Since 2009, approximately 8 million student veterans have used $84 Billion in GI Bill benefits to attend college or university in the United States (U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, “Annual Benefits Report” 2009-16). Student veterans represent 4% of students nationwide (Molina). Despite these numbers, 92% of composition faculty reported that they had experienced no professional development related to the military or veterans’ learning needs (Hart and Thompson, “Ethical Obligation,” 8). Patricia Bizzell wrote, “We in this field want to know who our students are” (442). This project works to help scholars in composition and literacy studies know more about who student veterans are.
This project addresses the research questions:
• How do student veterans from the same branch of service understand and describe writing, reading, and literacy sponsored by that service?
• How do student veterans discuss the connections and relationships between military literacy practices and academic literacy?
• What can be learned about transfer of learning and prior knowledge by studying the experiences of student veterans?
• When individuals move between the military and higher education how do they recognize and negotiate expectations regarding reading, writing, and literacy?
To answer these questions, I conducted a qualitative study of Marines, veterans, and reservists. Through surveys and interviews with current and former Marines, I collected data about their beliefs and memories about their literacy practices, their military service, and their experiences in college classes. I use these data to support a series of claims about the literacy practices of student veterans and how understanding those practices can improve composition instruction.
In Chapter 1, I argue that an asset frame may allow composition and literacy studies to better understand student veterans’ literacy practices than hero/time-bomb dichotomies. In Chapter 2, I argue that the United States Marine Corps sponsors literacy financially, professionally, and incidentally, and that this sponsorship shapes service members’ literacy values, attitudes, and practices. In Chapter 3, I claim that, as a literacy sponsor, the Marine Corps affects individuals’ theories of writing through the resources Marine student veterans use to learn to write on the job (military schools, mentors, manuals, models) and through shared definitions of good writing (clear, concise, correct, current, and conscious of audience). In Chapter 4, I argue that dispositions and habits of mind from the Marine Corps, especially professionalism (time management, leadership, and being mission oriented), perspective (military service as a lens, global perspective, peers), and passion (experience as inspiration and appropriation) transfer to college settings, including composition classes. In Chapter 5, I claim that skills and dispositions from composition, including composing strategies, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence (resulting from success, measured by grades, speed and volume of writing, a sense of achievement, and faculty relationships) transfer to the Marine Corps, other college classes, and personal contexts. In Chapter 6, I conclude by presenting promising pedagogical recommendations and discussing areas of future research.