FIRST-YEAR COMPOSITION AND RHETORIC PROGRAM
- Democracy is best sustained by an educated and informed public versed in the practices of critical perception and expression.
- University students need preparation not only for their academic careers but also for dealing with the world at large beyond the campus. This preparation should include the teaching of those practices of critical perception and expression that will enable them to become contributing members not only of the academy but also of the democratic public.
- Composition courses teach not only writing but also critical reading, evaluation, and synthesis of information and ideas.
- Students learn best to write in real genres by practicing those real genres, as opposed to artificial genres manufactured exclusively for the writing classroom.
- All good writing, academic or public, is based on sound research.
While first-year composition may be seen as a service course in which the goal is to meet the needs of the academic community, we believe that the best way to meet those needs is by teaching critical literacy, that is, teaching our students to think, read (listen, view, watch, perceive), and write critically. Within this overarching goal are the subordinate goals of 1) preparing first-year composition students for their reading and writing projects in their other university courses and 2) preparing them for critical citizenship beyond the writing classroom and the university. We believe that the goals of the larger academic community and, more importantly, of our culture and democracy will be best served by our pursuit of these goals together.
Our pursuit of said goals will be based on a rhetorical approach to composition and the development of the skills of critical thinking, reading, and writing, that is, the development of critical literacy, including media and cultural literacies. If literacy means the ability to read and write functionally, then media literacy and cultural literacy comprise the ability to read critically the range of messages transmitted by all the vehicles of cultural production, particularly the news and entertainment media, and to clearly express, in writing, the results of that critical reading activity.
In practice, writing projects will be based on real-world genres rather than genres manufactured specifically and exclusively for the writing classroom. Writing, whether academic or public, comes from research. Both academic writing and the best public writing honor this principle, though in different genres. Therefore it is essential to teach sound research techniques, which will be supported by our focus on critical reading.
English Composition I
In Composition I, the focus will be on building the skills necessary for academic research and writing and on introducing the student to the relationships between academic and public writing.
Because there is no such thing as a uniform academic paper, but rather a range of kinds of academic papers whose requirements and goals are determined by each discipline, students will learn not how to write that non-existent academic paper, but rather the conventions of engagement in critical discourse for academic purposes and genres. Our focus will be on teaching research methods, engagement with sources, and what we think of as preparatory writing, leading to a researched argument.
Next, students will study the relationships between academic and public writing—particularly the importance of sound research to all good writing, whether academic or public—and will begin the practice of using their research to produce public genres related to but clearly differing from academic genres.
Meanwhile, students begin to develop cultural and media literacies, particularly with respect to how we are all shaped as political and social subjects by the texts that constitute the environment in which we are all necessarily immersed.
English Composition II
In Composition II, students will work more specifically on becoming citizen critics with 1) a more specific focus on public reading and writing and 2) refined development of political and cultural literacies. Students learn the ways in which knowledges are either included in or excluded from public spheres, develop an understanding of how to participate in civic discourse and activism, as well as the limitations on, opportunities for, and discipline-related approaches to civic engagement in the American political scene.
Students build on the skills established in Composition I, doing more focused research, but now aimed at the production of writing projects in public genres appropriate to particular writing situations.