College Composition: Initiation into the Academic Discourse Community
Published on Jan 1, 2016
Composition studies has become established as an academic discipline. Over the past decade, college writing programs have expanded tremendously, and scholarly attention to writing theory and pedagogy has also grown. Although composition studies are not yet organized under a disciplinary paradigm, some dominant trends are embodied in two recent textbooks, Four Worlds of Writing and Writing in the Arts and Sciences. The authors of Four Worlds, Lauer, Montague, Lunsford, and Emig, are all eminent practitioners in the field, well qualified to produce a text that is based on "premises derived from rhetorical theory of the last decade," as their Preface announces (p. xv). Elaine Maimon, principal author of Writing in the Arts and Sciences, directs one of the most successful writing-across-the-curriculum programs in the United States, and her collaborators are colleagues from the Departments of History, Biology, Psychology, and Philosophy at Beaver College in Pennsylvania. The sophistication of the new textbooks shows how far composition studies have come. Yet, the composition specialist who reads these books may wonder just how much progress has been made. Both books aim to teach students how to write for their other college courses; in other words, to initiate students into the academic discourse community. Teachers who are not composition specialists may find this aim quite unsurprising, especially because the recent expansion of college writing programs has been justified largely in terms of their "service" to the whole academic community, in preparing students to do college written work. But to the specialist, the new books present a paradox. On the one hand, their theoretical premises and pedagogical techniques clearly are the products of the recent decade of growth. In this decade, however, college writing teachers frequently have found themselves at odds with the institutional goal of initiation into academic discourse, and much of our work has been directed to redefining the nature of "good" writing. Now these innovative textbooks seem to be reaffirming the traditional academic discourse values. The specialist may be perplexed by this apparent regression.