the local nature of fyc reform

As I think I mentioned a while back, we are in the midst of reforming the FYC program at Cortland, a program that has been tweaked many times but is essentially 20 years old. While many things have obviously changed in 20 years of rhet/comp theory, in practice much remains the same. Our impetus was more from a recognition of the way the program had calcified and bureaucratized and institutionalized over the years.

In any case, working on this project with FYC instructors and our comp program director, Mary Kennedy, has been a worthwhile experience so far. In particular, it has really helped me to see how local conditions tend to overdetermine the shape of writing curriculum. I don’t see this as a necessarily good or bad thing. It’s just the way it works. For instance, Cortland’s teacher-preparation focus and the desires of the Education school certainly shape the courses we offer, as does the history of integration of service learning into FYC here. Obviously part of best practices for FYC is adapting national best practices to meet local conditions.

The largest concern has to do with hiring and staffing practices related to contingent faculty. Our proposal includes moving to a sophomore writing course as opposed to two first-year courses. This will create a one-year reduction in the need for FYC instruction. So there is some concern over this issue. We have developed a proposal that addresses this issue, but we’ll have to see what the administration says. Of course no one in our department wants to put forward a proposal that costs jobs, even exploitative adjunct jobs.

In some ways this is a microcosm of our disciplinary challenge. I remember Vitanza writing, years back, about how we could never have a CCCC where the theme was "Should writing be taught?". It’s just not a question we can seem to consider. I think we have similar issues with the foundational practices of our pedagogy. I don’t know if we can give up things like small classes, commenting on drafts, student conferences, etc. I’m not saying that we should. I’m just saying that I don’t know that we can even really ask the question.

Anyway, I’m sure all composition programs have similar or related challenges. However, it seems to me that the local, institutional, embedded nature of curriculum should indicate that composition as a discipline is better off seeing itself as researching the teaching of writing rather than seeking to manage it nationally.