As I’ve done reading, I’ve noticed a theme of “legitimacy” come out of discussions about the writing major: legitimizing the field of composition both to the larger university community as a worthwhile course of study for undergraduates and to those within the field, positioning the discipline as one centered on something more than just the first-year course. It is, as I imagine it, a maturing of the field from one focused horizontally (across-the-curriculum, freshman composition, service/skill course) to one focused vertically, with a scaffolding course sequence leading to sophistication in matters of rhetoric and writing.
With the major, there are numerous questions that must be answered, but one of the most fundamental is what students should study when they study “writing.”
Shamoon, Linda K., et al, eds. Coming of Age: The Advanced Writing Curriculum. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000.
Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Introduction: History, Politics, Pedagogy, and Advanced Writing.” xiii-xxii.
How the book was conceived: the editors asked contributors to describe “ideal advanced writing courses” and “reflect on what those courses contributed to their students, to the university’s advanced writing curriculum, and to composition studies” (xiii). It was imagined as not just advanced composition, but as “advanced undergraduate writing curriculum” (xiv). How that new term is taken up varies: is it preparing students to be writers? to be teachers? to be active public citizens?
“The advanced undergraduate writing curriculum should prepare students for careers as writers, with the term writer broadly defined, and it should also prepare students for highly rhetorical participation in public life” (xv) Can we substitute “writing major” for “advanced undergraduate writing curriculum?
On how individual programs might balance the aims of a writing curriculum: “We recommend that the question of balance be decided according to local constraints but that every progarm strive to have some representation from each category [civic, professional, theoretical/historical], so as to provide undergraduate students of advanced writing with a reflexive sense of themselves as writers; with a historical understanding of the profession of writing; with a sense of the writer’s responsibilities to audience, self, and community; and with tools for entering the profession of writing” (xv).
Possible core courses are in Part II of the book. Possible electives are in Part III.
Why the shift from “advanced composition to advanced writing?” The history of advanced composition courses: “Long-established courses in advanced composition have tended to be offered as discrete courses that respond to student demand but that do not present writing as a field, a discipline, or a coherent professional category. Where more than one such course is offered, the courses are typically not designed to be in dialogue with one antoher. This leaves the writer with no clear identity as Writer, the advanced composition course with no clear institutional or intellectual purpose beyond the course itself, and composition studies in general with only a shaky claim to disciplinary status. WHen the knowledge base of a discipline – its history, theory, research, and practice – is used only to inform skill-oriented pedagogy and is never shared with undergraduates as a field, the riches of that discipline are being only partially used” (xvi).
Part IV is about program design
About the perils of writing faculty and writing programs: they are not valued enough on a broad institutional level to be completely stable and untouchable. “Developing writing curricula – and especially advanced writing curricula – is an activity deeply embedded in institutional and intellectual politics” (xx).
About the future of writing majors: “We predict that these programs will become reality, endure, and grow in number, precisely because so many writing faculty recognize the argument made in this book: there are compelling intellectual, occupational, and disciplinary reasons to establish writing as an advanced program of study” (xxi).
The advanced writing curriculum takes the pressure of first-year composition courses to bear all the responsibility for forming and informing college students as writers (xxi).
I’ll start with Part IV, because it seems to have the most direct application to my project.
Part IV: Designing and Protecting the Advanced Writing Program
Ramage, John. “From Profession to Discipline: The Politics of Establishing a Writing Concentration.” 137.
When establishing an advanced writing curriculum, faculty should be ready to defend their program against literature departments, against other faculty and departments who think that writing is not theoretical, and be ready to split into a new department and possibly abolish first-year composition. “The larger community is eager for the program,” but there are political hoops to jump through first.
Conefrey, Theresa. “Needs, Numbers, and the Creation of a Writing Studies Major.” 138.
A case study of how Conefrey and her colleagues created a writing major at the University of Hawaii at Hilo – they solicited input several times throughout the process and responded to the suggestions by emphasizing practical over theoretical courses (a professional emphasis) in order to prepare students to be professional writers, creative writers, and teachers of writing. Collaboration as a tool for learning was used in the professional writing courses. The requirements were based on the existing English major requirements, which made it simpler for the curriculum to be understood and eventually passed by the faculty.
Fischer, Ruth Overman and Christopher J. Thaiss. “Advanced Writing at GMU: Responding to Community Needs, Encouraging Faculty Interests.” 139.
A case study of George Mason University’s concentrations in writing in the English major: creative writing and nonfiction writing and editing. Through this case study, the authors show how they developed a program based on these ideas: have your program reflect the needs and values of the surrounding community, develop courses and curricula around faculty strengths, start small, cooperate with administration, and always look for outside funding and opportunities to diversify.
McCormick, Kathleen and Donald C. Jones. “Developing a Professional and Technical Writing Major That Integrates Composition Theory, Literacy Theory, and Cultural Studies.” 140.
The University of Hartford established its writing major by working collaboratively with other departments: faculty valued the first-year course, so they agreed to support the major, and when the faculty saw what was happening in the upper division courses, they became more supportive of the first-year course. At Hartford, the theory and the practice of writing are taught together, not divided into separate courses.
Schwalm, David. “Getting Approved.” 141.
Schwalm offers suggestions on how to prepare, submit, and defend a writing major proposal.
Connors, Robert J. “Afterward: ‘Advanced Composition’ and Advanced Writing.” 143-149.
Connors writes a history of advanced composition courses. From 1900-1920, tenured professors who taught the required first-year course developed advanced composition courses (Connors marks it the “heyday for hte invention of various sorts of advanced composition in American colleges” (143)).
Advanced composition fell into three different areas: journalism, creative writing, and technical/business writing (144). These three fields, which were “invented within English,” “quickly established enough genre identity or vocational cachet to break away into status as special fields seen as preparations for careers in writing” (144). Advanced composition was never really a unified entity, then – any course was categorized as one of these three. Each of these smaller fields claimed their courses, leaving advanced composition nothing: “the general advanced composition course was never able to escape a terrible unreal universality, a continuing curse of abstraction based upon the fact that it was defined as what was left over – a remnant culture…’Advanced composition’ was what was left after all the actual kinds of advanced writing had evacuated the field” (145).
Connors points to the failure of JAC to stay a journal about advanced composition and the defunct ATAC as proof that “advanced composition simply did not have enough gluten to sustain a group effort” (146).
The advanced courses offered in writing really had nothing to do with composition or rhetoric: they belonged to journalism, creative writing, and technical writing: “Journalists, creatives, and vocationals cultivated their own gardens, and they were not – ahem! – our garden” (146).
Things have changed – there is a paradigm shift!
The new undergraduate advanced writing curriculum “proposes and provides a program for an entirely new conception of undergraduate literacy education, one based on the centrality of writing rather than literature. This conception will be, in fact, the alternative English major for the twenty-first century” (147).
We should not place our ultimate hopes in a writing-across-the-curriculum intiative. We are allowed to think bigger than that – we can stake our claim on our own discipline. It is “the beginnig of a whole new phase of composition studies” (147). It can bring a new light on the question of what to do with the first-year course: the advanced writing curriculum can be “the counterpart or antristrophe of the abolition movement. The advanced writing curriculum is the fox to abolitionism’s hedgehog; the abolition movement is about one great thing, but hte advanced writing curriculum is about many small things – which, I would argue, cumulate into one great thing” (148). Is that one great thing the writing major? This is my original question – my original point! Connors said it – can I say it again?
“Though emerging from the cave of the first-year requirement will be liberating, we must also face the fear that comes with letting go of familiar chains” (149).
Part I: Redirecting the Field from Advanced Composition to Advanced Writing
Bloom, Lynn Z. “Advancing Composition.” 3-18.
There is no one global definition of advanced composition because “ultimately advanced composition is a concept – and a course – with a variety of local options” (5).
Hogan’s 1980 survey revealed over 50 types of advanced composition courses (6).
Bloom looks at the advanced writing courses offered at Dartmouth and Amherst from the late 1800s to the 1980s, and found a wide discrepency in the aims and focuses of them. There are two general categories, however: courses designed to further help the non-successful writer past the freshman year and those for the student who wants to become a professional writer (8-10).
Many advanced composition courses were vague and disconnected to one another, allowing each instructor to tailor the content of the course to his or her own particular interests. The instructor’s goals for the students were roughly the same for the first-year course: to practice revising and editing, organizing clear thoughts, analyzing, inventing topics of inquiry, etc. When the term “rhetoric” is used, it is used vaguely (11-12).
Bloom looks to textbooks to shed light on what advanced writing is all about. For style manuals, Strunk and White is ever-popular, along with Lanham’s Revising Prose and Williams’ Style (13). I love that book! Rhetorics used in advanced composition focus on entire works and genres instead of the “assignments” of freshman composition, so that their audience seems to be “beyond the teacher and the classroom” – almost professional (15). Readers don’t have questions or prompts for writing as freshman readers do; they are often collections of essays, like Best American Essays.
Tenured faculty, not adjuncts or TAs, usually teach advanced composition courses (16).
Important text? Haswell, Richard. Gaining Ground in College Writing: Tales of Development and Interpretation (1991)