Composition In The University

Composition In The University: Historical and Polemical Essays

SHARON CROWLEY
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjpc7
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Composition In The University
    Book Description:

    Composition in the Universityexamines the required introductory course in composition within American colleges and universities. Crowley argues that due to its association with literary studies in English departments, composition instruction has been inappropriately influenced by humanist pedagogy and that modern humanism is not a satisfactory rationale for the study of writing. Crowley envisions possible nonhumanist rationales that could be developed for vertical curricula in writing instruction, were the universal requirement not in place.

    Composition in the Universityexamines the required introductory course in composition within American colleges and universities. According to Sharon Crowley, the required composition course has never been conceived in the way that other introductory courses have been-as an introduction to the principles and practices of a field of study. Rather it has been constructed throughout much of its history as a site from which larger educational and ideological agendas could be advanced, and such agendas have not always served the interests of students or teachers, even though they are usually touted as programs of study that students "need."If there is a master narrative of the history of composition, it is told in the institutional attitude that has governed administration, design, and staffing of the course from its beginnings-the attitude that the universal requirement is in place in order to construct docile academic subjects.

    Crowley argues that due to its association with literary studies in English departments, composition instruction has been inappropriately influenced by humanist pedagogy and that modern humanism is not a satisfactory rationale for the study of writing. She examines historical attempts to reconfigure the required course in nonhumanist terms, such as the advent of communications studies during the 1940s. Crowley devotes two essays to this phenomenon, concentrating on the furor caused by the adoption of a communications program at the University of Iowa.Composition in the Universityconcludes with a pair of essays that argue against maintenance of the universal requirement. In the last of these, Crowley envisions possible nonhumanist rationales that could be developed for vertical curricula in writing instruction, were the universal requirement not in place.Crowley presents her findings in a series of essays because she feels the history of the required composition course cannot easily be understood as a coherent narrative since understandings of the purpose of the required course have altered rapidly from decade to decade, sometimes in shockingly sudden and erratic fashion.The essays in this book are informed by Crowley's long career of teaching composition, administering a composition program, and training teachers of the required introductory course. The book also draw on experience she gained while working with committees formed by the Conference on College Composition and Communication toward implementation of the Wyoming Resolution, an attempt to better the working conditions of post-secondary teachers of writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7190-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. 1 COMPOSITION IN THE UNIVERSITY
    (pp. 1-18)

    Ever since the late nineteenth century, instruction in composition has been required of all students who enter American higher education. The required, introductory-level course is called “English Composition” or “Freshman English” at most schools. The delivery of required composition instruction is a huge enterprise; at many universities the staff of the composition program outnumbers the staff of the Colleges of Engineering and Business combined. The student body of freshman composition comprises all but the very few members of each year’s entering class who manage to test out of the requirement as well as the students at the dozen or so...

  6. 2 THE TOAD IN THE GARDEN
    (pp. 19-29)

    In the March 1993 issue ofCollege English, Erika Lindemann and Gary Tate published a pair of essays in which they discuss the appropriateness of using literary texts in composition classes. Tate and Lindemann are both composition specialists; both have taught and written about composition for many years. In her essay Lindemann argues that writing pedagogy is sufficiently distinct from literary studies so that inclusion of literary texts in writing courses distracts teachers and students from their central task. Her “ideal” writing course

    asks students to read and write a variety of texts found in the humanities, sciences, and social...

  7. 3 THE BOURGEOIS SUBJECT AND THE DEMISE OF RHETORICAL EDUCATION
    (pp. 30-45)

    Opening the second book ofDe Inventione, Cicero recounts the story of Zeuxis and the five virgins. It seems that the famous sculptor planned a portrait of Helen, and the citizens of Croton—hoping that one or more of Zeuxis’s works would wind up in their temple—allowed him to search among their young people for models.

    In Cicero’s version of the story, Zeuxis, who is anxious to meet pretty young women, is first taken to see some handsome young men. The Crotoniats tell him that the bodies of the young men represent strength and athleticism (the Latin text suggests...

  8. 4 THE INVENTION OF FRESHMAN ENGLISH
    (pp. 46-78)

    In 1861, like many American men before and after him, James Morgan Hart traveled to Germany to study. He did so partly because it was fashionable for young men to go abroad at that time, but he was also a serious student who wanted to pursue advanced study in law. When he returned to America, Hart published an autobiographical account of his experience, an account that praised German university life at the same time as it condemned the course of study commonly pursued in American colleges. Hart’s experience in Germany and that of others like him helped to stimulate profound...

  9. 5 LITERATURE AND COMPOSITION: NOT SEPARATE BUT CERTAINLY UNEQUAL
    (pp. 79-117)

    The meaning of the termliteraturechanged radically during the nineteenth century. Raymond Williams notes that through the seventeenth century, the term “‘literary’ appeared in the sense of reading ability and experience” (47). During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,literaturewas still associated with “having letters,” that is, with being able to read and write. In another sense,literaturemeant having a liberal education: according to the OED,literaturemeant “acquaintance with ‘letters’ or books; polite or humane learning” as late as 1880. The sense ofliteratureas an expression of national character also began to emerge in the...

  10. 6 TERMS OF EMPLOYMENT: RHETORIC SLAVES AND LESSER MEN
    (pp. 118-131)

    Today, first-year composition is largely taught by graduate students and temporary or part-time teachers. Full-time permanent faculty regularly teach the required first-year course only in liberal arts colleges, two-year colleges, and the few four-year universities that still privilege teaching over research. According to administrative lore, this arrangement is necessary for economic reasons. No institution, the argument goes, can be expected to staff such a large program as first-year composition with full-time permanent faculty, whose salaries and benefits would simply overwhelm the university’s budget.

    I like to think of this as “the argument from size,” a tactic that does not typically...

  11. 7 “YOU CAN’T WRITE WRITING”: NORMAN FOERSTER AND THE BATTLE OVER BASIC SKILLS AT IOWA
    (pp. 132-154)

    On April 5, 1944, the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts at the State University of Iowa approved a new undergraduate program in general education. This program required all students enrolled in the college to take a foreign language and physical education, plus core courses in natural science, social science, literature, and history. The new program also required students to take a series of courses called “basic skills” if they could not demonstrate sufficient levels of competence in speaking, writing, and reading.

    Iowa’s new undergraduate requirements did not differ much from those adopted by many American universities during the...

  12. 8 FRESHMAN ENGLISH AND WAR
    (pp. 155-186)

    Universal requirements prosper in wartime. Wars cause university teachers and administrators to circle the curricular wagons, to multiply requirements, and to clamp down on electivity. Historian Robert J. Connors remarks that “wars seem to create a desire for tradition and stasis where they can be achieved on the home front” (1996, 2). Certainly the advent of World War II firmly cemented in place the universal requirement in introductory composition, even though it brought about enormous changes in the curriculum of Freshman English itself. These changes occurred directly, through the armed forces’ intervention into the curriculum of the basic required course,...

  13. 9 AROUND 1971: THE EMERGENCE OF PROCESS PEDAGOGY
    (pp. 187-214)

    “Teach the process, not the product.” This slogan enjoyed wide currency among writing teachers during the 1970s, and it now serves professional writing teachers as a popular thumbnail history of writing instruction. Around 1971, the story goes, composition teachers stopped relying on the correction of finished essays as their primary means of instruction—the product—and instead began to offer assistance to students while they actually composed, thus intervening in the process.¹

    A large body of textual evidence attests that a pedagogical turn of this sort was widely recommended in professional literature published during the late 1960s and throughout the...

  14. 10 THE POLITICS OF COMPOSITION
    (pp. 215-227)

    There’s a canard about teaching that goes like this: “Just when you design the right syllabus, the wrong students walk in the door.” Unlike academics who construct their pedagogical task as passing on knowledge (that is, unlike teachers in almost every other academic discipline), composition teachers profess the development of students’ abilities. Hence the canard applies to their work with particular force.

    Preparing a syllabus involves making predictions about how a semester’s work will be orchestrated. The obvious predictions made by a syllabus are about timing and pacing. But a teacher preparing a syllabus also makes predictions about who students...

  15. 11 A PERSONAL ESSAY ON FRESHMAN ENGLISH
    (pp. 228-249)

    Freshman English is a sentimental favorite in America, like big bands and Colin Powell. If you don’t believe me, talk to your colleagues and neighbors about the introductory English course they took as undergraduates. Some will depict it as an endless drill in grammar and mechanics but will assure you nonetheless that knowledge of those arcane arts contributed to their survival in college. Others will recall their course as a comfortable seminar taught by a tweedy professor who introduced them to the Great Texts of Western culture. In either case people will remember their experience positively, if not fondly. Freshman...

  16. 12 COMPOSITION’S ETHIC OF SERVICE, THE UNIVERSAL REQUIREMENT, AND THE DISCOURSE OF STUDENT NEED
    (pp. 250-266)

    Since its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, university-level composition instruction has maintained an ethic of service. Its teachers and supporters have argued that composition instruction served the needs of the academic community, as well as those of students and the community at large, by teaching students to write error-free expository prose. Since the late nineteenth century, this instrumental ethic has provided most American colleges and universities with a rationale for requiring introductory composition courses of all students.

    The instrumental ethic of the introductory course has been supplemented from time to time with other, more general, aims. During the 1920s...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 267-278)
  18. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 279-300)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 301-306)