Victor Villanueva – Writing as a Way of Doing

Victor Villanueva – Writing as a Way of Doing


ERICA AUSTIN: Well,
hello, everybody. This is a really great turnout. Thanks for being here. Thanks to you at
the remote sites also for joining us today. I’m Erica Austin, Vice
Provost for Academic Affairs, and I want to mainly say
thank you to all of you, to the teaching academy,
to Global Campus, to Dr. Villanueva who’s
going to be presenting today. We’ve had a great series of
workshops happening about once a month through the fall. These have been by faculty, for
faculty, and emerging faculty. And we are really
appreciative of the range of topics that
have been suggested and that have been
offered and the lunch that has been provided generously by
Global Campus for those of you who are here in the room. We can’t provide it virtually. We will be continuing to provide
lunch thanks to the Teaching Academy sponsoring that
through the spring semester at the different workshops. So tell all your friends,
and this is a great way to spend lunch and learn
about something really useful that you can take back
and use right away. In fact, I heard that at
our last month’s teaching presentation, we had some
people in the room who took what they
learned and used it in class that very afternoon. So we’ll look forward
to hearing what you’re able to do with
what you learn today. I need to remind you that
if you have questions– and of course we encourage
questions and discussion in conjunction with
the presentation– make sure that you get
one of these microphones, so that the people
at our remote sites will be able to
hear your question. And we also want to make sure
they can participate fully, just as you can
here in the room. So it’s my honor and pleasure
to introduce Victor Villanueva. He is a Regents
Professor of English. He’s the director of
our writing center. He told me I’m
allowed to tell you that he’s been at WSU for
a while now, 19 years, and so he really knows
not just about writing and about teaching. He also knows about the culture
of Washington State University and our students and how
to reach them effectively, and that is what he is
going to talk about today, that writing is doing
and how you help them to do that in your classes. So, Dr. Villanueva. [CLAPPING] DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA:
Thank you, madame. Hi. And let’s see. One of you, Leslie, has heard
this entire routine before. My time is limited. I’ve got 50 minutes,
more or less, and those of you who know me
knows that’s not enough for me. So I was going to start
out with an exercise, but I don’t think
I want to that. What I’m going to do is tell you
what the exercise was or would have been to get you
prepared for where I’m going to go with all of this. I should tell you
something about what I do. Where’s Erica? Hi. This is not against her. I don’t really run
the Writing Center. In fact, Lisa Johnson-Shull
is the one who does that. What I direct is
the Writing Program. And why am I making
that distinction? Well, because, one,
Writing Program handles assessment as
well as the writing center and WAC and WID. And I don’t know
if you guys know the distinction
between WAC and WID, apart from that
they sound funny. WAC is writing across
the curriculum. When you think about writing
across the curriculum courses, something like English 101 is
supposed to be doing that job. It is, what are the
general principles of writing for the academy
that obtain across the academy. That’s writing across
the curriculum. Part of what tends to happen
in an English 101 course is learning something about the
ways of the academic discourse community. And I’m going to come back
to that word “discourse” at some point probably. Writing in the disciplines
is something very different, because then we’re talking
about the particular kinds of language use
and argumentation that obtains for a
particular discipline or set of disciplines. It’s what takes us
out of our expertise, those of us in English studies. See what I’m saying? We can know about rhetoric and
we can know about language, but we can’t know about
the particular ways in which scientists, say,
would marshal their arguments. We need you for that– the ways
in which you marshal arguments for your own disciplines. We should work together
on those kinds of things. And the main reason
I’m bringing that up is because part of
the problem that has obtained for the quarter
century– that writing across the curriculum,
the M course, has been at play at
this university– well, it kind of starts in 1989. In 1996, we hired the first
Writing Program director, which was Bill Condon. And I was hired in ’95 to
be Director of Composition in the English department. I did the WAC. He did the WID. Part of what happens–
part of the reason why I’m bringing this up– is that
part of the grumbling that often occurs in M courses
is the idea that you are being asked to do our job. And actually, we’re asking you
to do a part of what is already a part of your job. There is no discipline
in which writing isn’t a part of what you do. You have to publish. You have to do grant proposals. All kinds of writing is
a part of what you do, but you think of
it as transparent. Well, it doesn’t quite
operate that way. So what we’re asking you to
do is a part of what you do, but there is an expertise
we can bring to bear. I started to say something
about what it is that I do. There is a funny thing
that’s happened historically where– I have to think,
do I want to get into this, and I will– here’s what
happens historically. Historically, at
Harvard University, which tends to dictate– if
we talk about what dictates curricula throughout
this country, it’s Harvard, Yale,
and Ann Arbor, Michigan when it comes to writing. Why Ann Arbor? I don’t know. But nevertheless Ann Arbor’s
the other, which is, by the way, where Bill Condon came
from when he came here. For many years, Harvard
had an endowed chair that was called the Boylston
Professor of Rhetoric. The Boylston Professor
of Rhetoric– that included John
Quincy Adams, included Henry Adams, some big names. In the late 19th, the
Boylston Professor of Rhetoric changed his title to something
he thought was more important, and he changed his title
to the Boylston Professor of English Literature. But then he saw that there
were these students that weren’t quite prepared to do the
writing he thought they should be doing for literature. And so he gave the job to
his teaching assistant, which is the precedent that is
with us to this day of having teaching assistants teach
comp, which has its problems. Because it assumes a
kind of amateurism– that if you can write
you can teach writing– and that isn’t always the case. Nevertheless, the Boylston
Professor of English Literature created a series of
English courses at Harvard. Students who looked like
they could do really well would do English A.
Students who couldn’t quite come up to that would two
English B, all the way down to English D, which correlated
with the supposition of the grade that the
student would get. And for those of you
who know some poetry, think about Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes, probably the
greatest of all American poets, was relegated to English B,
which he wrote a poem about, because he was a black student
at Harvard at that time. Composition, then, in the
1960s, because of some work that was coming out of Jerome
Bruner in cognitive sciences, some work that was
coming out of Vygotsky, Voloshinov– there
was a lot of folks who were starting
to argue what I’m going to get to
in a second, which is how we come to know that
language is epistemological. Now, composition
starts to take off. That’s one thing that happens. The other thing that
happens is that there’s a conference at Dartmouth
between professors of English and teachers of
English in America and teachers of
English in England. And we come to
realize that they were doing things very different
from what was going on here. So composition starts
to take off on its own, but composition, as
I said, started out as some sort of menial labor
that amateurs could do. And that attitude
isn’t completely gone, when you look at the amount of
non-tenure track faculty that are hired to teach writing. So what composition had to do
was attach itself to something that would legitimate it
more and that would not be British literature. And what it did was
it attached itself to rhetoric, which
is technically– and there’s a reason
why I say technically, which we can get back to
or not– 2,500 years old, beginning with
Corax of Syracuse. So what is it that I do? There’s this funny thing that
we call a single discipline, rhetoric and composition. Composition itself is
less than 100 years old. Rhetoric is 2,500 years old. I am mainly a
rhetorician, but that’s much of what my work has
been– but deeply tied to rhetoric’s influence on
the teaching of writing. Composition for me, even though
it’s a noun, acts as a verb. It is the doing, and
rhetoric is also. Now if you guys weren’t
chomping on pizza and if it weren’t faculty, and
if I wasn’t so limited in time, this is what I
would ask you to do. But here’s so that you
know what the exercise is. I would ask you to
write a word, any word, and put it on the top
left-hand corner of your page. You with me? Then I would ask you to write
its opposite on the right. This gets very interesting
disciplinarily, by the way, because I
would give an example and I would say
“like red and blue.” And I had some student tell
me that red and blue are not opposites. Well, how about red and green? No, they’re not
opposites either. Well, two words came out
of my mouth after that. We’ll leave it to
your imagination. And then I said a
word and its opposite. Going back to that
first word, I would ask the students to
generate a list of 15 more words– free association. And then I would ask
them to do the same thing on the right– 10 words. You remember this, Leslie? 15 years ago. Then there would be 27
words in front of you, and I would ask you then
to use 25 of those words to compose a poem,
not adding any words. This is a very interesting thing
to do in front of students, to have students do. And I’ve done this
from eighth graders to faculty over the
last 20 years or so. Now, in a group of, say, 25,
my average sized classroom, 20 will be actively engaged
in trying to create that poem. Four or five won’t,
and I want to come back in a second to why
that would be the case. Now, that takes
about 15, 20 minutes, which is why I’m not doing
it– 15 to 20 minutes to let the students
try to figure out how to compose the poem using
those 25 words and nothing but those 25 words– no helping
words, changing form if they have to. Like you could dance to dancing,
but only those 25 . words. After about 15 to 20
minutes, I tell the students to cut five words out of their
poem and adjust accordingly. That half dozen or
so students that were struggling
feel very relieved, and they are able then to do it. Five, 10 minutes,
then I come back and ask them to cut
three more words. What tends to
happen at that point is I get all kinds of
guff from that audience. And why is that? I’ll come to that in a second. After they’re finished, I’ll ask
them to read their poems aloud. And there’s always
something that can be found about what
the student was thinking. In one evening class,
for instance, someone wrote about wasting
time, and I knew that that was somebody who
really didn’t want to be there. And we could talk about it. I do this in an
August class, and they will write about the sunshine,
another instance of not wanting to be here. We can get at some of
what they’re thinking. So what’s the point
of that exercise? Well, the first point
in that is something about how writing happens. This is a very artificial
way of getting at something we can call the writing process. Now, in composition studies
in the writing end of things, there is a lot of discussion
about whether there is such a thing as a writing process. No. It is, like any good theory,
an oversimplification. I mean, the best
theories are really how to embrace really complex
ideas in something simple, even if it’s not
simply rendered. So the writing
process– no, of course, there are as many
writing processes as there are individuals. And we have to separate out
notions of writing process from writing rituals. They’re two very
different kinds of things. I mean, I’ve got my
writing ritual to this day. It’s when the house
is always cleanest. The dishes get cleaned. I still can’t get
a damn word down. And then after that, well,
maybe it’s time to vacuum. I still can’t get a word down. I write a sentence or two. Well, maybe I just
need to stop and think about this for a second
and I’ll lay down, wake up an hour
and a half later. But that’s ritual. That’s something different from
the actual writing process. Normally, with
undergraduate students, I’ll ask them to come up with
a metaphor for their writing process, and there’s
a reason for that that I’m going to get to. And I always give them the
example of my metaphor. I have a very hard time
getting started writing, but once I get started writing
there is no stopping me. And it’s been very
successful for me. At this point we’re
one of the book disciplines– English, foreign
languages, philosophy, history, the book disciplines. So our worth is
counted in books, because nobody is going
to grant us a penny. And at this stage in my career
I’ve got about 50 articles. There’s some scientists here. I look at scientists’ CVs and
they have 200, 300 articles, but they’re not the same
thing as our articles. Trust me. So I’ve done OK. But my process, I
tell the students, is constipation and flow. I mean, it’s a crappy
metaphor, but it works. I earned that groan. I have a very hard
time getting started. Once I get started, I’m going. And it used to be when
I was an undergraduate, like so many students would say,
I write best under pressure. And that’s not true. You don’t write
best under pressure. What happens is you write
when there’s pressure, and that’s a very
big difference. The best writing includes
a lot of revising. So with this process what
did I have students do? First, I had them do a
free generation of ideas. That’s how writing starts. You start writing by writing–
free generation of ideas. And then I had them compose. Think about that word “compose.” Compose only means
putting this with that. Think of composts, for
instance– this with that. So they put this with that. Then I had them
do an artificial, a decidedly artificial,
version of revision, in this case just
cutting things out. What we don’t do, because
it’s impossible with this kind of a poem, is editing, which
is different from revision– very significant, a very
significant difference. What we do here in
the Writing Center is try to work students through
mainly revision, not editing. We’re not a comma garage. We’re not a place where you come
in, we punch out your commas, and the paper’s all good. Now, once we get this thing
installed, this– what’s it called– this software
package that’s going to– no, Authenticate isn’t
the one we’re using. Turnitin is the one we’re using. Yeah, once we get Turnitin in,
it has a pedagogical function. I mean, it can be used as
a simple gotcha mechanism to catch students
cheating, which is really a problem because
not all cultures recognize it. And we’re not very
good at teaching those cultures that
don’t understand what we’re about with plagiarism. And some cultures even
believe that the idea of intellectual property is
itself wrong, as in morally and ethically wrong. But we just assume that it is
perfectly, perfectly correct. This idea of plagiarism–
it’s a complicated subject. I know. She already warned me
she’d be walking out, that I’m not to be offended. Damn. But the other thing that’s
going to happen with Turnitin is that it has an
editing function, because editing– I mean, it’s
still not going to be right. And if you’re an actually
proficient writer, you’re going to mess
around with your editing, not just follow rules. But the editing
function can be handled. What we deal with
mainly is revision. So there’s an artificial
revision process, and then finally the students
are asked to publish. This is the thing that you
have to understand– I’m sorry, you don’t have to understand. Here’s something I
want you to know. All of you as professionals
have to publish. You have a very clear idea
of what that means– out to a journal, blind reviewed,
external reviews, corrections, revise and resubmit
if you’re lucky. And you learn something
from the revision process and you send it out again. But that word “publish”
only means “go public.” The minute it comes
off of your desk and onto someone else’s eyes
and mind, it is now published. Psychologically, for students,
this is a very big thing, to recognize that every time
they turn in their papers to their peers or to
us they are publishing. They have gone public. One of the hardest things to
teach students is revision. One of the problems we have
with the M course right now is that we mandate
multiple drafts. And what we were
trying to do with that is to institute a
revision process, but revision isn’t
quite that simple. And we’ll have to deal
with this over time. So that is the writing process. But what’s more important to
me, and what is important, what I want to get
through to you, is that part of what
ends up happening is that what is going
on in students’ minds becomes manifest on a page
and that there is nothing that we can do that
doesn’t include language. Let me do this thing. And I’ll do a couple
of other things, too. So what do you see? AUDIENCE: Underwear,
a martini glass. DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA:
Underwear, a martini glass. What else? AUDIENCE: Type of envelope. DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA: A
message-type envelope, yeah. Anything else? I’ll tell you something
about this thing. That’s supposed to be closed. That’s supposed to be a circle. I have done this diagram
in Korea with GIs. What they tended to see,
first and foremost– everybody sees the martini. When I’ve done this
at a late night class, they’ve seen only the martini. When I did this
with the GIs, they saw two things– one, the crotch
shot, the idea of underwear. And in fact, I had a student,
an adult student in a class, complain to my chair that I
was drawing dirty pictures in class. She kind of missed my
point, but that’s OK. I showed him what
the picture was, and he told me he thought I
could do better than that. In Korea, they saw
the crotch shot. They saw what we call
the kimchi cabinet. The kimchi cabinet was a
drawer for an amp and two doors to put in speakers. Can you see it? In the Bible Belt– I spent
a year teaching at Auburn– I got Christ ascending. Can you see it, with the cloak,
arms outspread, rising up? Interesting, isn’t it? I taught in Flagstaff,
Arizona, for about eight years. The Hopi students always
saw a sunrise over a mesa. In Kansas City, Missouri–
and only in Kansas City, Missouri– I got a shirt
pocket, Western-type shirts with the flap and the button. What’s my point in all of this? We make sense of our
experiences by way of language. I mean, if I talk
about what rhetoric is, rhetoric is the
art of persuasion. But when are we not
involved in rhetoric? When have the
wonders of science– how could they have
been accomplished if we couldn’t communicate
with each other, if we couldn’t persuade
a group to join together to undergo a
particular enterprise, to ask a certain
question, to address a question in a certain way? Look, no experience
is ever repeated. No experience is ever repeated. No experience is never repeated. Now, I love watching people’s
faces when I do this thing. What happens the first time? I say it and you say,
hmm, heavy, Socrates, I get this shit. You know? Because it actually
is a Socratic thing, about stepping into
the same stream twice. No one steps into the
same stream twice. It’s the same idea. But what happened
the second time? Well, the second time it
was not the same experience that you had the first time. Second time I said it, you had
to think about it differently. The third time I said it, it
was completely different in how you had to think about
it, because now you started to think about
what the hell I’m up to. The experience wasn’t repeated. Time had passed. No way I have exactly the
same timbre in my voice. The experience was
never repeated. No experience is ever repeated. Put that aside for a second
and think about– clocks. I hate clocks. Any anthropologists here? Good. For many years there
was a lot of discussion about how many words
for snow the Inuit had. 58, 60– I think
now it’s down to 38. It was really interesting
to me that nobody ever asked me the Inuit. You were going to observe. Well, why is that? Well, there’s a
couple of reasons. One is that they
do portmanteaus. Kind of like German, their
words add all the modifiers to the word, so
that a word changes as you change the modifiers. So they are unique words,
but there’s still a base word that’s still the same. But the other
reason is that snow is a very special
kind of experience in an environment like Alaska. You see what I’m saying? I mean, for us, it’s just
a nuisance or pretty– or if you’re into the sport,
something to look forward to. But it isn’t a part of our
daily being, just isn’t. Here’s another example. Our ear follicles move to
the sound of dog whistles. That is, we have the capacity
to hear dog whistles. We don’t, but it isn’t by
lack of capacity potentially. Or you spend the night writing
all night long, doing nothing but drinking coffee– used to
be drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, but most
folks don’t anymore. I saw a physician two weeks
ago smoking a cigarette. I couldn’t believe it. Oh, my God. Can you trust this guy? Anyhow, which James
brother is it? Well, English folks, too. One James was a psychologist
and the other one was a writer, and I forget– AUDIENCE: Henry’s the writer. William’s the psychologist. DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA: William’s
the psychologist and the better writer. Thank you. William James once said that
if it weren’t for language we’d be left in a mass
buzzing of confusion. And what is he getting at? It was the psychologist
who said that. What’s he getting at? Our senses are capable
of all kinds of things. Spend a night on
nothing but coffee, and the next morning
you got funny things going on– these little things
at the corner of your eye that aren’t there. Or if you stare at the wall,
it starts to bubble on you. Well, what’s going on here? One theory is that the
breaking down of mechanisms that maintain our
sanity has taken place because of the
fatigue, and we actually see molecular movement. I mean, there is no
such thing as solid. We know that from our
undergraduate classes. So our filters are gone. Or think about what happens
in a thunderstorm when the power goes out and how
profound the silence is because of all of those sounds that are
going on– fluorescent lights especially– that we
learn to bleep out. Or think about what you’re
doing when you’re driving a car. Think about a stick shift. You’ve got the radio on. You’re changing gears. You’ve got two feet working. You’re looking all around,
as far as peripheral version vision will allow, plus
the rear view mirror all at the same time. How much filtering is going on? How much filtering and
sorting is going on? Then every once in a while
it breaks down and that’s a fender bender. But for the most part
we do this successfully, plus looking at your
speedometer and the like. Ever had the lights go out
on your speedometer panel? Suddenly you can’t drive. You’re in a constant
panic, especially when you see a police car. Oh, my God. Here’s what I’m getting at. Here’s another one– baseball. Well, let me get to that. Let me get to that. Let me do this. Let me come back to
what I’m getting at. What I’m getting at is this. No experience is ever
repeated, and our senses are capable of doing a lot more
than we give our senses credit for. In fact, it’s our
scientific convenience to argue about five senses when
we know it’s all synesthetic. You know that our senses
bleed into one another. I mean, somebody says,
wow, that tastes like shit. How do you know? I mean, you might
know it empirically, but I don’t want to know. My guess is that what
we’re talking about are senses bleeding
into one another, knowing something about how
a smell suggests the taste. Look at little children
who will not eat ugly food. They will not, however
they perceive ugly to be. And that’s this whole notion
of the ways in which our senses are this mass
buzzing of confusion, except that we give it order. No experience is ever repeated. We know more than we allow
ourselves to know sensorially, so how do we make
sense of the world? Well, for us as beings,
we make sense of the world with this heightened
stereoscopic hearing, stereoscopic vision, the
ability to see colors. We are phenomenally given to
all kinds of sense experiences. We make sense of
the world by saying, maybe no experience
is ever repeated, but this experience is very
much like that experience. And we give it a term. It’s all analogy. Baseball– tell me that two
home runs are identical. Impossible. Different batter, different
speed, velocity for the ball, different hit,
different trajectory. But we say that within
these guidelines this experience is very
much like that experience, and we give it a word–
really two words, but we spell it as one. Homerun. Very interesting game, baseball. Boring to watch, but I
like the concept of it, of going home– some
errors along the way going home, as opposed
to football, taking over somebody else’s territory. I mean, haven’t we
had enough of that? Nevertheless, how we make
sense of our experiences in this world is
by way of analogy. It’s all metaphor. These are the
metaphors we live by, which is the title of a book
by late Lakoff and Johnson. What we have here are a few
geometric shapes, nothing more, that we have names for even. Rectangular, circle,
triangle, trapezoid. Even those we have. Any experience, the minute
you have this experience, the first thing– now
we have experiences that are outside of
language, Lord knows. But in order to make
sense of any experience, we find the language, or try to. Think about love. What the hell is that
experience, anyway? I mean, that’s a
complicated, funny one. And so how many hundreds
of thousands of words have been composed to try to
make sense that experience? It’s what we do. We are epistemologically
driven by language, and I told this to even
100 level students. That is, how we
come to know, how we make sense of our
experience in the world is by way of language. Now, might even be
ontological, might even be what separates us
from all other creatures. And I’m not saying language. I’m saying what we
do with language. We know other creatures
have language. I don’t know how many damn
students have written papers to me about that. I had an ornithology
students tell me that black bill chickadees
not only have language; they have dialects
that are regional, which makes me think about,
black bill chickadees got a Southern accent? Chip, chip, y’all? Nevertheless, it’s not language. And not even the
creatures that we normally talk about– apes and dolphins
and the like– all creatures. If you’ve ever had cats in
your house and watch cats with kittens, they
talk to the kittens. There’s different
meow, different way of talking to the kittens. So it’s not talk. It’s what we do with it. We are driven by symbols. Our basic symbol
system is language. It’s biologically transmitted. If we can’t talk, we will find
some other way– sign language. I was on a bus in
Seattle as a young man and saw a couple who were
obviously blind, deaf, and dumb and who nevertheless
communicated. They did a hand touching
thing, driven by language, had to do language. It’s in us. It’s what we do– inert. So that’s a basic symbol
system, and from that we do all other
kinds of symbols– cloths, symbol for
fat and hair, glasses. I now have lenses behind my eyes
because I had cataract surgery. It’s so strange. I got asthma, so I keep
thinking when are they going to do this with lungs. Wouldn’t that be so cool? The bionic man. Shit. Anyhow, glasses, the symbols
of eye– obsessed by flight. We know historically
thousands of years of being obsessed by flight,
imagining angels with wings so that we could be like the
birds, somehow superior to us– eventually
airplanes and the like. We found a symbolic form
to represent this thing that we were obsessed by. It’s what we do, and we
do it all rhetorically. There is a definition
of rhetoric that comes out of
Kenneth Burke that says that defines rhetoric as
a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by
nature respond to symbols– that by nature respond
to symbols, which makes me think it’s an ontology. It is what separates us
from the other creatures. Aristotle said
“rational creatures.” Lord knows, boy, that’s
a bad definition. I mean, if we were
rational creatures, imagine how much more
we could be doing. But what he meant is that
we work by way of reason, but our reason is only
manifest by way of language. Here’s what I’m
getting at with all of this, as I run out of time. Here’s what I’m getting
at with all of this. All of our students
and all of what you do is inherently motivated
by way of language. All of our students are
potentially writers. Writing is simply another–
not simply, complexly– but nevertheless another
symbolic form of language. We’re all rooted in language. We’re all given to language. We are all naturally
predisposed to language. By the age of four, we know
the basics of our language– by the age of four. Before the corpus callosum
is totally formed, before babies are born–
you remember the soft spot in the head in the skull. That soft spot is because the
brain is still being created. It’s just it can’t
happen in the womb because then there will be
no coming out naturally. I mean, this is before Cesarean,
before it’s fully formed. What is our greatest
function as beings? It is learning language. I was taught two languages
before I was seven. The two languages
are still there. For a long time I thought
I had forgotten my Spanish. Spanish was my first language. I was always in the
schools in English. My job at home was
to teach my parents English, which I ended up making
a whole lifetime profession. Nevertheless, my mother now
is suffering from dementia. She’s no longer
doing English, and I find my Spanish is all there. I’ve gone back 60 years,
and it’s still there. This is what we do. It’s in us biologically
to do language. Now, what we have with
writing– and it’s a particularly ingenious
form of discourse– alphabetic literacy, which is
not to put down the others. It is to say that alphabetic
literacy is pretty damn special, because what you’ve
got is a handful of symbols that can represent all of the
sounds of the spoken language. In our jargon, it’s a phoneme
grapheme correspondence. Our graphic system corresponds
to our phonetic system– phoneme grapheme correspondence. Ingenious. Your master 30 symbols,
and you can somehow do all– now the other
language systems, written discourse systems
are also ingenious, but in other ways. I’m thinking about
ideographic and other kinds of symbol systems. Well, let’s not get
into all of that. When students say they
don’t know what to write, what they are saying
is they don’t know what you want them to write. Those students, that half
dozen or so students, that refuse to take
part in the exercise that I started out with– it
is because of something that’s happened to them
in their education. The greatest cause
of writer’s block is the perception of language,
of written discourse, as sets of inflexible
rules, rigid rules and inflexible plans. It comes from a guy named
Mike Rose– rigid rules and inflexible plans. They don’t know what I’m after,
and they don’t know the rules for writing a poem with 25 words
and no helping words at all. They are blocked
for that reason. What you can do in any
M course, in any course, is become clear for yourself
that everything that you do involves some form of language. And any discipline and any
faculty in any discipline is perforce given to writing. What are the rules
loosely conceived that obtain for the writing
for your discipline? You are language people. All of you are,
because you are people. You are writing
people, all of you all are, because you
are professionals in a profession that requires
writing– all of you. Have an expertise– something
about the writing that happens in your discipline. And all of your students
are potentially writers, if we think about writing
as opposed to correctness. And this correctness thing
is very messy anyway. I still cannot
split infinitives. My students don’t even
know what infinitives are. Do you know what I’m
talking about when I say split infinitives? AUDIENCE: To boldly go. DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA:
To boldly go. Yeah, Gene Roddenberry
single-handedly responsible for the
doing away of that rule. The split infinitive, which
is a very interesting rule, because that rule came
into place when Latin was the language everyone spoke. And in Latin, like in almost
all romance languages, the infinitive is a single
word– bailar, to dance. The minute we translate
it we have two in a word, and so the rule was put into
place that said you cannot split it. Because we’re going to
treat it as one word, as if English were Latin,
except English isn’t Latin. English is English. The one that really gets me is
two negatives imply a positive. Have you guys all
heard that rule? Do you ever realize how
nonsensical that rule is? If I said ain’t no
way, you’re not saying, oh, I’m glad you’re agreeing. Bullshit. Two negatives never implied
a positive in language. It’s a mathematical function. 18th century, the
British decided that geometry would be the
big rule, whereas France decided that language would be. And geometrically,
minus two plus minus two equals minus four. It’s a positive in function. Minus two times minus
two equals plus four. It’s a positive in function. Mathematically, two
negatives imply a positive. Linguistically, no way. Ain’t no way. Ain’t no way, no how. The more negatives
you put in, the more emphasis that this is negative. I saw you walking around. I’m being told that it’s
almost 1:00 o’clock, and I’m being told
behind me, too. Here’s what I’m getting at. There is an expertise that
obtains in the writing program. It is something
about how academic discourse looks in a writing
across the curriculum mentality, what
is the discourse. And what a discourse means
is it’s more than the jargon. It’s the ways in which language
is used within a community. That’s different from rhetoric. Rhetoric is the umbrella
term, so rhetoric is the art of persuasion. But how that
persuading gets done is different based
on different cultures and different languages
and different disciplines and different communities. So you know your
expertise is the discourse of your community. Our expertise is
something a little larger, the kind of broad rules that
obtain within the academy. Our other expertise is to think
about language as language, whereas you’re busy
thinking about other things. Together, the writing
program and you can work to create a writing
in the disciplines course that will work for you. Your students can do it. You’re not being asked
to do anything extra. You are alive and working,
in part as a human, and that necessarily
means that you are doing– you have an
expertise in language, if only you’ll recognize it. And your students do, too. What we would do,
then, is work together to think about how to do
this more effectively– not necessarily efficiently. There is no efficiency to
writing, but more effectively. Otherwise, man,
please keep doing what you’re doing, because
how we come to know, how we come to learn
is by way of language. And why written
language in particular? Because if you think about the
differences between thinking and talking and
writing, what there is is a greater amount of
discipline– in this case I’m not talking academic
disciplines– involved. Think about how
many times you have known exactly what you
were going to write, until you sat down to do it. Because it’s all nice and
you’re not ordering it up there. Think about this
shit and that shit. And then you sit down to write
it and it has to be ordered, and something happens. It becomes a mode of learning. The writing is so important to
what you do in any discipline because it is another
pedagogical tool, as well as a learning instrument. And on that I better shut up. REBECCA VAN DE VORD: Thank you. Will you give Victor a hand? DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA: I got
to erase the dirty picture. REBECCA VAN DE VORD:
You probably should. That was very interesting. For those of you
who don’t know me, I’m Rebecca Van de
Vord, Associate Director of the Global Campus. I do want to thank
my Global Campus staff for their time in helping
facilitate this workshop and get the pizza in
and all that stuff. And I wanted to let you know
we plan to have four more of these in the spring. I think Erica mentioned
it, but upcoming topics are academic integrity,
assessment, teaching first generation
students, and– I don’t remember the fourth one. But we’ll be sending
out announcements starting in January. I will actually put
together a spring schedule, so instead of just hearing
about them one at a time we’ll put together
the spring schedule. Thank you all very
much for attending. If any of you are
interested in perhaps leading a faculty-led workshop. Or if you have topics or
ideas that you would really like to see us present on,
please send me an e-mail, [email protected], and
we’ll see what we can do. Thanks. DR. VICTOR VILLANUEVA: And I
thank you all for listening. [CLAPPING]

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