blogs are notorious for making promises they do not keep.

What we can say for sure is that writing program work has the devilish habit of making extra time for writing (or indeed reading) scarce. Although there are about one hundred FE instructors teaching each semester at the six UConn campuses (and another hundred or so teaching the courses within high schools around Connecticut), few in this cohort would claim to have the time to do much work-related reading and writing beyond that which directly serves the immediate needs of their courses or, with TA’s, their own research. We hope that what gets posted here can be brief enough to be readable—these are not articles or chapters—but rich enough to reward this small commitment. Our goal is to create a more visible record of the kinds of thinking that circulates through the program.

Another motivating factor in our decision to inhabit this space is our ongoing interrogation of the term “composition” and its relation to writing. If, as the term suggests, composition includes the act of collecting and arranging materials, if each new composition is in some sense a composite of other materials gathered for this new occasion, then we need to give more attention to this back-and-forth between found or discovered materials and the “new” thinking these materials engender. We need, too, to provide more occasions for composing.

Basic “rules” for what is to come:

  • Typical posts will be about 250-750 words in length.
  • Postings will be experiments and momentary excursions. They should not be understood as the official word of the FE Program.
  • Anyone who works within or around UConn FE is welcome to contribute a post. Let us know if you have an idea for one.

Find the UConn Freshman English website here.