Date of Award

Fall 1999

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


The author interprets her memoirs as a reader and writer to describe how the movement from I to We, a process of "repositioning," shifted her perceptions from "hating school" to wanting to teach. She begins by tracing her roots as a "white," working-class woman from Cleveland (1952--1970) and ends by disclosing "what worked and what didn't work" when teaching freshman composition at the University of New Hampshire (1994--1997). She draws on feminist, ethnographic, rhetorical, and critical theory to compose "thick descriptions" of her reading, writing, and teaching life. She juxtaposes her struggles with Others', like Min-Zhan Lu, to identify, interpret, and critique the cultural values and forces at work when coming to voice.

The author "thinks back through her mother" to note how gender and economic class contributed to her struggles. She "unveils" the disempowering narrative structures in fairy tales and romance fictions she read as a child and names five psychological needs that were never met in school. She recalls her father's utilitarian view of literacy and her difficulties with the foreign discursive practices of graduate school. She confronts more "authoritative discourses" in Alcoholics Anonymous and discloses conversations among women who gathered to talk about what they couldn't or wouldn't talk about in an AA meeting.

She transforms her interpersonal memoirs into a curriculum for freshman composition. The author then focuses on the case studies of two students, Lyn and Connie, to illustrate the issues, contradictions and struggles that arise when she and her students move from I to We.

Lyn moved from I to We when her interpretations of her siblings' deaths led her to read to the terminally ill at a local hospital. Connie moved from I to We when her interpretations of her family's Christian values led her to participate in a discussion group at a battered women's shelter. The author then compares the two case studies and finds that Lyn "walked her talk" at her research site, whereas Connie contradicted herself. The author then juxtaposes her struggles with the struggles that Lyn and Connie encountered when moving from I to We. She then asks her students and herself to determine what knowing they value, where they obtained that knowledge and how they can use their own experiences to transform current language practices into acts of liberation.