ROLF NORGAARD University of Colorado, Boulder
The Prospect of Rhetoric, the 1971 report on the National Development Project in Rhetoric edited by Lloyd Bitzer and Edwin Black, shares its historical moment with the beginnings of the writing-across-the-curriculum movement, arguably one of the more important developments in composition over the last quarter century. Twenty-five years after the report, and a quartercentury into the WAC movement, it is appropriate to take stock of this historical confluence and to consider how each might enrich the other in the years ahead.
In some respects both the report and the incipient WAC movement shared similar impulses. Seeking a "conception of rhetoric applicable to our own time," the scholars writing in The Prospect of Rhetoric argued that the "scope of rhetorical theory and practice should be greatly widened" (237-38). Indeed, the report calls for nothing less than "major cultural change," initiated by adopting a "'rhetorical stance' in humanistic and social affairs" (244). Writingacross-the-curriculum proponents voiced similar concerns for renewing the relevance of communication in and across disciplines, and for widening both the scope of and avenues for instruction.
I shall argue, however, that the prospect of rhetoric in writing across the curriculum remains largely that: a prospect. To be sure, WAC programs have proliferated, and research on the rhetoric of disciplinary communities has prospered. However, undergraduate classroom instruction in WAC programs has yet to adopt, for the most part, the "rhetorical stance" envisioned in The Prospect of Rhetoric. Specifically, WAC's inclination to accommodate disciplinary concepts of expertise and existing curricular structures -- an inclination that has allowed WAC to develop, even prosper, over several "generations" -- has also diminished its rhetorical prospects.
This paper inquires into these causes and briefly suggests possible remedies. The 1971 report provides a useful place to start, for in its pages we can uncover impulses for reform that WAC proponents shared, even as we identify different rhetorical stances and divergent attitudes on curricular issues and disciplinary expertise. Unlike many earlier reform movements, WAC programs have survived because of accommodations to a "culture of expertise." However, this accommodation has also narrowed students' rhetorical education.