Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Search Of

We capped our discussions of Smit's The End of Composition Studies (2004) and Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's In Search of Eloquence (2004) in 712 this afternoon. Smit opens for us with six chapters leading down the skeptic's infinite regress into complandia's hopeless abyss before turning to his recommendations for reform. His plans for a refurbished curriculum aren't as despairing as his account of the impossibility of teaching writing. No screeching demons, no ravenous hellhounds. In fact, the curriculum pretty well matches with Writing Across the Curriculum efforts. Smit turns out to be a proponent of a first-year course called "Introduction to Writing as a Social Practice" (185). Upper division instructors would share responsibility for teaching the course; "They must," Smit contends, "be part of a broad university-wide program that introduces all novice writers 'slowly but steadily and systematically' to new genres and social contexts, a program that encourages students to develop their 'structural, rhetorical, stylistic facility' over time (Rose 112)" (188). The second tier of Smit's curriculum involves discipline-specific courses emphasizing writing, and the third tier involves "writing outside the classroom" (190). I'm sure I'll sound glib in characterizing it so flatly, but much of it sounds, well, familiar enough. A more radical turn, however, comes in Smit's proposal for graduate training:

Contrary then to current practice, I would propose that graduate programs in composition studies be organized in order to promote the training of compositionists as writers of particular kinds of discourse, as scholars of particular discourse communities, and as specialists in pedagogy.... In fact, I think it would be helpful if we abolished the expression 'writing instructor' and replaced it with a title that includes the kind of discourse the instructor teaches: newspaper editorial instructor, for example; or biology lab report instructor. (195)

Smit pushes dual-specializations, the combination of advanced studies in writing and rhetoric with advanced studies in the discourses of particular fields. The individual, according to this model, bridges the expanses between distinctive disciplinary forms of expertise and writing genres (in and out of school settings). In sharp contrast to Smit's model of WAC, Cosgrove and Barta-Smith approach WAC by enlisting their colleagues, involving them in ongoing conversations about their perceptions of the writing done in their field of expertise, both in and out of school. Their model values conversation; it is clearly more cooperative, more networked, than Smit's:

Each of the moves we see ourselves and our colleagues making in order to perpetuate our discourse--the mutual moldings of common meaning, the affirmations, the restatements, the discoveries or sharings of common experience or knowledge--seem born out of a desire to stretch, rather than eliminate, the confines of the knowledge and language bequeathed to us by our disciplines. (61)

The conversational methods used by Cosgrove and Barta-Smith are time-intensive, and they depend on shared respect, cross-disciplinary accountability, and recognition of the knowledge and insight folks from different areas have to offer each other. Their model is ambitious, and it might be impossible to implement at larger institutions (although they carry 4:4 loads at Slippery Rock, where they held the conversations, conducted the study). Yet because it emphasizes conversations about attitudes and understandings of writing held by specific faculty in other fields and also seeks to integrate those perspectives with the work of teaching lower division writing courses, it bears greater promise, I'd say, than beefed up training for graduate students in composition and rhetoric. Cosgrove and Barta-Smith's connective, institution-wide "search" makes composition's future appear much brighter than does a notion of added training for islanded instructors (of somediscourse).

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