Teaching About Writing… Downs and Wardle

Another excellent article in the June 2007 CCC is Downs and Wardle’s “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (re)Envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.”

Downs and Wardle suggest, as in their long title, to revamp FYC into something called “Intro to Writing Studies,” just as other disciplines have “Intro to Psych,” or “Intro to Engineering.” And this new course would have specific content – research in writing, the benchmark articles that graduate students read in TA training courses – and the students would learn writing by researching writing itself. This would lead, naturally, to an undergraduate major in Writing Studies instead of the usual English.

There are problems with this approach – the difficulty of the material and the sharpened bell curve it would likely create, though I like the way it nicely exposes how many teachers semi-existing in the dark underbelly of composition would not be qualified to teach it (though a solid year of graduate work in the area would be enough, I’d think, for starters). And it would require a major administrative reimagining of the FYC mission that much of composition depends on for its existence and funding, and it is a lucky school or English department that could manage such a trick.

But it does seem that this approach, whether called “Intro to Writing Studies” or “Intro to Rhetorical Writing,” etc, is a logical outgrowth of the post-process movement. I’d certainly be open to it. It would need a very specialized reader that currently doesn’t exist (though Downs and Wardle seem to be writing one), and the authors suggest that individual programs would have to make their own for some time, but that’s a minor hurdle.

It actually sounds like a great deal of fun, and anything that helps to grow rhetcomp out of its service niche, I think, is positive. A gentle way to introduce it would be to start a few sections side-by-side with existing FYC courses, as a pilot. Hmm. 1020 here is probably loosely defined enough to accomodate such an approach already, though 1010 isn’t.

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