- More Profession, Less Professing
Community colleges are at the leading edge in work-force training, the use of educational technology, and flexibility in responding to changing student needs. As a group, they are America's most exciting colleges.—Robert H. Atwell
I have no doubt that Mark Reynolds and Sylvia Holladay-Hicks, editors of The Profession of English in the Two-Year College (2005), share Mr. Atwell's excitement for the innovative, dynamic environment of the two-year college. I also have no doubt that Reynolds, Holladay-Hicks, and the two-year college English professionals who contribute essays, including Ellen Andrews Knodt, who cites Atwell in her essay "Graduate Programs for Two-Year-College Faculty: History and Future Directions," envision this collection in part as evidence of such "leading edge" work in higher education. As a recently tenured English faculty member at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois, I too am prone to agree with Atwell, since I would like to think that the community college is the happening place to be. Since I chose four years ago to reroute my professional path from the university to the two-year college when I resigned a full fellowship for doctoral studies in composition and rhetoric and was then lucky enough to land a tenure-track job, I approached my reading of The Profession of English in the Two-Year College with enthusiasm. When I read in the preface that the editors believed that "a historical record of the early years would be valuable for the profession and for future instructors" and that they "wanted this history to be written by those who faced and met the challenges of a new kind of education in this country" (vii), I pumped my fist. This would be a book about me, about my profession, for me, and for my profession. This would be about who we were, who we are, and most important, who we want and need to be.
It is clear after completing my reading that The Profession of English in the Two Year College really wants to be this book. It wants to establish a more stable, more defined identity for the two-year college English profession. It wants to look back so as to see where and how we should go forward. However, it unfortunately falls short of achieving these goals. Overall, the [End Page 342] collection can be viewed as a response to the identity crisis that Mark Reynolds highlights in "Two-Year-College Teachers as Knowledge Makers," the essay that appears as the first chapter of part 1, "Creating Identities." Citing the history of two-year colleges as a response to specific community needs beyond secondary education, Reynolds claims that "two-year institutions occupy an unusual position, lodged between the high school and the university, often seeming to belong to neither, and yet often integrally tied to both even though distinctly unlike either" (3). The editors specifically claim in the preface that the goal of the book is to dislodge the two-year-college English profession from this "unusual position" between the high school and the university, to "[document] the evolution and development of two-year-college teaching as a distinct and significant profession" (ix; emphasis added). Efforts are certainly made by the contributors to wiggle the two-year-college English profession free and claim a unique identity; however, it remains in limbo for two main reasons: (1) the tendency to define two-year English professionals primarily in relation to their university colleagues, thereby reducing claims of unique identity to pleas for recognition in the academy, and (2) the tendency to emphasize individual rather than institutional history, thereby reducing The Profession of English in the Two-Year College to My Profession of English in the Two-Year College. Rather than documenting the evolution of the profession, the collection reminisces; rather than triggering questions or suggesting directions for the future, the essays trigger nostalgia for the time of the pioneer, for the time when accidental authors felt as if they were creating seminal works.
It is also rather clear to me that my response to the book has much to do with my own position within...