Debra Dew-Content is Rhetoric and Composition
From: Debra Dew
Duane and all, I see the content or no content question as setting up a bit of a false choice theoretically. Content always already exists in our classrooms, and it is arguably inextricable from its partner~~ skills. Like other disciplines, rhetoric and composition’s knowledge base encompasses content and skills as two integral domains. We teach both, and assess both.
If we start with *rhetoric* and *composition* as our field terms, we might ask: What are the concepts, principles, strategies [content] and skills of *rhetoric* and, in like manner, what are the content, principles, and strategies [content] and skills of composition or composing? For both terms, I believe we call up both *content* and processes or *skills,* and we share content knowledge and teach processes and skills simultaneously.
When we review our WPA outcomes for first-year composition or writing as a representative framework of our field’s knowledge domains, do we not see *content* and *skills* always already present and assessable within the outcomes’ subsets? I believe a bit of our resistance to *content* is yet traced to the field’s initial re-separation from literature, a fierce break which enabled rhetoric/composition to self-define. The anxiety lingers as we perhaps worry that *literature* is the only imaginable content, and who wants to return to *the way we were* in relation to literary content is the literary is all we can imagine here? We are also multimodal and inclusive, so who gets to define and what content ends up being *in* and *out* is of grave concern, surely.
What I claim, and here I refer explicitly to our local FYC curricula, is that deliberate and substantive talk about writing theory and rhetorical theory and language theory and literacy theory is the very *content* of all our courses. *Content* encompasses theoretical vocabulary, principles, our tools as well as research on composing processes. Students both talk about—amass vocabulary, principles, theoretical knowledge— and *do* the discipline. They read theory and talk about composing, and continually compose. We embrace two instructional charges—1) general education writing instruction in FYC, and 2) an introduction to rhetoric and composition as a field with both content and skills domains; that is, rhetoric/composition as a possible major, an area of study with its own integrity.
I further believe that our reluctance to imagine~~represent, define, give presence to our *content* as a counterpart to skills~~enables our institutional peers, particularly those who work in *real* disciplines with both clear content and skills, to appropriate our courses for their own disciplinary purposes. The risk of not defining our *content* knowledge is that the public or the institution intercedes, appropriates and otherwise seizes intellectual control over our nondescript, hence non- or subdisciplinary work. The institution gives us something to talk about, assigns our *content* by default.
In this, I am clearly suggesting that many of the external advancements upon our FYC instructional space are sparked by the public’s inability to imagine what it is that we do *do* in the writing classroom. An inability to imagine that we ~rhetoric and composition~do realize the full intellectual potential of FYC as prime real estate risks the state’s strategic claim of eminent domain.
Surely the state has larger, more *noble* assessment interests and better instructional purposes for our disciplinary *property.* Why do folks imagine they need to give us something to do or that we are not *doing* our jobs? What I am saying here is truly local and may not be otherwise relevant, but it is also deeply grounded and informed by my multiple encounters with definitional accounts of writing’s work as delivered by peers across the institutional terrain.
I am not an isolationist, truly, and I do value collaborative, interdisciplinary initiatives, but advancing a local writing enterprise, for me, has always FIRST required authorizing myself to speak via deliberate definitional claims to writing’s disciplinary integrity as it encompasses the field’s *content* and *skills*. Maybe needing *content* signifies a deep insecurity on my part, but *skills* alone affords our local program very little traction. I am also aware that the master’s *disciplinary* tools have their consequences. Just my early thoughts on the issue.