Teaching Composition: A Reconsideration

Thanks for the link, Neha. Inside Higher Ed has a good article on the place of composition within the field of English studies.

I have no interest in the now clichéd grumblings over English
departments and their esoteric if not onanistic engagement in
high-octane literary theory. I will only say that there is merit to the
criticism. On the whole, however, such censure really isn’t going
anywhere; these exercises in cryptic marginalia are simply what we do,
much in the same way that hyenas eat carrion. Both have their place,
and whether one is more useful than the other is a matter for

My questions are more practical, if not more overtly political: Why
is the teaching of writing so readily given over to the novitiate? If
writing is that important as a university and life skill, why do we
assign its teaching to graduate students and part-time instructors?
Where are the associate and full professors of English, for it is
exceedingly difficult to find them in writing classrooms?


Teaching writing — and doing it well — is a taxing business. It means
thinking about course objectives and how to achieve them in a very
practical way. It often means our learning how to impart skills that
may come naturally to people whose inclinations and talents lie
elsewhere. As a graduate student, my initial experiences in the
composition classroom were marked by confusion and fear. I had a
general inclination about what a good paper looked like — having
written a few — but I also had almost no idea how I did it. My process
had been to write and rewrite until it felt about right. How and what I
was supposed to impart to others out of my intuitive sense of what
worked and what didn’t escaped me completely. I began to think that I
was there because no one else wanted the job. —William Major