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).