Writing in the Academic Disciplines, 1870-1990: A Curricular History

Writing in the Academic Disciplines, 1870-1990: A Curricular History

Writing in the Academic Disciplines, 1870-1990: A Curricular History

Writing in the Academic Disciplines, 1870-1990: A Curricular History

Synopsis

In this singular study, David R. Russell provides a history of writing instruction outside general composition courses in American secondary and higher education, from the founding of public secondary schools and research universities in the 1870s through the spread of the writing-across-the-curriculum movement in the 1980s. Russell's task is to examine the ways writing was taught in the myriad curricula that composed the varied structure of secondary and higher education in modern America. He begins with the assertion that, before the 1870s, writing was taught as ancillary to speaking. As a result, formal writing instruction was essentially training in handwriting, the mechanical process of transcribing sound to visual form. From this point, Russell carefully examines academic writing, its origins and its teaching, from a broad institutional perspective. He looks at the history of little-studied genres of student writing such as the research paper, lab report, and essay examination. Tracing the effects of increasing specialization on writing instruction, he notes how two new ideals of academic life, research and utilitarian service, shaped writing instruction into its modern forms. Finally, he contributes the definitive history of the current writing-across-the-curriculum movement, providing a study of the long tradition of other WAC efforts with an analysis of why they have waned.

Excerpt

As someone who has devoted a major portion of her professional life to the current movement called writing across the curriculum (WAC), I find that reading David Russell's Writing in the Academic Disciplines is like studying an intellectual family tree. By tracing the genealogy of writing in the disciplines, Russell creates a context in which to understand contemporary educational conflicts. Is writing a set of discrete mechanical skills or a function of maturing thought? Should students be able to generalize instruction in writing to a variety of situations, or do students need help in discerning the requirements imposed by different contexts? Should writing be regarded as transparent (an intrinsic skill), or should writing be highlighted as a powerful means of learning? Is writing something that the chosen few learn to do without being taught, or should writing instruction provide mobility within a democratic society? Russell makes clear that we did not invent these issues in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They have a history.

Reading this history in Russell's intelligent, honest, and lucid account is remarkably instructive. Seen through the prism of writing in the disciplines, Russell's retelling of U.S. educational history illuminates the general story, clarifying recurring themes: excellence and access; general education and specialized study; teaching and research. Like the writing-across-the-curriculum movement itself, this book is fundamentally an exploration of . . .

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