I’ve been thinking in the following terms since engaging in the process to revise our FYC program. I find myself facing one of two possible unsavory situations.
- Knowledge of rhetoric and composition scholarship is necessary for effective teaching of FYC. In which case, the vast majority of FYC instructors are unqualified to the do their jobs.
- Knowledge of rhetoric and composition scholarship is not necessary for effective teaching of FYC. In which case one has to wonder what the purpose is of the discipline.
Now certainly not all scholars in the broad field of rhetoric and composition conduct research related to FYC. So I do not mean to suggest that rhet/comp scholarship must pass some FYC relevancy test. That said, it would seem that a significant portion of our field focuses on college-wide writing programs of one form or another, as opposed to writing majors like ours.
Similarly, one might suggest that the first premise is a matter of degree. How much knowledge is necessary? What particular knowledge is necessary? Might one create a disciplinary canon?
Different kinds of institutions need to face these challenges in different ways. Research institutions are continually cycling through new cadres of graduate student FYC instructors. As Cortland, we have a core group of full-time, adjunct instructors, plus a fluctuating group of part-time adjuncts. We have an interesting mix of people. Folks with PhDs, with MAs, with MFAs, and MATs. We have people who are published writers and have worked as professional writers. We have people with a lot of teaching experience. To my knowledge though, we have no one with an MA in Rhetoric and Composition or a dissertation in the field. So there’s writing experience and teaching experience, but little disciplinary experience.
So that returns me to my original conundrum: what is the importance of this knowledge to teaching FYC?
I think back to my first teaching experience. 22 years old. First semester in an MA program. One week orientation, plus a comp theory course we took during that first semester. In addition the program was highly structured, with a common text and common syllabus. My authority, such as it was, stemmed largely from that structure. My sense is that uncertainty about authority drives pedagogy in our program. It is easier to establish authority in terms of formal issues, so those become the foundation of the course. This is why one finds current-traditional rhetoric and New Criticism in FYC and general education literature courses.
Hypothetically, we could do something similar to my MA program experience by establishing common readings and assignments and then establishing a professional development forum of some type. However, I know that wouldn’t be popular and might intensify the authority issue. But maybe not. After all, our current program is very prescriptive and highly bureaucratic. So perhaps a program that was structured in a different way could work.
I don’t really have a structure to propose, at least not today.
But I do think that whatever we might do, we have to incorporate some professional development. That development needs to recognize faculty expertise in writing and pedagogy, using it as a foundation for our conversations about composition, and making disciplinary knowledge another part of that conversation. I wouldn’t want to suggest disciplinary scholarship ought to function as a "master discourse." Instead I see it as the continuation/extension of the intellectual work of pedagogy.
Anyway, I am hoping that as we revise our program, we can start a conversation about composition and disciplinary knowledge. I think, more so than anything else we might do, accomplishing this would go the furthest toward making improvements in our program.