Sustainability in Composition: The Qualities of Critics, According to Marcus Berger & Textbook Engagement and Humor

Sustainability in composition answers the six qualities of critics, according to Crisis in Criticism by Marcus Berger; (1) curiosity, (2) attentiveness, (3) concern, (4) vision, (5) art and language, and (6) debate a critic makes available. The last quality caught my attention first, for sustainability in composition allows a student to report on his/her neighborhood without fear of attack for being too regional, multicultural, or liking contemporary music too much. An instructor should model curiosity, attentiveness, and concern—the first three qualities of Berger’s good critic—by allowing a wide range of model essays. Before long, our instructor’s edited student essays will be able to complement his/her own model essays and inspire the students. Finally, art and language (#5) can happen in an essay when students get to write about topics, such as their favorite music genre or art form.

Now let’s examine textbook engagement as another issue of sustainability in composition. Earlier this year at a local downtown arts event, I read a selection of largely amusing model sentences from my Developmental English/Writing textbook, together with their particular category.

Let’s look at three examples. Here’s a way to joke about the generation gap while providing instruction in commonly confused words, “I can’t understand why so many young people wear (lose/loose) jeans and why flared jeans and bell-bottoms haven’t made a comeback.” Early in the semester, I demonstrate how prepositions are often about space and begin with the letters, “a,b,o,u, or t” (another preposition)with this sentence, “The teacher threw an eraser over the students’ heads.” This is an account of rare physical humor in a classroom. I illustrated the use of a dash to prevent an added-detail fragment while saluting Whitney Houston and admitting to hording cats with the following statement, ” He has found the greatest joy of all–to have a pack of red cats.”

Later I realized that such model sentences add to textbook engagement for students, and that can be another aspect of sustainability in composition. According to Berger’s Six Qualities of Critics, I believe it shows #2 attentiveness, #3 concern, and #5 art and language. Textbooks have been criticized largely for their rocketing expense and frequently trivial revisions, but lack of engagement is a problem too. Who wants to read an expensive, boring textbook if you can get away with it? Hopefully, these practices show #4 vision, but I would be afraid to claim that for myself.

This addendum will be linked to my article, “College Composition Topics: Give Regional a Chance.”

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