Introduction: Coming to Terms: Composition/Rhetoric, Threshold Concepts, and a Disciplinary Core
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Introduction C o m i n g to T e r m s Composition/Rhetoric, Threshold Concepts, and a Disciplinary Core DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c000a Kathleen Blake Yancey From the modern beginnings of the field of rhetoric and composition, we in the field have shared a self-evident claim about the primary focus of rhetoric and composition: that it has at its center the practice of writing and its teaching. At the same time, this observation, as straightforward as it may seem, begs more than one question. What do we mean by writing? Is it practice, or practices? Is what we are talking about writing , or composing, or both? What concepts can or do we draw upon to theorize writing practices? What of any of this do we share with students, when, and how? Historically, questions such as these, typically using the classroom as the site where they are worked out, have defined the field. In the first issue of College Composition and Communication, for example, John Gerber (1950, 12) spoke to this point exactly: Someone has estimated that there are at least nine thousand of us teaching in college courses in composition and communication. Faced with many of the same problems, concerned certainly with the same general objectives, we have for the most part gone our separate ways, experimenting here and improvising there. Occasionally we have heard that a new kind of course is working well at Upper A. M. or that a new staff training program has been found successful at Lower T. C. But we rarely get the facts. We have had no systematic way of exchanging views and information quickly. Certainly we have had no means of developing a coordinated research program. Some fifty-five years later, Richard Fulkerson, delivering in 2005 a third iteration of analysis in a career-long search to trace the field’s coherence—he published his first analysis in 1979, the second in 1990— speaks to the situation of the field in the early twenty-first century, and from a Gerberian perspective, it’s both good news and bad. On the one hand, we have what Gerber longed for, the scholarship and multiple venues permitting “a systematic way of exchanging views and information xviii   Composition/Rhetoric, Threshold Concepts & a Disciplinary Core quickly.” On other hand, that very scholarship allows Fulkerson to make a claim not unlike Gerber’s: we are not coherent, do not have a core set of beliefs or values. Within the scholarship, we currently have three alternative axiologies (theories of value): the newest one, the social or social-construction view, which values critical cultural analysis; an expressive one; and a multifaceted rhetorical one. I maintain that the three axiologies drive the three major approaches to the teaching of composition[:] (1) critical/cultural studies [CCS], (2) expressivism, and (3) procedural rhetoric. (Fulkerson 2005, 655) What we do have despite our differences, according to Fulkerson, is our teaching of writing process and a commitment to writing pedagogy, even if, as Fulkerson claims, our commitment is really plural; it takes different forms. What seems to be missing, since the beginning of the field and even in this late age of print, is any consensus in the field on what we might call the content of composition: the questions, kinds of evidence, and materials that define disciplines and would thus define us as well.1 Fulkerson’s theory is that, at least in the case of CCS, its focus on texts allows for a kind of content that faculty find inherently satisfying and that, in the specific instance of CCS, scholars and teachers in rhetoric and composition value given their backgrounds and their commitments to social justice. Both the lit-based course and the cultural studies course reflect, I suspect, content envy on the part of writing teachers. Most of us (still) have been trained in textual analysis: we like classes built around texts to analyze. (And I am certainly not immune to that envy. I enjoy leading discussions of complex nonfiction that challenges students to think hard about basic beliefs.) (Fulkerson 2005, 663) This, then, is the field-specific scene for Naming What We Know, which proceeds along very different lines and makes a very different kind of argument than the field has seen previously. As coeditors Linda AdlerKassner and Elizabeth Wardle explain in the next chapter of this volume , the project has two parts: (1) identifying threshold concepts, in this case thirty-seven of them, providing a core for the...



Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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