Gertrude Buck in the Modern Composition Classroom DECEMBER 13, 2010
Why Gertrude Buck? Looking back to Buck’s life and work will enrich our understanding of the “rhetorical tradition.” Buck’s theories and texts speak to current conversations in rhetoric and composition. Buck’s pedagogy and texts could be useful in modern classrooms and writing programs nationwide.
Gertrude Buck: A Brief Biography Received her B.S., M.S., & Ph.D. from the University of Michigan Became a member of Vassar College faculty in 1897 Acted as a full professor from 1907 until her early death in 1922 (at the age of 51) Performed administrative duties on top of teaching, eventually directing the first- year English program at VassarGertrude Buck
Biography, cont’d During her time at Vassar, Buck published: six textbooks, a book of literary criticism, numerous articles focused on grammar, rhetoric, and pedagogy, and several creative pieces • (Campbell ix) Attention to her work was fleeting, and often in connection with her mentor, Fred Newton Scott.
A Bit of Context Buck—with her mentor Scott & fellow rhetorician, Joseph V. Denney—were part of a counter- movement interested in “rhetoric of public discourse” (Berlin 46). Thisschool was in direct opposition to both the current-traditional and “liberal arts” schools.Fred Newton Scott
Context, cont’d Two themes from their school’s ideology are important to understanding Buck’s rhetorical theory and composition pedagogy: “Organic”-ism Social consciousness and responsibility
Buck, “The Present Status of Rhetorical Theory” “Sophistic” v. Platonic discourse Sophistic: “individualistic and socially irresponsible” “The art of rhetoric is the art of war.” Platonic: “social” and “continuous” “The connection between the two minds is living and unbroken.” “Both the Platonic and the modern theory of discourse make it not an individualistic and isolate process for the advantage of the speaker alone, but a real communication between speaker and hearer, to the equal advantage of both, and this is a real function of the social organism.”
Buck, “The Present Status of Rhetorical Theory” “Sophistic Discourse”: “gap in the chain of communication” Conclusion of speaker X X X Speaker’s Conclusion Hearer’s mind for hearer mind. “Platonic Discourse”: “living and unbroken” Conclusion of speaker X X X Speaker’s Conclusion Hearer’s mind for hearer mind.
Rhetorical Theory to Composition Pedagogy The themes present in Buck’s rhetorical theory —“organic”-ism and social responsibility—help to inform her composition pedagogy. “Organic” concerns become concerns for a “natural” occasion for writing Social responsibility becomes a necessary connection to students’ lives
Buck, A Course in Expository Writing “[…] the prime difficulty which an English teacher has to meet is one no less fundamental than that of getting his students to write at all; to […] spontaneously communicat[e] their own observations or experiences to other people. This difficulty has its source, at least very largely, in the students sense of the artificial character of his work. What is the use, he thinks, of writing about the birth-place of Hawthorne, or the character of Lady Macbeth? His teacher knows all about them beforehand, and besides, he isnt writing to his teacher. He isnt writing to anybody. He is just “writing a composition” that is to be corrected for spelling, punctuation, paragraphing; or for its lack of certain qualities, such as “clearness,” “precision,” and “unity.” No wonder he finds it hard to write.”
Bringing Buck Back into Modern Composition Her texts and pedagogy ultimate have one goal: the empowerment of students. Keeping composition personal validates students’ experiences. Using inductive a teaching-style, give students agency. Drawing on Buck’s legacy can help us in the modern composition classroom and discussions. Her pedagogy points to the importance of keeping composition as a requirement, as a small course, and as a course apart from other subjects .
Ways to Help Empower Through Composition Whenever possible, use an inductive teaching style instead of giving definitive rules. Make assignments and prompts as “organic” (natural, relevant) as they can be. Have students act as each others’ critics, rather than solely depending on your criticism. Make students aware of the larger social context surrounding their seemingly isolated compositions.
Works CitedBerlin, James. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900 – 1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987. Print.Bordelon, Suzanne. A Feminist Legacy: The Rhetoric and Pedagogy of Gertrude Buck. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007. Print.Buck, Gertrude. “The Present Status of Rhetorical Theory.” Educational Review 22 (1901): 371-82. Rpt. in Toward a Feminist Rhetoric: The Writing of Gertrude Buck. Ed. JoAnn Campbell. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996. 45-51. Print.--- and Elisabeth Woodbridge. A Course in Expository Writing. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1901. Print.Campbell, JoAnn, ed. Toward a Feminist Rhetoric: The Writing of Gertrude Buck. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996. Print.