Reflections on Christiane Donahue

In her 2009 CCC article, “‘Internationalization’ and Composition Studies:  Reorienting the Discourse,” Christiane Donahue aims to dismantle our assumption that American composition is (or should be) the main operating standard/authority for other countries.  Though she acknowledges how we typically cushion this assumption with our fear of colonial approaches, our discourses and approaches assume that American composition is the authority for national writing approaches worldwide.  This is a problem, as she explains early in her article:

These claims have had the effect of simultaneously presenting the United States to the world as a homogeneous nation-state with universal courses, sovereign philosophies and pedagogies, and agreed-on language requirements, while ‘othering’ countries that have different, complex, but well-established traditions in both writing research and writing instruction, presenting these countries as somehow lacking or behind the times. (214)

She names this an “import/export model,” explaining how “we ‘import’ problems… and we export our expertise about higher education writing instruction” (226).  This model is too limiting; it fails to acknowledge culturally-specific understandings of writing–its role, purpose and the way instructors teach it.

As a solution, Donahue suggests that we use textual analysis to look closely at student writing across countries.  At first, I wondered whether this was too limited:  What about the cultural, social, psychological, emotional, and even physical aspects that influence writing?  Donahue addressed this concern by acknowledging the important role of non-textual influences before quickly referencing our lack of textual analysis across countries.  Also, she recommends we study writing prompts and standardized writing tasks; learn a variety of languages to open communications with others; and cite sources outside the United States in our own research.  Through comparative analysis, we can begin noticing differences and also see important similarities.  In her study of French and American students, Donahue found many similarities between students’ organizational patterns, paragraph structures, and their placement of thesis statements.

Concerns/Questions:  I am concerned with these students’ methods of writing.  How much space and time were they given?  What physical constraints were placed on them (i.e. Computers or pencil-and-paper?  Talk it out or write silently alone?  Breaks or straight-through writing?)?  What I’ve learned during my Rhet-Comp studies is my own multimodal approach to writing.  My writing is highly dependent upon breaks, stretching, visualization, planning, talking, drawing, listening to music, debating, running, doing yoga, freewriting, list-making.  These students’ written responses seem to reflect the kinds of writing expected of them in standardized tests, rather than the kind of writing they might do on their own.  In standardized testing, students are typically forced to write within specific time and space limitations and often feel pressured to work within a five-paragraph structure.

As someone interested in digital work, I am more excited about knowing how these students write in multiple modes (i.e. with access to computers, paper, and other materials; less time-based structure—offering students opportunities for planning, breaking, reflecting; and open space for collaboration and discussion).  How does a computer change the texts these students create?  What approaches do other countries take to technology?  To ask these questions, I recommend that we look beyond the text in our international research to see how different countries and cultures approach a variety of writing tasks and environments.

About taylo206

I am an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Theories of Composition and Rhetoric. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Reflections on Christiane Donahue

  1. Linda Bergmann says:

    Good questions. But I would also ask what is appropriate for writing practice/instruction in non-American cultures. I’ve come to suspect with Tiane that we think we “have it.” Maybe. I don’t know. But everyone who knows me knows what a sceptic I have always been 😉

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