CCCs – Issues 1, 2, & 3 Reflections
In the initial issue of CCCs a survey was conducted on Freshmen composition (note the emphasis on that demographic). Some major trends in the survey included: student composition publication (writing narrative and expository “themes” and publishing via mimeograph, student papers, etc. which were then used as points of discussion in class) oftentimes housed in “Communication Skills” and English departments. The focus on distribution and circulation of student created texts (and attendant “competitiveness” of student writers) is also present in the first issue (9). Further, faculty skepticism concerning student writing is also apparent, (11) illuminating the fact that the “They don’t know how to write” is not a new problem! At its core, CCCs was established to provide a “systematic way of exchanging views and information quickly” for teachers of communication, rhetoric, and composition (12-3).
Issue 2 of CCCs provides a general overview of what faculty and scholars thought about the theoretical and pedagogical issues related to the teaching of writing in the mid 19th century. Here’s a general overview in list form:
- Goals of composition: think logically, cultivate respect for human beings, develop taste, be wary of pathos in the interest of logos, develop intellectual competence, and the cultivation of ethics. To achieve these ends, comp teachers studied logic, read literature from around the world, discussed literary problems, and cultivated morals through disciplined intellectual acumen.
- Communication/composition emphasized these skills: skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening; interrelation of course materials; recognition of need and an awareness of context; familiarity with mass communication; evaluation of source material; and a “scientific” attitude toward language (6). Genres and source work were also emphasized
- The composition class: objectives and organization. 6-hour course over two semesters (we’re still doing this!); not the sole source of writing instruction; development of clear communication skills across educational backgrounds. Ss should be separated by ability level into different sections, be capped around 20-22 students, write at least 12,000 words over the course of both semesters, attend at least 2 teacher-student conferences and no more than 60 students per semester should be taught by instructors (issues of labor here, p. 12 – HA!).
- Literature doesn’t really have a place (12), research is important, WAC work is useful (12, 27 for grading standards), early on Comp had a civic imperative. On the “objective” of the composition class, “The purpose of the communication course is to develop students’ abilities to give and receive meanings conveyed in language, to the further end that they become effective and alert members of a democratic society” (15, italics in original). This move toward practicality and civic participation wasn’t without resistance as some comp instructors complained of a “loss of the humanistic aspects” of lit classes. (16)
- An emphasis on being a good orator was still a focus at this time (17). Considering language to be merely instrumental was not part of the program; in fact, compers at the time noted that language is symbolic and includes gestures, tones of voice, and symbols/the visual (17). Some panelists also voiced a desire to have access to recording/media technologies to facilitate recursive classroom practices (18).
- Grammar was important; however, a demonstration of grammatical facility for individuals with a practical knowledge of grammar should not be necessary. Discussions of grammar revealed the broad range of individuals involved in the teaching of composition (communications folks, linguists, education specialists, etc.) (20-1).
- On grading: the institutional and course context should dictate grading procedures – there is no universal standard. Grading should be as objective as possible based on experience. Technical proficiency can get a paper to “passing” regardless of style, etc. Progress and cumulative (long-picture) views of student work should inform grading (24-5). Grades should be clearly explained with objectives and standardization across the department for grading is desirable. Revision is important and should be used in conjunction with a conference.
- The development of writing centers (here referred to as writing labs) is important and can help students work through writing problems/concerns (31). Further issues of access and community participation in writing centers are also present (32). There is a far greater emphasis on reading as an academic practice at this time than in the present (well, I think so anyway) (33-4).
- Technical communication (English for Engineers) is a concern for the early compers. Generally folks weren’t comfortable separating the engineers from the rest of the freshman students. Further, it would appear that many faculty wanted to include the “discipline of imaginative literature” to help engineers break out of instrumentalist thinking (36). Concerning preparation, the folks at CCCC 1950 collectively noted that students were not arriving prepared because of an emphasis on formalistic new critical methods and literature-centric high school English classes. The early members also advocated a “missionary” structure of sending college teachers to high schools to help them prepare students (hmmmm. .. I wonder what education folks thought about this) (38).
- Staff training (and a lack of training at the graduate level in English for Composition) was a central concern in the efficacy of program administration. Working with other departments to encourage writing is another emphasis for WPA. The WPA should: hire competent staff, help folks take on professional development, keep up associational membership, fight for professional recognition, participate in professional organizations, do research, and be a good teacher of composition.
Issue 3 draws attention to the importance of “effective use of language” but is divided about how to do that (Formalist approach, semantic approach, or rhetorical [persuasive] approaches for the masses). As a result, a fusion of all three is recommended to teach the “effective use of language” (7). Issues of effective language use are also the subject of another article that considers how language use plays out in speaking, demonstration, listening, reading, observing, and writing (or the domains of rhetoric). Needham’s work in “The Need for the ‘Permissive’ in Basic Communications” draws attention to the fact that social fabric must be the context for communication – not mechanistic, instrumentalized heuristics for language use. Needham emphasized the “possible” in constructing and conducting communications so that the course remains vibrant, dynamic, and contextually relevant (we get the “This is what I did” narrative in this piece. . . something that composition would be taken to task for in future years) and applicable across the educational curriculum.