From: Elizabeth Ann Wardle
I think the content of composition should be composition, writ broad. And it doesn’t have to be boring. All students have experiences with writing and language, and all have questions related to those experiences. I hate to even talk here, because I know both Doug Downs and I have harped on this before on this list to the extent that we may have irritated everyone out of listening. And also we have a CCC article coming out that makes this claim: the content of comp should be comp.
We do ourselves, our students, and our discipline a huge disservice when we suggest that we can and should let students write about anything, even things we ourselves know nothing about. For the third year in a row I am teaching a comp class about comp where, in Wendy Bishop’s famous words, The Subject is Writing. The students are not bored. They read some great comp research that was at all times relevant to them and their experiences (McCarthy, Sommers, Perl, etc) and now they are beginning their own research. And they are doing fabulous things—the impact of IM on writing, Oprah Winfrey’s influence as literacy sponsor, Dan Brown’s influence as literacy sponsor (they love Deborah Brandt, by the way), the correlation between assigned high school reading and declining interest in reading, whether AP English classes teach what students need for college writing, the effect of the “red pen” on student attitudes about writing, the rhetorical strategies used in the “war on terror” and on and on.
They are really excited. I am bored by some of these topics, but they are not. And guess what: when they write about anything related to writing *I can help them* because I actually know about it. I can name scholars, articles, research questions, and topics. I know when they plagiarize, I know when they haven’t read all that’s out there. It works because in this class we are doing what teachers in every other discipline do: we are teaching what we know that is of relevance to the students in our classes.
The content of composition should be composition. Research about writing is about them, it has implications for them, and they all have experiences with it. And I am a qualified reader of what they write in such a class. When the content is anything else, that feeds into a number of public misconceptions about writing, including that writing is independent of content.
From: Kathy Fitch
Elizabeth—Can you say more about how you envision some of these things—Oprah’s influence and War on Terror rhetoric stood out for me—count as “comp being about comp”? (The latter, especially, sounds a lot like the sorts of topics that so often have comp being about politics, and the former sounds like many thematic approaches that have comp being about popular culture.) I’m curious, I suppose, about what sorts of things “writ broad” might include or leave out. (Guess maybe I’m seeing that being “about comp” maybe has more to do with taking a certain approach towards readings/topics than with the readings/topics themselves.)
I used to love a reader called _About Language_ (Sharon Cogdill wrote a piece on computers and writing especially for that collection, and her essay still makes for a very fun read, both in its own right, and in the context of where CW is now), but it included many topics that weren’t squarely “about comp,” even though I think it was one early example of an anthology heading in the direction you’re after.
I was also thinking, yesterday, of this conversation in relation to my long ago, first ever reading of Lindemann’s _A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers_, in which she lays out what writing teachers (and writing students, too) “need to know” (her phrase) about rhetoric, linguistics, cognition, etc. There’s another early roadmap to this territory.