There’s a kind of curious entry/article on Stanley Fish’s New York Times “blog,” “What Should Colleges Teach? Part 2,” which is about writing instruction and which picks up on his previous article, which I blogged about here. I posted a response on the NYTimes site, but since I have no idea if it will appear there or not, I thought I’d just post it here:
I have to say this seems more of a “revision” of your previous post and less a “response.” After all, in part one of this series, you seemed to be all for a traditional view of teaching grammar and rhetoric: you cited the conservative organization the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and you did write “I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else.” Now you are saying that it is “of course” nonsense to teach grammar out of context. But as I am sure you are aware, most administrators, the ACTA, and “people on the street” would interpret the phrase “teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else” as “teach grammar out of context.”
Be that as it may, I agree with your revision, more or less, though I would argue that form in writing various depending on purpose and audience. This is why it is is important that universities are pushing more toward writing within disciplines while simultaneously acknowledging that writing is a field/discipline that itself has content and a purpose. This is why departments separate from “English” have emerged at many colleges and universities.
But what I still see missing in your response/revision is addressing the issue of “the kids today.” The way I read it, you were pointing to anecdotal evidence that college students writing skills were getting worse to support your criticism of “the composition establishment.” This sentiment was certainly echoed in many of the comments, where writers agreed with you that the students today do not write nearly as well as the students of the past.
So, I was wondering what you make of the Stanford Study on Writing, which has received some (albeit more modest) attention recently. The basic argument of Andrea Lunsford and its other researchers is that the youth of today write in more places and for more purposes than they ever have before. Lunsford goes so far as to say “I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.” This is a lofty claim for sure, but it does appear to be based on actual research, not unlike the Braddock, Lloyd-Jones and Schoer article you cite here.
Have you revised/revisited your impression of the sorry state of today’s college writers? Or is that too part of your response/revision here?