The Myth of Transience
Writing in the Academic Disciplines is a history of writing instruction outside general-composition courses in American secondary and higher education, from the founding of the public secondary school system and research universities in the 1870s through the spread of the writing-across-the-curriculum movement in the 1980s. The vexed history of general-composition courses, especially freshman composition, has been told often and well by James A. Berlin, Wallace W. Douglas, Albert R. Kitzhaber, Robert J. Connors, and many others upon whom I often draw in this account. But my task here is to examine the ways writing has been taught—directly or indirectly—in the wider curriculum or, to be more precise, in the myriad curricula that make up the differentiated structure of secondary and higher education in modern America.
As surprising as it may seem to us today, there was no systematic writing instruction per se past the elementary school in America until the advent of mass education and the formation of discrete academic disciplines in the last third of the nineteenth century. Advanced instruction in vernacular language dates from antiquity, of course, and from the eighteenth century American colleges and preparatory academies taught rhetoric in the vernacular. But before the 1870s, writing was ancillary to speaking. Because the whole curriculum and much of the extracurriculum was based on public speaking (recitation, declamation, oratory, debate), there was little need for systematic writing instruction.