What is Rhetoric and Composition…Exactly?


brain_machine“From the mid-1960’s, members of the emerging field of rhetoric and composition began to challenge the teaching of writing as a “product” in which papers were assigned and handed in and graded. Such teaching also focused on reading and discussing essays, completing exercises on style, and repeating drills on grammar. Little, if any, attention was paid to helping students get started, investigate ideas, consider readers, receive feedback on drafts or revise” (Lauer, 112).

When I heard the title of this article was called “Rhetoric and Composition”, I became overwhelmed by a fear that has often been present in my academic life as long as I can remember. I became intimated. It may sound ridiculous but I was intimidated by words. I have not yet studied rhetoric and composition, therefore I was afraid that I would not be able to understand the material. However, once I began to read what rhetoric and composition were about, I was drawn to the interesting topics it presented. My overall definition of rhetoric and composition is that it is the study of pedagogies and writing practices in various forms such as civic, workplace, academic and cross-cultural.
The reading was packed with so much important information regarding students and what they experience in the classroom but also what teachers experience when trying to teach their students about writing. Students have admitted that the main challenge in their English classrooms was that the subject of English was more of studying literature and less of being taught about composition. As a student myself, I agree. There are many occasions where I have sat through an English class and noticed that I was not being taught to the full extent. What I found fascinating about this article was how it talked about the importance of the teacher’s role in teaching rhetoric and composition. Their role has a critical effectiveness when it comes down to the writing instructions to the students.
One of the main points of this article that I would like to touch upon is the difficulties students of other cultures and backgrounds have when it comes to English studies. Janice M. Lauer from Purdue University spoke about how cultural differences is an important factor for teachers and students. “Tom Fox studied the difficulties of African-American students. Glynda Hull and Mike Rose researched the sociocognitive implications of remediation” (Lauer, 121). The reason why I wanted to discuss this more is that as an African American student, this hit home for me. I have seen teachers who decided that African American students could not grasp the information that they were giving to the class and instead of taking the time to help, they would skip over them and focus on the students’ difficulties instead of trying to find another to teaching the subject.
Diving into a more specific area of writing, I did not know that writing, race, and gender had a place in the world of rhetoric and composition. “Prominent in this area are Jacqueline Jones Royster, who has studied the writings of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century black women, and Shirley Wilson Logan, who has analyzed the persuasive discourse of nineteenth-century black women” (Lauer, 126). It was encouraging to see that there were pioneers who studied African-American women in this field. It is easier to connect with people who can relate to your struggles and experiences even when it comes to English studies. This is something that I would like to further study on my own and see if my findings can be used in my own educational journey. Overall, I found this reading to be a warm welcome to Graduate School because it made it seem less “scary”. As a person who has always struggled with their writing, Lauer made me feel confident that I can continue with this process expecting more from myself. I see a new side to English studies that I feel like I was never taught before. This made me exciting for the rest of my Graduate School studies.

“Rhetoric and Composition” by Janice M. Lauer (Purdue University) Chapter Two

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