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From Form to Meaning

Freshman Composition and the Long Sixties, 1957–1974

David Fleming

Publication Year: 2011

In the spring of 1968, the English faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) voted to remedialize the first semester of its required freshman composition course, English 101. The following year, it eliminated outright the second semester course, English 102. For the next quarter-century, UW had no real campus-wide writing requirement, putting it out of step with its peer institutions and preventing it from fully joining the “composition revolution” of the 1970s. David Fleming chronicles these events, situating them against the backdrop of late 1960s student radicalism and the wider changes taking place in U.S. higher education at the time. Fleming begins with the founding of UW in 1848. He examines the rhetorical education provided in the university’s first half-century, the birth of a required, two semester composition course in 1898, faculty experimentation with that course in the 1920s and 1930s, and the rise of a massive “current-traditional” writing program, staffed primarily by graduate teaching assistants (TAs), after World War II. He then reveals how, starting around 1965, tensions between faculty and TAs concerning English 101-102 began to mount. By 1969, as the TAs were trying to take over the committee that supervised the course, the English faculty simply abandoned its long-standing commitment to freshman writing. In telling the story of composition’s demise at UW, Fleming shows how contributing factors—the growing reliance on TAs; the questioning of traditional curricula by young instructors and their students; the disinterest of faculty in teaching and administering general education courses—were part of a larger shift affecting universities nationally. He also connects the events of this period to the long, embattled history of freshman composition in the United States.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Front Matter

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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

Substantial research projects are rarely solitary affairs, however much time the researcher spends alone. They are more often the result of collaborations, both shallow and deep, direct and indirect. The research reported here is no exception: many individuals and groups helped me conceive and conduct this research. If there is anything worthwhile in the final product, it is a tribute to ...

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1: Introduction: Freshman Composition in the United States, 1885–Present

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pp. 1-27

For more than a century now, the most required, most taught, and thus most taken course in U.S. higher education has been freshman composition. Although its title has varied over both time and space (here First Year Writing, there College English), its basic purpose and configuration have not, remaining remarkably stable over a span of 125 years and across the diverse terrain of North American ...

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2: A Prehistory, 1848–1948

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pp. 28-45

There has been rhetorical instruction at the University of Wisconsin since its founding in 1848. One of the first six professorships at the university, in fact, was a chair in “mental philosophy, logic, rhetoric, and English literature.”1 The charge given to the holder of that chair reflected the amalgamation of literary study, oral and written composition, and moral philosophy typical of ...

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3: The Postwar Regime , 1948–1968

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pp. 46-73

Born in Kentucky in 1914, Edgar W. Lacy received his BA (1936) and MA (1937) in English from Vanderbilt University and his PhD (1939) from the University of Illinois, writing his thesis on the fifteenth-century English jurist and author Sir John Fortescue. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945, he landed an assistant professorship in 1946 at the University of Wisconsin, where he was, ...

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4: Faculty Withdrawal , 1966–1969

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pp. 74-92

The first sign that any of the changes described above had affected first-year composition at the University of Wisconsin came in the spring of 1968. On March 6 of that year, associate chair Edgar Lacy, at the end of his two-decade tenure directing the Freshman English program and speaking now on behalf of the 1967–68 Ad Hoc Committee to Study Undergraduate Course Offerings, ...

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5: TA Experimentation, 1966–1969, with Rasha Diab and Mira Shimabukuro

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pp. 93-132

In the fall of 1969, 4,360 students, or about 78 percent of the 5,569 freshmen at the University of Wisconsin that semester, enrolled in Freshman English. One hundred and forty-nine registered for English 101 (11 sections), the newly remedialized writing course examined in some depth previously. Another 329 were in 18 sections of English 181, the Honors version of Freshman English. But the ...

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6: 1969 Breakdown

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pp. 133-172

On the morning of September 25, 1969, Joseph Carr, a second-year teaching assistant (TA) in University of Wisconsin’s English Department who had been assigned two sections of English 102 that semester, walked into the office of Professor William Lenehan, director of the course, to say “that he and his students had decided that they could not profitably conform to the texts and approach ...

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7: Aftermath, 1970–1996

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pp. 173-194

By the fall of 1970, Freshman English at UW was a small remedial writing program. Despite widespread protests, the English faculty held their ground and eventually put the episode behind them, at least for a while. As we saw above, even though the spring 1970 semester turned out to be especially traumatic on campus, Madison’s revolutionary heyday was quickly coming to an end. As new ...

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8: Conclusion: Freshman Composition at the Turn of the New Century

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pp. 195-208

Given the repeated attempts, after 1970, to reinstate a universally required first-year writing course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attempts that would ultimately succeed (in their way), and reminding ourselves of what we saw in chapters 2 and 3 about the long history of Freshman English at the university before 1968, it would be easy to characterize the period from 1970 to ...


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pp. 209-250


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pp. 251-258


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pp. 259-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977810
E-ISBN-10: 0822977818
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822961536
Print-ISBN-10: 0822961539

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture