Inventing The University Essay Writers

I first read this article during my second year of teaching composition and remember thinking how important this essay was for understanding the complexities our students must negotiate when writing for the first time in an academic community. My second reading of this essay created a similar response. I think, in fact, this essay should be required reading of 670. In “Inventing the University,” Bartholomae makes a number of interesting points which are quoted below:

A student has “to invent the university by assembling and mimicking its language while finding some compromise between idiosyncrasy, a personal history, on the one hand, and the requirements of convention, the history of a discipline, on the other hand.”

“It is very difficult for a student “to take on the role–the voice, the persona–of an authority whose authority is rooted in scholarship, analysis, or research.”

In academic writing, a student “must assume the right of speaking to someone who knows more about [a topic than he or she does], a reader for whom the general commonplaces and the readily available utterances about a subject are indadequate.”

“All writers, in order to write, must imagine for themselves the privilege of being ‘insiders’–that is, the privilige both of being inside and established and powerful discourse and of being granted a special right to speak.”

“What our beginning students need to learn is to extend themselves, by successive approximations, into the commonplaces, set phrases, rituals and gestures, habits of mind, tricks of persuasion, obligatory conclusions and necessary connections that determine the ‘what might be said’ and constitute knowledge within the various branches of our academic community.”

“By trading in one set of commonplaces at the expense of another, [successful student writers] can win themselves status as members of what is taken to be some more privileged group. The ability to imagine privilege enable[s] writing.”

“As [David] Olson says, the writer must learn that his authority is not established through his presence but through his absence–through his ability, that is, to speak as a god-like source beyond the limitations of any particular social or historical moment; to speak by means of the wisdom of convention through the oversounds of offical or authoratative utterance, as the voice of logic or the voice of the community.”

“To speak with authority they have to speak not only in another’s voice but through another’s code; and they not only have to do this, they have to speak in the voice and through the codes of those of us with power and wisdom; and they not only have to do this, they have to do it before they know what they are doing, before they have a project to participate in, and before, at leart in terms of our disciplines, they have anything to say.”

Sounds pretty tough, doesn’t it?????? It does to me, at least.

As Bartholomae points out, students have such a difficult time entering the academy because they have a difficult time establishing their ethos for an audience that has more knowledge than they do, obides buy conventions and commonplaces that are “inside” knowledge, and demands that students work “within and against a discourse.”

What is interesting to me here is that freshman/undergraduates are not the only ones who face such challenges. As a new graduate student here at CCR, I am facing the same struggles. Everyone knows more than I do; I am accutley aware of an “inside” knowledge I must tap into; and I feel expected to work within and against not only one discourse but a multiplicity of discourses that make up our field.

As of late, I have really been feeling lost. I have no idea who I am as a scholar. I feel utterly overwhelmed by the size and interdisciplinary nature of our field, and I feel intimidated to speak [despite my constant voicing of opinions in class] within a discourse much less against it considering my subject position as a nascent scholar. These feelings were only compounded as I read through scholarship on transnational feminism yesterday and when I went to the Feminism and War Conference this morning. As I was sitting in the workshops, I could not help but feel like an outsider. Here was a group of amazing scholars and activitists speaking in a coded language that I can only pretend to fully grasp and there I was as a want a be, fully engaged, but also fully aware of my lack of experience and direct knowledge in that field. I could not help but feel exasperated at the time and energy it will take me to learn the discourse, theory, and background to ever be able to speak with authority on the topic of transnational feminism and rhetoric.

At the end of his article, Bartholomae suggests we begin to look at the product of our students’ writing for indications at the where are students are at in their composing process within a text and a society, a history, and a culture. I think he is right. I think we should also look to our student’s oral and written responses to our pedagogy, (I am thinking of Trish’s students’ responses to issues of race and Tanya’s students’ difficulty with hypervisibility and my own students’ recent defenses of racism in the name of freedom of speech) to see where they are at in their process to consciousness. I think we often get frustrated with our student for their “outside the university” views and understanding when we really need to understand the complexities they are dealing with. Understanding how students must invent the university in both their writing and their thinking will help us teach with more empathy and patience. As a newbie to our own field, I would only hope others would treat me the same.

Like this:



Reverse Outline of the first two sections of Bartholomae's

Teaching Assistant: PatrickMooney, Writing Program
Writing 2
Spring 2015

You were put into small groups, given chunks of the first two sections of David Bartholomae's , and asked to summarize the main points in each paragraph and take notes on (a) the major points of each paragraph, and (b) rhetorical techniques that Bartholomae used in making his points. Here's what we constructed as a group.

I encourage you to do this with your own writing as you revise, or to follow (some variation on) this process with dense articles that you are assigned in other classes!

  • Section I
    • Group 1: pp. 134–36
      1. Example of collect writing placement test, supporting previous paragraph.
        • Defines himself as a researcher.
        • Attempts to take on the language of university faculty.
        • Knows who his audience is & writes to them.
        • Assumes voice of authority in writing.
    • Group 2:136–39
      1. It is hard for students to take on the role—the voice, the persona—of an authority, which is rooted in scholarship, analysis, and research.
      2. A is a culturally or institutionally authorized concept or statement that carries with it its own necessary elaboration.
      3. In order to speak as a person of status or privilege, the writer can either speak to us on our terms or, in defiance of that, he can speak to us as though we were children, offering us the wisdom of experience.
      4. There is a context beyond the intended reader—a world of examples, possible conclusions, acceptable commonplaces, and key words for the example essay of the clay model of the earth.
      5. Linda Flower has argued that the difficultly inexperienced writers have when writing can be understood as a difficulty in negotiating the transition between and prose.
  • Section II
    • Group 3: pp. 139–42
      1. You should write for your audience. Composition teachers expect this from students.
      2. Students are expected to write as authorities even if they don't have the knowledge and experience to actually qualify as authorities.
      3. It is hard to get around this problem of power & finesse because students speaking to teachers experience an inherent power differential. Lists different tactics for dealing with the problem, but nothing really redresses the balance.
      4. Example of Seventeen magazing as an example of how writing with your reader in mind can work well for someone.
      5. You have to be in a certain mental state to write to a certain audience.
      6. Summary of Flower & Hayes's ideas, including a quote.
      7. Flower & Hayes think that writing is solely based on writer & reader does not influence; some elaboration on this idea in this paragraph.
    • Group 4: pp. 142–145
      1. Discusses process vs. product in writing.
      2. All writing is influenced by other writing that came before it.
      3. Style is based on expectations of audience expectations.
      4. Academic writing caters to the needs of the task it sets out to accomplish. Encouraging students to believe they need to be original is dangers.
      5. Writing for teachers: must assume role and voice of a person with more authority than is actually the case.
        • quote: in summary,
          student writing
          is problem-solving
          non-student writing
      6. Students aren't integrated into material.
      7. Bereiter and Scardamalia on discourse as the kind of discourse students engage in when trying to act as authoritative experts.
    • Group 5: pp. 145–147
        • tend toward a certain audience
        • understanding the info is different from just quickly learning it.
        • outside influences on their writing
        • their writing is a product of their environment
      1. (Bizzell on )
        • taught what the community thinks
        • teaching cognitive skills
      2. ()
This page is copyright © 2015 by Patrick Mooney and his Writing 2 students. This HTML file was last updated on World Television Day 2017 (last change: minor coding changes while giving the whole site a facelift).

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