I had a conversation with a well-known rhetoric and composition scholar a few days ago. My friend made two claims common among writing teachers: teachers know what’s good for students and writing teachers have to teach first-year students how to cope with writing situations they will later face--that’s what’s good for them.
These are only two of the many reasons that even highly respected rhetoric and composition scholars articulate in their promotions of what they imagine as central academic genres—argument, analysis, and other forms of “evidence-based” writing. They imagine they “know” the writing world that lies before the students, how rigorous the demands of that world are, and that they the teachers need to hold to high standards in order to prepare their students for that world. Some of these tough-love rhetoricians have fantasized that our students in their post-collegial lives would have to write research papers.
We know the classed, raced, and gendered arguments against encouraging pleasure writing in our required/first-year writing classes—and the reasons for which writing teachers frequently capitulate to the hard-nosed rhetoric of theorists who imagine their responsibility is to teach students how to read, think, analyze, and argue, even though they suspect that by creating uncomfortable writing experiences in their classes, they may be teaching their students the wrong thing about writing.
I have been working on an article about social class and assessment, which led me to think about four universes of writing. “Sat” refers to the SAT and ACT writing tests—and by extension, to all models of timed, five-paragraph writing—and perhaps by further extension, five-paragraph thinking, one leading to the other.
When we employ the “we-know-what’s-good-for-them," argument, we should perhaps remember our predecessors, who also knew what was good for them—and think of our descendants, who may wonder how we thought what we thought.