Tuesday, September 23, 2008

English Composition as a Happening

In 1967, in his essay English Composition As a Happening, Charles Deemer illustrates to the reader that English Composition, as a class in an education program, is in desperate need of reshaping or what he calls a “happening,” or an experiment that he proposes will provide a remedy and institute justice to the “fragmentation and lack of mutual participation between class and student”. To describe how severe this “fragmentation” really is (especially in our school systems and universities) Deemer exemplifies many of his conclusion backed by the words of Paul Goodman (“From John Dewey to A.S Neill”) who states, “Our entire school system, like our over-organized economy, politics, and standard of living, is largely a trap; it is not designed for the maximum growth and future practical utility of the children into a changing world” .Deemer makes examples of the mental and physical barriers that make it difficult for mutual participation to take place. He begins with physical barriers such as the podium from which an instructor directs information towards his students, continuing with the principle acquired dividing notion that the teacher and the students are entirely two separate entities in a classroom/lecture hall. The notion that an instructor is most commonly perceived as the “wise authority figure”, and the students; “recipients of knowledge” is the root of Deemer’s “criticism of the traditional misdirection of education.”

Charles writes that he envisions education as an “experience involving both student and teacher”, but the successful transfusion between the two is currently impossible as “the traditional rigidity of our educational institutions puts the generation behind the podium forever out of touch with the younger generation in the lecture hall”. Bertrand Russel also points out that the mental habits that are being taught to students by educators such as obedience and discipline are deemed almost inadequate in real world situations (as they are obviously characteristics of those who are dependant upon people other than themselves) and ought be replaced with habits such as preserving independence and impulse.

John Dewey states that “education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing”. Based upon this theory Charles Deemer explains that the teacher has the prominent advantage of an “accumulation of experience”, and he states that he would like to base a new organization of teaching of English Composition in which the goal would be to keep students involved and participating and unified. The first step in forming this organization of teaching would be to “eliminate the stage”, thus in a sense removing the authority of the teachers and making them part of the so called, “audience”. This aspect would make teacher and student equal and accomplish the purpose of making students comfortable enough to discuss and participate.

Deemer explains that one of the most critical tools of the happening would be shock and surprise; it had the purpose of enveloping the spectator. He states, “The teacher having upset the student’s expectation of the organization of the classroom medium, should find it less of a problem to get the student’s pat ideas and opinions and to inspire an experience, a happening, that will get the student to participate in the realization of his own awareness of his inadequacy.”Strangely enough, Charles makes a unique correlations stating that “the best teachers have always been actors, by their ability to move an audience to an experience, an active engagement with and in the performance, a process fundamental to real education.”
The result of Charles Deemer’s proposal for this new organization of teaching English Composition can lead to “valuable educational consequences with important emphasis on Unity over fragmentation”, and the like. But it would never occur without the cooperation of the students and the influence and experience of the teacher.

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