As we’ve mentioned, this text was written with an
composition studies in mind: Cheryl E. Ball and
Drew M. Loewe explained in their introduction that they consider the collection “an attempt by a varied and
diverse group of
writing scholar–teachers to translate our specialized knowledge and experiences about writing for a truly wide set
of audiences, most of whom will never read the scholarly journals and books or attend conferences about this topic
because of the closed nature of such publications and proceedings” (p. 2). Regardless of our skepticism as to
whether or not the “publics” Ball and Loewe idealized as the intended audience will, in fact, know of and access the
text, a generalized public audience is not the only one this text will have. In fact, this text could be quite
useful in both graduate and undergraduate courses as well as in research
among both compositionists and
others outside the field of composition.
In graduate instruction, our first inclination was that the text could be used as an introductory text for courses teaching new graduate teaching assistants how to approach first-year composition (FYC), since that is what most TAs in English departments teach (MLA and ADE, 2008). Regardless of whether the department in question has chosen a theory-heavy, practice-heavy, or more balanced approach to teaching TAs how to teach writing, Bad Ideas about Writing is a good springboard text. Much of its utility for this purpose comes from the very nature of its structure: its plain-spoken, brief, relatively jargon-free introductions to many of the theories and concepts compositionists hold dear (or argue about) is perfect for new teachers of writing. Because these students may be coming to the writing classroom with little background in writing pedagogy or theory, a theory-driven text like Cross-Talk in Comp Theory or even Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts in Writing Studies could overwhelm new writing instructors unfamiliar with composition theory and perhaps leave them with few practical pedagogical tools or techniques. Bad Ideas was meant to be accessible—and it is—which makes it a good choice for introducing composition pedagogy to a group of new TAs from mixed backgrounds with writing instruction. With a bit of background from Bad Ideas—perhaps especially chapter 1, chapter 4, chapter 6, and chapter 8—more theory-heavy texts or pieces could be introduced in a way that doesn’t leave students outside of composition studies floundering.
In addition, studies show that new teachers fall back on methods by which they have been taught (Smagorinsky, Wilson, and Moore, 2011), even when they know those methods are not particularly effective. For preservice teachers or TAs who have had strong, innovative writing instructors, this tendency is unlikely to be problematic, but for those who have had more current-traditional writing instructors, it is important that students have enough understanding of effective writing pedagogies so that as they gain their footing in the classroom, they can start making the shift to stronger instruction sooner rather than later. Bad Ideas presents a broad base of theories and practices in composition instruction that will serve new writing teachers well in this capacity.
Beyond courses designed for new TAs to teach writing, there is also great potential for this text as a framework for a first-year composition (FYC) course for undergrads or an introductory composition theory course for graduate students. For both FYC students and newly minted graduate students in the field, the introduction to a slew of the heavier scholarly texts can be disorienting and even discouraging. While a certain level of disorientation is likely inevitable for both novice writers and fledgling scholars learning the jargon and threshold concepts of their discipline, a text like Bad Ideas could be grounding in terms of introducing concepts of composition theory. For undergraduate students in other fields, it may be as far as they go, but for graduate students, it provides a solid foundation prior to diving deeper into theory and jargon-heavy studies. Many of the texts suggested for further reading throughout the chapters read in a more traditionally scholarly way, and having a plain-language text to lay the foundation for more challenging texts can help encourage undergraduate students to pursue additional study in the field and buoy new graduate students’ understanding of and confidence in concepts and theories of the discipline.
Further, Bad Ideas offered graduate students a glimpse of scholarship made accessible. Ball and Loewe’s text had an admirable goal of making concepts familiar to the rhetoric and composition audience plain for audiences outside of the field. Whether we want to admit it or not, as practitioners (or future practitioners) of a necessary and important element of education, we cannot escape the influence of outside forces. Administrators, politicians, parents, community members, and many others will—in one way or another—attempt to exert power over what we practice in our classrooms. While some of these “outsiders” will have more influence than others, helping them to understand our beliefs, practices, theories, and concepts is critical to gaining the type of support and influence we need. It is unlikely that we can develop that understanding in others if we cannot communicate with them clearly. As writers, we know that audience awareness is important, so developing in our newest colleagues the ability to make clear the complex issues of our discipline may be of critical importance to gaining the support of outside forces we cannot simply ignore.