I must admit that at the onset of reading Chapter Two of Rhetoric and Composition by Janice Lauer, I was a bit taken aback as to how naive I have been when it comes to the field of English writing studies. Straight away, I was unfamiliar with the terms multimodal” and “interdisciplinary.” However, it was quite interesting to read about the classification of that theory of English writing and how it is defined to understand the theory of rhetoric and composition in English studies.
As Lauer points out, scholars started teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetoric and composition theory and research at their colleges and universities. At the same time, at professional conferences, sessions devoted to this scholarship increased. The question I had for myself was, why did I not have any knowledge of this specific terminology? Well, I discovered the answer is simple. Only recently (in the past thirty years) has “rhetoric and composition” become a full-fledged discipline within English studies, with its own professional conferences, journals and monograph series, and graduate degrees and undergraduate majors. Thus, it took me thirty-three years to return to college and embark upon my English writing studies journey. Make sense. Right!? Yes, indeed.
Most recently, Lauer notes rhetoric and composition scholars have revisited the history of rhetoric, attempting to update our understanding of the birth of the discipline and women’s and minorities’ roles in its long history. As a Black woman, I needed to dive a bit deeper into this portion of history. I learned that rhetorical studies, which rendered women invisible and silent for over 2,500 years—have recently begun to locate women on the rhetorical terrain, led by feminist scholars who want their rhetorical projects to do something to make rhetorical studies a more inclusive, expansive, democratic endeavor. The last thirty years uncovered women’s contributions to and participation deep within the rhetorical tradition (from Enheduanna, Sappho, and Aspasia to Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Zitkala Ša) as well as within the more recent rhetorical scene (Barbara Jordon, Audre Lorde, Hillary Clinton, Emma Gonzalez). Feminist scholars (of every stripe) continue to map out projects that rescue, recover, and reinscribe women, girls, and femmes onto our rhetorical consciousness (Glenn, 2023). To that end, now adding to the reason why I write: to educate, encourage and inspire in rhetoric and composition English studies.
Regarding studies of the composing process, the fundamental misconception which undermines so many of the best efforts in teaching writing: if students are trained how to recognize an example of good prose (“the rhetoric of the finished word”), educators are thought to have given them a basis on which to build writing abilities. In essence, Gordon Rohman and Albert O. Wlecke’s concept about prewriting claims that all educators have done, in fact, is to give students standards by which to judge the goodness or badness of their finished effort. In other words, they agree that educators haven’t really taught students how to make that effort. (106)”; a strong statement of finding worthy of repeating. It seems to me that educators need to reach far beyond the standards of the basis of teaching writing, such as a linear and reductive conception of the composing process that emerged in classrooms called “prewrite-write-rewrite.”
I have, too, learned that prewriting practices, which consist of keeping a journal to help me discover my contexts and points of urgency, engaging in meditation to transform an event into my personal experiences, and creating analogies to generate and organize aspects of any subject, are exceptionally helpful. Also, conventional pedagogies like freewriting, aka the double notebook, are great tools to enhance a student’s rhetoric and composition writing skills.
When it comes to a writer’s voice, with AI at the forefront of technological writing, students who reached self-actualization with an authentic voice by using a journal, meditation, and analogy, the traditional voice that Ken Macrorie questioned and condemned in academic writing he called “Engfish” will soon, as it proves will become obsolete. In contrast, where others associate voice with the classical concept of ethos or a writer’s character as it relates to a particular argument, rhetoric and composition’s notions of ethos, AI, in many current cases, is created to replicate a personal writing voice. Whereas a model like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Robot Kyle is “trained” on millions of words from across the Internet. (Chayka, 2023). Writing robots are meant to create efficiency, particularly for businesses that have to produce large amounts of iterative text, replacing a writer’s job performance and voice, i.e., style, voice, ethos, ethics, and affect. (Check out the incredible following story):
Lauer touches on grading as one of the thorniest issues in rhetoric and composition teaching, which brings to light the purpose of the widespread use of portfolios as a basis for assessing and grading a student’s body of written work. I will say I have often wondered how educators properly measure a student’s written assisgnment(s). She also depicts that throughout the years, the area of basic writing has developed its organization, conferences, and journals to handle college writing problems. And American Standard English in all student writing and affirmed “the students’ right to their patterns and varieties of language dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.” In addition, the nature of second-language writing and the relationship between composition studies and the field of ESL writing being researched in 1974 are a refreshing validity to this reading before the social turn.
Although writing history has evolved to multiple levels, issues in civic rhetoric continue to attract the attention of many rhetoric and composition theorists today. Moreover, rising method conflicts in the field come as no surprise when theorists have often denounced the theory of another one’s ideas and notions. Astonishingly, one of the most controversial aspects of the work in rhetoric and composition, in the eyes of the public, is the field’s teaching of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Research and theory have discredited the full-frontal teaching of grammar, and some graduate programs have ignored historical inquiry on the subject matter of methods, etc. Who knew? Surely, I did not.
In closing of this reading, I agree with Lauer that each of the decades of work in rhetoric and composition has contributed to our understanding of written discourse and its teaching, opening hitherto unexplored aspects, building on previous work, critiquing or qualifying it, and sometimes challenging its underlying claims and arguments. Because without history, we have no basis to withstand present and future thought and methods theory pertaining to the conversation relating to rhetoric and composting in English writing studies.
Therefore, I concur that this overall piece of literature work in Chapter Two of Rhetoric and Composition provides exemplary historical evidence from the past to where we stand here and now to help students and others develop their powers of inquiry and communication in order to re-envision and enrich our everyday, civic, academic, and workplace lives.