Who Owns School?
Authority, Students, and Online Discourse

by Kelly Ritter

New Dimensions in Computers and Composition Series
eds. Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher
Hampton Press, 2010

Reviewed by Rita Malenczyk
Director, University Writing Program and Writing Center
Eastern Connecticut State University


What About Freire?

The Pink Monkey

Psst! Wanna Buy A...?

And His Pants Are Ugly



References and Credits

My opinion of all this?  And of Who Owns School? Though I may have not emphasized it sufficiently in this review, Ritter is a provocative, rigorous and persuasive writer, articulating her positions eloquently through the lenses of rhetorical and composition theory, literacy studies, and literary theory.  If I disagree with her at all, it’s on what may be a tangential point, but still one worth pondering.  Early in the book she suggests that the only students who really seem to “appreciate and respond to the presence of a teacher-figure” these days are, in her experience, graduate students; her (qualified, but still strong) suggestion that undergrads no longer feel the need for teachers in their lives is contradicted by my own experience, which suggests that face-to-face (ok, f2f) contact with teachers as well as peers is still crucial for a large number of undergraduates.  And I don’t think I’m just deluding myself about the importance of my own influence.  Possibly it’s because I direct a writing center, but every day I see (and read about, if the National Survey of Student Engagement is any indication) undergraduates seeking in-person conversations about matters ranging from their career goals to their papers-in-progress.  This hunger, it seems to me, for actual human contact points to what I think is ultimately the problem with American education: the system has made objects, figures, of teachers—a point Ritter addresses at length in Chapter 5—and has not engaged sufficiently with what years of pedagogical and educational research, including that in composition and rhetoric, has revealed about how students actually learn.

But, again, that’s a minor quibble, and ultimately irrelevant to Ritter’s goal in the book, which is not to offer blueprints for a newly imagined American educational system or (as she herself says) to provide “a how-to lesson in using or addressing online technologies in teaching” (p. 12).  The most compelling aspect of Who Owns School? is its incisive analysis of the conversations students have on and about online sites, as well as of the consumerist rhetoric deployed by paper mills to exploit students’ disengagement.  That analysis will complicate and, hopefully, change the way you think about your students as thinkers, learners and citizens.  Read this book.  In Ritter’s own words, “If you, the reader, opened this book and found yourself doubting what I might reasonably theorize about literacy education and…Web sites with silly, faddish names that you had never heard of, then I’m directing a prompt personally to you—because your spheres, I’m sorry to say, are not as wide as you may have previously thought.”