Joseph Harris Talking about Textbooks at the University of Louisville

Joseph Harris gave a talk on campus today regarding textbook writing and textbook adoption. He said something that really struck me. He was talking about selecting a textbook for your course, and he mentioned his impressions of some applicants that he’d interviewed for teaching positions. He recommended against, when asked to talk about the text for a course, saying something like “I use a version of [insert any textbook here] to teach my class. He suggested that he would expect a professional Rhet/Comp scholar to be able to design their own course well beyond conceptualizing it around a textbook. That’s not to say that I think he was being critical of textbooks in general. Instead, my impression was that he sees a course text as a resource to draw from, rather than something to organize around.

As a Ph.D. student headed onto the market next year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to talk about my pedagogy as part of the job search process. (I want to be careful about imagining job talk conversations while I’m still working out some fundamental issues informing my teaching. I sense some danger of something akin to teaching-to-the-test here.) I’ve already designed-taught a two different FYC courses here at Louisville, and in both cases I used a self-selected set of texts for the course readings. I loved the freedom, and there were a lot of other advantages to being able to make my own selections.

But in designing this last course I’m going to teach, I’ve been thinking about assigning a text that includes a reader. In general, I don’t really like the idea, but I’m here studying with Min-zhan Lu and Bruce Horner. The ideas I’ve encountered in the courses I’ve taken from them have really made sense to me pedagogically. They’ve just recently released a text book (Lu, Min-Zhan, and Bruce Horner. Writing Conventions. Longman, 2008.), so I decided that I would adopt it for my course. It’s full of great strategies and ideas: getting students to think about their own writing in conversation with the readings they encounter in the course, using student texts as course readings, challenging students to write about their own writing process and revision strategies, foregrounding students’ own language practices as valid sites for reflection, etc. Great. Great. Great. There is so much to be learned from such powerful teachers and scholars right down the hall from me, I figured it would only make sense to adopt their textbook for my own course, and learn as much as I could. I still think that makes a bunch of sense.

And yet, at the conclusion of his talk, I immediately walked down the hall to our department office and changed my book order. I wasn’t going to use Lu and Horner’s text after all. I’ll explain in the next post.