In preparing for class, I found an interesting historical context for the Expressivist Movement. Donald M. Murray's article "Finding Your Own Voice: Teaching Composition in an Age of Dissent" begins, "Student power is not longer an issue, it is a fact" (118). His article discusses how the rising generation has voiced its concerns, and college composition instructors must incorporate new tactics for teaching them. Peter Elbow writes in "A Method for Teaching Writing" that being a draft counselor for conscientious objectors helped him shape his expressivist theory (120-2). Taking a critical step back to examine these two theorist should raise a few questions. Student Power? Draft Counselor? Conscientious Objectors? A closer examination of the dates of publications reveal the answer: The Expressivist Movement shaped itself during the Counter Culture movement in the United States during the 1960's.
This historical context plays a part in how the composition theory created its tenets: students have ownership, must find their voice, must experiment with different genres, etc. Teachers must
My thoughts then shifted to this generation... the Millennials. During my presentation, I asked the class what their impressions of today's students. Could the Expressivist moment occur today?
The reactions stunned me. Across the board, every thought was overtly negative. Here are a few still roaming my memory:
They have been pushed through school without learning responsibility.
They're corporate sheeple who are more concerned with gadgets than grades.
"Is there," I asked, "anything positive about today's students?"
I find myself looking at the silence. The only thing that could be perceived as positive can also be spun negatively. They are good at following directions (i.e., see sheeple comment). I, too, have difficulty with approaching my students. Almost every discussion about the education's direction seems overtly negative, and students are to blame. Whether through their lack of preparation for college, or the curriculum that
has failed them, students receive the brunt of the attack.
I subtitled this post "A Case for Millennial Students;" I might not be the best person to make this argument. A few months back, however, editorial cartoonist Matt Bors presented a graphic called "Can We Stop Worrying About Millennials Yet?" It was published on CNN, under the Opinions section. I think Bors makes some cogent arguments about giving Millennials a little breathing space. For one, he switches the focus from students' failings to the systems. He speaks to student loans being a massive issue; I would further that argument to discuss curriculum. If students are underprepared for college, some (if not most) of the blame should fall on state mandated requirements for secondary education. If some wish to blame teachers, those individuals should first inspect the materials. However, what do you think? What are the positives about this rising generation? Could the Expressivist thoughts of ownership be translated to the Digital Age?
Elbow, Peter. "A Method for Teaching Writing." College English 30.2 (1968): 115-25. PDF file.
Murray, Donald M. "Finding Your Own Voice: Teaching Composition in an Age of Dissent." College Composition and Communication 20 (1969): 118-23. PDF file.