E 387M • Greatest Hits in Composition Theory
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
The 2001 MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Teaching's "Final Report" calls for: "new goals for the teaching of English and foreign languages based on a revised concept of literacy--the literacy of critical thinking combined with discourse skills that result in effective communication in multiple social and technological contexts." Although the committee claims these goals are new, critical thinking and effective communication are very traditional goals for liberal arts education, long predating the formation of English Departments. In fact, those were essentially the skills that the ancient Greek sophists claim to teach young men, and making those claims incited concerns that are still prevalent today: whether this powerful skill is really worth having; whether effective communication is inherently pandering and therefore shameful; whether the study of ideas and the contemplation of beauty is feminizing and unmanly; whether this pursuit is really honorable for a young man, or if there isn't something else much more prestigious, challenging, and systematic that he might study instead; whether making speeches is simply a "knack" or a true discipline; whether education should be seen as training for economic and political power, or if such a pursuit is essentially corrupting. Plato's Gorgias is a good place to begin a course on composition studies because the dialogue asks questions that still haunt those arguing for liberal over pre-professional education. As what is intended to be the first course in college, and one of a small number of state-mandated courses, first-year composition is formed by the ways we answer (or evade) the same questions raised in Gorgias.
This course is not intended to answer those questions, but to examine some of the more famous answers. As a broad survey of primarily twentieth century texts, it should give students an understanding of the field, its major camps, and the history behind composition pedagogy.
Aristotle, Rhetoric Sharon Crowley, Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers Plato, Gorgias Selections from: Arthur Applebee, Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English Lester Faigley, Fragments of Rationality Jerry Farber, Student as Nigger bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress Sondra Perl, Landmark Essays on Writing Process