Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History

By David R. Russell | Go to book overview

6

WRITING AND THE
GREAT BOOKS

That most limited of all specialists, the well-rounded man.

—Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

The industrial model of education won the battle for control of curricula in America and thus set the dominant pattern for general education: a menu of required courses in various fields. But the administrative progressives did not sweep the field. They offered no goal other than efficiency, no vision of community beyond the efficiently run corporation, no philosophy beyond a seemingly apolitical behaviorism. The humanities and the social sciences offered alternative versions of general education, which each held out competing educational goals, ideals of community, and philosophies. 1 But neither the humanities with their great books nor, as I discuss in the next chapter, the social sciences with their Deweyan progressive thought consistently or systematically integrated writing instruction into their general-education programs. In both cases, the increasing professionalization of those responsible for general education thwarted meaningful interdisciplinary dialogue and prevented instructors from appreciating the role of writing in learning. Writing usually remained as transparent in general-education programs as in the disciplines, and the myth of transience continued.

Humanities departments created in the late nineteenth century—English, foreign languages, philosophy—would seem to be the logical place to teach writing. These departments upheld the Renaissance ideal of the well-rounded person, the articulate

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