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CASLL-L  May 1996

CASLL-L May 1996

Subject:

Generic Writing Courses

From:

Doug Brent <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 21 May 1996 09:26:06 MDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (65 lines)

Changing the subject once again...

A while ago Henry reaised the issue of political arguments for generic
comp courses.  I'd like to raise the issue of pedagogical arguments,
since the issue of a generic "Reading/Writing/Critical Thinking"
course has again surfaced at U of C.

1. Traditionally (since the Sophists) it has been assumed that there is a
"general" art of rhetoric that belongs to no particular discipline and
can be taught as such.  Though this vision of writing has had its very
bad patches (the current-traditional style of equating writing with
correctness, for instance), it is still one defensible view of
rhetoric, rooted (I think) in a combination of two notions:

a) there are some learnable language skills, including generalizations
about invention and arrangement, that can be generalized across
writing contexts.  This argument can be defended even if you believe
that these skills are best learned indirectly rather than as a list of
rules.  It is perfectly possible to design a rhetoric course with some
"content" which is read, written and thought about in a context in
which the reading, writing and thinking is the figure and the
content is the ground, rather than the reverse.

b) there is some merit in generalized reading, writing, and critical
thinking skills as part of being a functioning educated citizen, not
just a discipline-educated academic.

2.  The other side of this argument originates in the newer
socially-situated cognition, contextualized learning school of
thought.  Bazerman would be the paradigm case.

It seems to me that the argument here is that you learn to write
sociology in sociology courses as part of becoming socialized into the
discourse of sociology, etc across the disciplines.  This school of
thought would see relatively little value in a non-disciplinary writing
course because language for every discipline is language for no
discipline.  To be in a "context," a language learning environment has
to be in the context of a developed discourse on something.

This school of thought obviously privileges WID programs and
completely delegitimizes generalized competence testing etc.

Without getting too deeply into the generalized competence testing
question, which I think is tangential at the moment (though clearly
related), I'd like to ask this on-line think-tank:

What support (if any) is there for Position 1 these days?  Has
Position 2, which I read as more recent, completely carried the day,
leaving generalized comp courses, even the best-designed, most
contextualized, least current-traditional in nature, high and dry
without a pedagogical philosophy to back them?

I ask this question, of course, with a political agenda, but with a
completely open one.  I have to decide which view to put my shoulder
behind and I'm genuinely perplexed.  On even-numbered days I am
convinced by the literature that seems to support Position 2, which
calls upon me to resist attempts to set up more generic composition
courses.  On odd-numbered days I am convinced that this view is too
narrow and that I should not resist these courses but instead make
damn sure that they are built well and taught well, as true discourse
communities and not as warmed-over Aristotle.

Discussion?  References?

Doug (perplexed as usual)

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