Mary Grabar Responds

I was glad to see my article on the CCCC conference generate so much interest and commentary.  I do feel a need to respond to a few of them.

In response to the comments accusing me of cherry-picking among the panels and the speakers on the site Tedx, I suggest that all go to the program and the site to see the incredible bias of both. My examples were representative.

About Heather Thomson-Bunn’s response: the point is well taken about leaving out the word “and” in the title of the paper.  I heard it as “Writing Religion,” but I will stand corrected on that.  Yes, she did say that the course was taught at a public university.  But Professor Thomson-Bunn now teaches at Pepperdine and the purpose of the presentation was to share her experience in teaching such a class for use in other universities.  She did talk about its success and how it could prove to be a good pedagogical approach at other universities.  Otherwise, why even discuss it with colleagues?

More importantly, her point about pushing “students to use personal experience as part of an academic argument” proves the criticism that I was making in my article: that composition instructors are relying on subjective experiences and feelings rather than logical argument backed with evidence.  The hand-out she distributed titled “A Muslim’s Faith, a Jewish Temple. . . and an Academic Argument?: Examining the Contested Role of Religious Belief in Composition” simply reproduced the responses by a Muslim student to her questions about her pedagogy.  Clearly, this was not an anonymous response because she knew that the student was Muslim, that he had visited a Jewish temple, etc. 

I question the usefulness of a student’s responses to a teacher’s questions about the effectiveness of the class.  Of course, one would expect a student to comment positively on the pedagogy of a teacher assigning him a grade. Furthermore, there was no evidence given by her during the presentation that the activity of visiting a Jewish temple helped improve the student’s writing skills.  In fact, such field trips that are intellectually undemanding are often welcomed by students who feel they can win points in the “tolerance” department with teachers. 

The point that "Dr. Grabar uses her personal experiences and observations at a conference to make an argument about writing instruction" shows a confusion about "personal experience."  Yes, I personally was at the conference and yes I personally did inject commentary on my observations.  But how does that equate with the personal experience that Dr. Thomson-Brun asks her students to draw on, specifically their religious beliefs?  What would readers of my article know about me other than that I disagree with the standards of CCCC? Would they know my religion (or more specifically my subjective religious feelings)?  Did I discuss religion as Dr. Thomson-Brun asks her students to do?  I make my argument from the premise that composition teachers should teach composition.  My criticisms arose from the fact that these teachers failed in their professional duties.  Dr. Brum-Thomson, however, implies that I was injecting purely subjective experiences into my analysis, as should students as they consider their religious views.  I would hope that someone in the profession, regardless of religious background, would agree that the goal should be to make students good writers.

 To Drew Loewe, I stand by what I heard and recorded, not only in words but in derisive laughter during the panel.  This was a hostile environment for anyone not in agreement with THIS "in-group" of academics (my original point obviously having been missed).  That there is "zero chance" that Glenn Beck would be interested in such a panel is probably right, for it was little more than a session ridiculing those whose views differ from the group's.  Dr. Loewe gives proof in his comment by the use of slurs, casting those who hold different political opinions as "reactionary."  (Why not the respectful term "conservative"?)  The assertion that Beck's ideology "can reasonably be seen as reactionary and in-group" simply confirms my main point: that the scholarship conducted in this session is specious; it was based on simply attacking an ideology with which this "in-group" disagreed. To this group, anyone who values the Constitution as originally constructed (as Beck does)is called the name "reactionary."  And I disagree with the statement that "reasonable" people would agree that Beck's views are reactionary.  Because I disagree does that mean I am "reactionary" too?   

I also questioned the objectivity of the panel and the entire conference because I did not see a similar analysis of another talk show host whose ideology would not be considered "reactionary."  Why not an analysis of Rachel Maddow? 

Sadly, Dr. Loewe's paper and comment offer just more evidence of the ideological insularity of the academy, particularly in the humanities.  Dr. Loewe feels free to engage in name-calling as a form of argument. 

There was much wrong with Glenn Beck's program, but much good about it.  His style, in my opinion, was too emotional and messianic, and sometimes given to exaggeration.  But he filled a void created by the academy; he offered the public an opportunity to hear some very fine scholars.  Such scholars, I might add, would not be welcomed at forums like the CCCC conference. 


6 thoughts on “Mary Grabar Responds

  1. Dr Grabar shows superb restraint in her comments, more than I could ever muster.
    I come from a background similar to Dr Grabar’s (she doesn’t bring it up in this article): communist totalitarian states from behind the Iron Curtain, though I escaped at a later age than her, and with a huge existential price.
    However, her amazement at what’s happeninig in the American academia perfectly mirrors mine (add, in my case, pure loathing, not just amazement):
    Here we are, refugees from a stultifying, soul/individuality destroying society in the phony name of “equality” and “social justice” (where the commie party bosses were more equal than others, as everybody knows), societies with innumerable crimes against humanity in the name of self-same humanity, where teachers were required by the state to teach the party line, to send ritualized letters of “adherence” to whatever the Dictator had said or done,” to attend monthly “atheism consciousness-raising classes” (not kidding, folks) or else …
    That “else” was really a frightening prospect, so no wonder few of us budged. The fear was overwhelming and palpable. It didn’t mean being fired from your job, like in a free society when you no longer meet the standards. It meant the prospect of being taken into the cells of the Secret Police for, say, skipping the Ode to the Dear Leader on the front page of the state-issued textbook and moving on to real pose and stories, and having a lot of ‘splaining to do, with unforseen consequences.
    So, against all odds in my case, coming to the “land of the free” and witnessing, along the way, supposedly free and intelligent and educated men and women willingly embracing a corrupt, inhuman, debased, conformist ideology for no other reason than being accepted in the “progressive,” neo-Marxist, “enlightened” caste–for a caste it is–is, to me, an immense tragedy.

  2. I just thought of something else to add to my first letter. Have you ever heard of the 100 list at Harvard and Yale? These are the authors that have had their work taken out of the library there. Shakespear is one of them among others and it is because ‘we don’t want any ‘white boys’ in our library. But it gets a little confusing when Emily Dickinson and Maja Angelo are included in the ‘white boys’ list. I hope I spelled Maya’s name correctly. She is a black poetress. Only emotionally ill people could be so confused. When the insane start ruling the planet we who have our both feet on the ground need to get out the straight jackets.

  3. Via OED online:
    Reactionary: A person inclined or favourable to reaction, esp. one who is against radical political or social reform, and in favour of a reversion to a former state of affairs.
    Conservative: A person who conserves or preserves something; (now usually) an adherent of traditional values, ideas, and institutions; an opponent of (social and political) change, a conservative person.
    Particularly as described by the first clause of the definition, Beck is a reactionary. Hence, the choice of term.

  4. Oh my! I think one of Dr. Grabar’s points is this: there is a difference between scholarly writing and other kinds of writing. In other words, there is a difference between casual writing and standard English, between the way we write in our diaries and the way we should write essays assigned by English teachers. There is also a difference between academic writing and journalism. Mary’s article and her response do not constitute a form of academic writing. Her topic is academic writing, but her writing here is journalistic. Her response to her critics is just that, a response on the internet. Using typographical errors to denigrate her efforts is a cheap shot. Instead of taking a cheap shot, I wish Chiodo had told us what he/she thinks of the arguments Mary presents in her article.

  5. In 1994, I wrote a paper for Academic Questions (the journal of the National Association of Scholars) titled “Discourse Production: Composition Studies in the Grip of Literary Theory.” It is now seventeen years later and nothing has changed: composition teachers writing grotesque prose, demonizing the principles of objectivity, correctness, and logic by twisting them into symbols of oppression and “false consciousness,” engaging in group-think and turning students into clones of themselves, promoting Marxized ideas of the “liberated” classroom, and in all these instances pushing a steady drum-beat of “radical critique” of every traditional value in place of writing instruction. Seventeen years, in which the destruction of genuine learning now seems to be moving forward almost of itself, the same destructive impulse that Karl Marx incited in The Communist Manifesto when he called for “the abolition of bourgeois education,” among the other objects of his hate.

  6. I must say that if you plan to make an argument, it helps to at least do a smidge of simple fact-checking to make sure you have the professor’s name spelled correctly…or even remotely similar to the actual name. Within this response alone, you have used the professor’s name twice incorrectly. It is not Thomson-Brun or Brum-Thomson. It is Thomson-Bunn. To print it in two different ways within the same post is just careless and I feel that it negates your authority and ability to report on events and the people participating in them.

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