Any Road will Do (or Mindlessness in the Comp Classroom)

I wish I had read these pieces years ago. 
In "Philosophies of Composition," Fulkerson's argument is simple: The sin of the English teacher is "mindlessness" in philosophy and practice, what he will later refer to as "axiology". He explains the basic four theories of value in Composition classrooms (whether a teacher is aware of them at work or not): formalism- which corresponds with philosophies focused on the texts that students produce in and of themselves; expressive- which is related to philosophies that "emphasize the writer" (343); mimetic- which corresponds to philosophies that focus on reality and accuracy of subject; and lastly, rhetorical- which is related to philosophies that emphasize the effect on the reader. A formalist instructor may judge a student's work based on grammatical errors; a mimetic focus will take large stock of the accuracy of a student's findings or conclusions; an expressivist approach would consider a student a success if their writing showed more self-awareness and self-discovery; and a rhetorical focus would put the focus on writing as it moves, shapes, persuades an audience. Fulkerson has many interesting things to say about audience and its importance in writing classes in his 1990 work, "Composition Theory in the Eighties: Axiological Consensus and Paradigmatic Diversity". 
Anyone reading these articles would rightly announce to themselves, "well, I can see how I dabble a bit in all of these approaches somehow, someway" (alright, maybe I'm one of the few instructors who believes grammar is still important, but more on that later). But that's not Fulkerson's point. His aim in both articles is to reveal to instructors that perhaps they haven't fully examined their own goals, judgments and epistemology of their classes, or "axiology," or "value theory" ("Axiology" 410). Of course, I am not talking about the outcomes and goals provided to us by our departments that get slapped on to the syllabus every semester- those outcomes we glance at and think, "yup, I better have some assignments wrapped around these ideas somehow". I think most of us are good at aligning our class assignments and even grading (especially if assessment is a big deal at our campus) toward certain state and institutional outcomes, but what about our goals? Fulkerson challenges English teachers to ask themselves the following questions: (1) What do I consider "good writing"? The answer to this is of utmost importance, as this will determine whether students have achieved positive writing changes; (2) What procedure do my students go about to achieve these positive writing changes?; and (3) how will I (the instructor) introduce concepts, judge student writing, scaffold writing activities toward that procedure and "good writing" goal? ("Axiological" 410-11).

My considerations:
1. In reviewing my feedback to student writing, what are the Composition concepts I seem to value most highly?
2. What do I ask students to consider most highly in response to one another's writing?
3. Do I need to reassess my values?
4. How can I develop more accurate rubrics to align with these values?

I've concluded that my approach is largely rhetorical, but I wasn't aware of that before reading these articles. 
I understand that some instructors would look at practices in my English classroom and try to categorize my approach based on those practices, but that is unhelpful. For example, recently I was trying to explain to someone why I teach grammar in Comp I classes. The person turned me off and labeled me a formalist (without the label) without hearing my rationale. I consider grammar a rhetorical tool; and I want my students to use grammar purposefully and thoughtfully based on rhetorical situations and the affect on the audience; that's not formalist philosophy (as in, "Students, use a semi-colon between two related and complete thoughts. Done and done.") Yet this person simply heard "grammar" and associated that with a formalist approach, when nothing could be further from the truth. Also, I allow my students to use a 5 paragraph essay model, if it so suits their rhetorical purpose. The 5PE is hugely associated with formulaic writing but doesn't necessarily have to be. 
Additionally, I assign many reflective writing journal entries during an essay process. I've kept this practice after reading research about the usefulness of private writing: students exhibit cadid reflections about their writing and their rhetorical choices. Journaling is sometimes overgeneralized as "expressivist," but again, but if the journal is kept in an effort to make students more aware of their rhetorical choices, would that be, at least, a combination of expressivise and rhetorical?
I agree with Fulkerson in that the movement in Composition studies, even now, seems to be rhetorical, but the argument about how to get to that point is hugely debated.

Works Cited

Fulkerson, Richard. "Composition Theory in the Eighties: Axiological Consensus and Paradigmatic Diversity." College Composition and Communication, vol. 41, no. 4, Dec. 1990, pp. 343-348. JSTOR,

--. "Philosophies of Composition." College Composition and Communication, vol. 30, no. 40, Dec. 1979, pp. 343-348. JSTOR,

Phelps, W. Louise. "Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition." College Composition and Communication, vol. 53, no. 8, Dec. 1991, pp. 863- 885. JSTOR,