The issue of theory versus the actual experience of classroom instruction in composition is addressed first by Stephen M. North in his chapter “composition Becomes Composition” (1). What quickly becomes evident moving from Kitzhaber (2) to North and then to Kopelson (3) is that the field of Rhetoric and Composition is in no way settled; rather, the field is in a nearly constant flux as it attempts to define itself. Kopelson, in fact, points out that many scholars in the field are becoming increasingly concerned that ‘Rhetoric’ is about to drop away from ‘Rhetoric and Composition’ (769). Even as these two topics get further away from one another, Kopelson further addresses the ongoing problem of the dividing line between theory and practice. This is especially evident when one takes Rhetoric and Composition as a section under the umbrella of ‘English’. Kopelson addresses this issue when quoting Ellen L. Barton’s essay “Evocative Gestures in CCCC Chairs’ Addresses”. Barton apparently argues that literary theorists are willfully ignorant to the theory of composition (Kopelson 768, Barton 245). Kopelson further states that literary theorists would “seem to have a vested interest in what we could teach them, and not only about “writing theory” but about teaching itself.” (768) In other words, literary theorists, as fellows under the umbrella, should have a real interest in the pedagogy and praxis coming from Rhet/Comp scholars.
This speaks to the issues I addressed in an earlier blog post. There is a clear friction here between the disciplines. Professors in any academic discipline, humanities or otherwise, should be engaged in pedagogy and should perhaps take a course in the theory of teaching in their own fields. Instructors do not innately know how to teach. We have a background simply from being a student. We know, from the perspective of a student, what a good professor looks like and how to identify a ‘bad’ professor.
So, should instructors of FYC be expected to engage in and learn theory from the Rhet/Comp theorists? Obviously, the answer to this is ‘yes’. TTU in fact engages in the practice of teaching its FYC instructors in both practical and theoretical curricula. There is surely resistance at TTU, as with literary theorists (or creative writing students/professors) at any other university. Ongoing resistance and friction has led to what Kopelson refers to as a “testament to the perpetual devaluation of pedagogy itself.” (768) North even suggests that literature is “less easily amenable to the “scientific” modes of inquiry” (12). This suggests to me that there is an acknowledged divide in the English field and perhaps some resentment from literary theorists. These academics don’t necessarily want to be told how to teach their classes and therefore perhaps ignore the ongoing development and engagement with theory.
Kopelson tells us that the “primary task of rhetoric […] has been the work of defining and redefining itself” (772). Perhaps some of the resistance from the literary theorists stems from this ongoing identity crisis. Our prior readings demonstrated that part of this ongoing crisis is the question of standardization versus non-standardization in the curriculum of First Year Composition. Rhet/Comp seems to suffer from deciding what exactly falls under its purview, how it should apply theory and where that theory should come from, how to wrangle teachers in other disciplines, and then also what the baseline curriculum for its freshman composition should be. Kitzhaber addressed some of these problems in 1963 and it would seem that these problems continue to persist in the discipline.
1. North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper St.Clair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1987. Chapter 1: “compsition becomes Composition.” 9-17.
2. Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting Images; Or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” College Composition and Communication 59.4 (2008): 750-780.
3. Kitzhaber, Albert R. “4C, Freshman English, and the Future.” College Composition and Communication 14.3 (1963): 129-138.