Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change

Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change

Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change

Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change


The essays in this book, stemming from a national conference of the same name, focus on the single subject required of nearly all college students - composition. Despite its pervasiveness and its significance, composition has on unstable status within the curriculum. Writing programs and writing faculty are besieged by academic, political, and financial concerns that have not been well understood or addressed. At many institutions, composition functions paradoxically as both the gateway to academic success and as the gatekeeper, reducing access to academic work and opportunity for those with limited facility in English. Although writing programs are expected to provide services that range from instruction in correct grammar to assisting - or resisting - political correctness, expanding programs and shrinking faculty get caught in the crossfire. The bottom line becomes the firing line as forces outside the classroom determine funding and seek to define what composition should do. In search of thatdefinition, the contributors ask and answer a series of specific and salient questions: What implications - intellectual, political, and institutional - will forces outside the classroom have on the quality and delivery of composition in the twenty-first century? How will faculty and administrators identify and address these issues? What policies and practices ought we propose for the century to come? This book features sixteen position papers by distinguished scholars and researchers in composition and rhetoric; most of the papers are followed by invited responses by other notable compositionists. In all, twenty-five contributors approach composition from a wide variety of contemporaryperspectives: rhetorical, historical, social, cultural, political, intellectual, economic, structural, administrative, and developmental. They propose solutions applicable to pedagogy, research, graduate training of composition teac


We are in a different place.

-- Carol Petersen Hartzog

On her evaluation form for the Conference on Composition in the 21st Century: Crisis and Change, one participant wrote: "I leave this conference with more doubts about composition's future than I have felt in the last 10 years. The future, as the speakers at this conference have painted it, does not seem as hopeful as I once thought it would be."

I can well understand why participants might have left the conference in discomfort. After all, Stephen M. North began his invited address by announcing the "death of paradigm hope," the utter collapse of the research enterprise articulated by Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer in the book that for many marks the beginning of modern composition studies, Research in Written Composition. According to North, there really is no future for research in composition as Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer characterize it: research in composition is not destined to be transformed into a science. What also may be discomforting to some is North's obvious glee in the demise of scientific composition research.

Perhaps even more disturbing is Sharon Crowley's contention that the shift from product-oriented to process-oriented instruction in the 1970s and 1980s did not represent anything as significant as a paradigm shift because it failed to change the epistemological and rhetorical assumptions that undergird our teaching. Crowley argues that current-traditional rhetoric continues to hold sway largely because of its compatibility with academic notions of authority. While some see process pedagogy as revolutionary, for Crowley it is -- in the most important sense -- business as usual.

Robert J. Connors is not much more hopeful. In "The Abolition Debate in Composition: A Short History," Connors traces cycles of abolition and reform . . .

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