Anon, they fierce encountring both concur’d,
With griesly looks and faces like their fates
But dispar minds and inward moods unlike.
—Thomas Hughes, The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587)
When I first started to explore the partnerships that my university writing program had with local high schools, one phrase that got my attention was “concurrent enrollment.” It was a foreign-sounding term, with hints of bureaucracy. At first I favored the related term “dual enrollment” to characterize this negotiation of high school and college curricula in one place. Surely dual nicely describes these two things happening at once. And, in emphasizing two elements, one can stress balance as the appropriate skill in managing the work.
It didn’t take me long, however, to see that an instructor of one of these courses faces far more than two elements. Within the same class, an English instructor may have to address a school-wide focus on a specific theme or activity (e.g., a scholarship application or a letter of thanks), a state-wide emphasis on particular texts or articulated skills, a nationally produced exam such as Advanced Placement, the university-driven FYW curriculum, and more. Other forces include parents, school boards, program coordinators offering suggestions, seemingly endless curriculum reform and development, etc. No, “dual” is overly simplifying. And, after a foray into the OED and some reflection on what it means to “concur” or to be “concurrent,” I warmed to the term concurrent enrollment as having much greater potential for truly capturing the many elements flowing through these courses.
The epigraph above includes one of the earliest uses of the term, “concur,” a meaning which at the time had a much greater element of clashing, contesting forces than today’s almost polite associations with concurring. “I concur” can signify an absence of debate or “dispar minds.” But the earliest definitions of “concur” included: “To run together violently or with a shock” and “To run together in hostility; to rush at each other.” In time, our more placid, cooperative use of the term has become primary, but we should not completely forget or elide the trace of chaos in the “currents” of these relationships. Concurrency, which suggests flows of water, money, or electricity, has a more dynamic quality, a suggestion, too, of power or of burgeoning force.
When I think of what we are trying to do in these courses, I favor a discourse of circulation and extension rather than one of balance or equivalence. Dual enrollment sounds like compromise. We should not look at these partnerships as sites for simply moving college courses to high school sites, as if doing so could happen without consequences. Concurrent enrollment more fully describes the running together of sometimes competing and contesting forces that have the potential to produce something more powerful and more active because of their combination. Balance may be out of the question, and some chaos may be inherent. But concurrency at least marks the attempt to link and enable something that cannot exist without this experimenting.