Hairston, “The Winds of Change”

Hairston, Maxine. “The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing.” CCC 33.1 (Feb. 1982): 76-88. (13 pages)

Hairston, in her 1982 CCC’s article, draws attention to what she sees as a paradigm shift in composition studies, drawing on Thomas Kuhn’s understand of the term. Though focused on scientific fields of study, the language of Kuhn’s paradigms and paradigm shifts is useful for Hairston to point out the movement away from current-traditionalist, product-centered concepts of writing toward something process-centered.

A paradigm refers to a stable period of time where practitioners in a discipline have a general consensus about their belief, assumptions, problems to be solved, and the methods of research and making knowledge. The profession is organized around such consensuses and new members study the paradigm in order to gain access to it. However, “paradigms are not immutable” (76): when anomalies or phenomena emerge that the current paradigm cannot account for, when contradictions and inconsistencies emerge in trying to respond to this new phenomena, and when practitioners rely on improvised or ad hoc solutions, the paradigm is deemed unstable and calls for a new paradigm of research and knowledge is likely to emerge to make a more adequate response to the new anomalies. The replacement of one paradigm for a new one—where practitioners and theorists create a new consensus around new assumptions, beliefs, methods, etc.—marks a paradigm shift. However, as Hairston points out, such transitions is often met with resistance by those who have “an intellectual and sometimes emotional investment in the accepted view” (77). Once such people are ignored by those in control of the channels of influence, a new paradigm has emerged.

Hairston, then, begins to map out what the old paradigm, current-traditionalist and product-centered perspectives, looks like. At its core, the old paradigm is designed around the literary critics or scholars who teach a lions share of composition courses. The focus then is on the style of writing and neglects inventions. As she continues, “its adherents believe that competent writers know what they are going to say before they begin to write; thus their most important task when they are preparing to write is finding a form which to organize their content. They also believe the composing process is linear, and that it processed systematically from prewriting to writing to rewriting. Finally, they believe that teaching editing is teaching writing.

When charting out signs of a transitional period toward a new paradigm, she points to Mina Shaughnessy’s writing on open admissions in the city university system of New York—the influx of a new kind of student challenged conventional understandings of how to teach writing, prompted new solutions to teach a new kind of student. As Hairston points out, “we cannot teach students to write by looking only at what they have written. We must also understand how that product came into being, and why it assumed the form it did” (84). Such a transition marked new understandings of writing as the focus of research drew its attention toward process: “we are beginning to find out something about how people’s minds work as they write, to chart the rhythm of their writing, to find out what constraints they are aware of as they write, and to see what physical behaviors are involved in writing and how they vary among different groups of writers” (85).

Lastly, she points to five ways this new paradigm will spread: (1) University of Iowa’s Writing Institute has trained a batch of administers in this paradigm; (2) increase in graduate programs in composition studies nation-wide; (3) all graduate assistants in English are being trained by composition specialists; (4) new texts that describe the paradigm shift, and (5) circulation of new textbooks for FYC.

However, does the movement from product to process mark a paradigmatic shift?


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