Doug, you present an either/or proposition, asking about generic writing
courses or WID: "I have to decide which view to put my shoulder behind."
I agree with Mieke: why not both?
Sure, putting both shoulders to the task means that our head is in the
middle--and our feet probably have to be planted firmly on the ground!
As I see it, WID courses focus largely on writing to learn content, with
writing to learn writing as an important bonus. However, it seems to me
that the WAC/WID movement would not have occurred without the prior
resurgence of composition/rhetoric. As a result, I suspect that most
WAC/WID programs are led by those grounded in the history of rhetoric and
in composition theory.
My intermediate and advanced comp students continually praise their
comp courses for helping them in all their other courses that contain
writing, but not all students are interested in comp courses. Whether or not
students have taken a generic composition course, they still learn
a lot of content and disciplinary culture in their content courses by the
necessary reflection and discourse with others that writing offers.
The better the rhetorical input into the WAC/WID course, I suspect, the
more the discourse, and the more the learning.
In a review essay (CE, F '91), Bazerman writes, "The least useful [essays
in the collections under review] for WAC interests are those essays
presenting sweeping proposals about the foundations of rhetoric and broad
statements of resistance against disciplinarity. The attempt to
reestablish rhetoric as the queen of the sciences may perhaps be an
exciting temptation for those of us who have lived at the fringes of the
academy, but they do little to advance our cause. What will advance
rhetoric and hold back the threat of unwarrantedly hegemonic discourse is
not polemic but detailed knowledge which people can incorporate into
their daily literate interactions. We will be valued as we provide value"
Even for BAzerman, a strong proponent of WID, rhetoric is important.
Still, I appreciate your problem of being forced to choose between the
two, since comp courses tend to be expensive. UBC and UVIC restrict
300-level comp classes to 20. At Cariboo, our first-year comp classes are
capped at 24. Within an institutional context, of which external marketers
demand too much short-term "efficiency," we may have the resources for
only limited needs.
In conclusion, I see WID as highly important in learning the disciplines,
whereas generic comp courses can help students learn discourse across
(and outside) the disciplines. As professionals after they graduate,
students will need the knowledge and expertise that both offer.