Reviewed by Cassandra Goff, University of Utah
Gere, A. R., Curzan, A., Hammond, J. W., Hughes, S. Li, R., Moos, A., Smith, K., Van Zanen, K., Wheeler, K. L., and Zanders, C. J. (2021). Communal justicing: Writing assessment, disciplinary infrastructure, and the case for critical language awareness. College Composition and Communication, 72(3), 384-412.
In “Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness” (2021), Gere, Curzan, Hammond, Hughes, Li, Moos, Sith, Zanen, Wheeler, and Zanders show that the work towards critical language awareness and social justice needs continual improvements from the local to the institutional level. Arguing for a more stringent effort towards improvements for justice on an institutional level, the authors remind the Writing Studies field of their community responsibility for critical language awareness and justicing.
Drawing upon Swain’s definition of ‘languaging’, Gere et al. discuss how “justicing implies a process of conscious, iterative, effort that is not achieved all at once, but rather depends upon the choices we continually make” (p. 385). Communal justicing is the ongoing and collective project of working towards justice. In other words, justicing is the action verb while justice is the noun. The authors constantly re-emphasize that the work for critical language awareness and communal justicing is the responsibility of the whole community. Changes to institutional infrastructure cannot occur without everyone working with the same common goal in mind.
Gere et al. identify that students have a key role within the Writing Studies community as well. “By promoting critical language awareness as a matter of policy, we help to ensure that the writing classroom is a space for teachers and students to participate in communal justicing,” (p. 394). Gere et al. imagine all students form a rhetorical understanding of ‘proper’ and ‘incorrect’ written conventions and language varieties to help them inform and change social hierarchies and implications.
The authors argue that revising key elements of institutional infrastructures is necessary for promoting critical language awareness and communal justicing within the field overall as well as everyday choices and improvement within composition classrooms. “We take the term ‘communal justicing’ to designate something more than local efforts to revise aspects of assessment that contribute to unjust outcomes for students” (p. 387). Individual local change is not sufficient.
Drawing upon previous scholarship by Duffy, Gilyard, Inoue, Wardle, and others, Gere et al. argue for the field’s common vision to be shaped by communal justicing. Starting by making improvements towards communal justicing within the field’s past policies and publications, scholars and practitioners within the field of Writing Studies must focus on disciplinary memory of language history, policy, and discrimination “Reimagining our guiding documents so that they advance critical language awareness is one such infrastructural intervention – one such means of justicing,” (p. 386). The authors propose significant revision to the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing; a guiding document informs curriculum development for Writing Studies instructors in both college and high-school contexts. The focus of Gere et al. revisions to the Framework document prioritizes language, noting the absence of the word itself from the original publication.
Transparency is a necessity in communal justicing work when creating and revising guiding documents within the field. The Framework was produced in 2011 by a collation of authors from the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), and the National Writing Project (NWP). Gere et al. note the Framework “hides the identity of those who consider and determine what is correct, or appropriate” (p. 396) for the formal rules and information guidelines of writing conventions.
Gere et al. subtly nod towards the need for everyone within the Writing Studies field, not only a few assigned individuals, to prioritize critical language awareness and communal justicing. They mention many of the conversations within NCTE and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) that focus on social justice and critical language awareness “have been initiated and led by antiracist educators of color, as well as interest and advocacy groups…” (p, 389). The necessary choices and continuous work of communal justicing is not the responsibility of people of color alone; it’s the responsibility of the entire Writing Studies community.
The authors remind those within the Writing Studies field that communal justicing work is not in the past; it is work that must be continuously prioritized now and improved upon in the future. Drawing upon Smitherman, Gere et al. “the purpose of communal justicing is… to make these improvement efforts so habitual within the field that it becomes difficult to imagine disciplinary participation without them,” (p. 402). Their call to those within the Writing Studies field to continually choose to make efforts towards critical language awareness and communal justicing is strengthened when the authors reaffirm knowledge that inaction does not change or challenge the systematic powers and privileges at play.
In referencing NCTE and CCCC primarily within “Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness”, Gere et al. miss the opportunity to evaluate the Two-Year College English Association’s (TYCA) role towards critical language awareness and communal justicing work within the Writing Studies field. This text leaves room to consider how community colleges are already and continuously working towards communal justicing with, sometimes extremely, varying student populations.
Throughout the various contexts of the Writing Studies field, Gere et al. mention how even though multimodality is becoming increasingly popular within composition classrooms, language-based texts are the standard for assessment ideologies. This juxtaposition calls for the Writing Studies field to evaluate the role of multimodality within the work of communal justicing, especially in relation to assessment.
Committee on Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Language Statement (1974). Students’ right to their own language. Conference on College Composition and Communication, 25(3), 1-32.
Council of Writing Program Administrators (2014). WPA outcomes statement for first-year composition. Version 3.0. http://wpacouncil.org/aws/CWPA/pt/sd/news_article/243055/_PARENT/layout_details/false
Council of Writing Program Administrators (2011). Framework for success in postsecondary writing. National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project. http://wpacouncil.org/aws/CWPA/asset_manager/get_file/350201.
Duffy, J. (2019). Provocations of virtue: rhetoric, ethics, and the teaching of writing. Utah State University.
Gilyard, K. (2000) “Literacy, identity, imagination, flight.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, 52(2), 267-272.
Inoue, A. (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. WAC Clearinghouse.
National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association (2019). Standards for the assessment of reading and writing. https://ncte.org/resources/standards/standards-for-the-assessment-of-reading-and-writing-revised-edition-2009/.
Wardle, E., Adler-Kassner, L., Alexander, J., Elliot, N., Hammond, J.W., Poe, M., Rhodes, J., Womack, A.M. (2019). Recognizing the limits of threshold concept theory. In L. Adler-Kassner and E. Wardle (Eds.), (Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy (pp. 15-35). Utah State University Press.