Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History

By David R. Russell | Go to book overview

7

WRITING AND
PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION

The search for community took a very different direction in the social sciences than it did either among advocates of liberal culture in the humanities or among the administrative progressives in their drive for "social efficiency." The collection of disciplines that came to be known as the social sciences created a version of general education that was closely associated with Deweyan progressive education. 1 Progressives in the Deweyan mold—unlike the administrative progressives I examined in chapter 5— had the theoretical tools and the philosophical vision to create a form of general education with cross-curricular writing at its center. Yet they did not. The reasons are as complex as progressive education itself, and as full of contradictions.

Progressive education made profound theoretical contributions to writing instruction. John Dewey's early colleague at Michigan, Fred Newton Scott, articulated a social or (to use Berlin's term) transactional theory of composition, which offered a sound alternative to the narrow positivism of the administrative progressives or the elitism of liberal culture. Scott trained a generation of reformers in English—Gertrude Buck, Sterling Andrus Leonard, and Ruth Mary Weeks, among others—who developed his notions of composition as a "growth," a complex organic activity incapable of being analyzed on the atomistic industrial model or taught through drill and remediation. In the 1910s and 1920s, Dewey's followers first gave serious consideration to writing as a developing process and first studied writing instruc

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