chapter  4
14 Pages

Rhetoric and Composition

Composition, in the United States and U.S.-influenced education systems, sits in a symbiotic relationship with rhetoric: rhetoric provides the theoretical background and the classical models; composition is the practical manifestation. Freshman composition courses are common in the first year of undergraduate study and take various forms, from the generic to the discipline-specific. Their function is to prepare students for the linguistic and discoursal demands of written academic study. Their presence is both remedial and preparatory: remedial in the sense of compensating for shortcomings in writing instruction (and, to a lesser extent, reading instruction) at the higher levels, and preparatory in helping students to read and write academic texts such as position papers, research projects, essays, and dissertations. That rhetoric and composition are seen as closely related is encouraging. At its best, the relationship is one of exploration across a wide range of written genres, of exploration of function and audience as well as form, of the history of composition, and of the possibilities of rhetoric, seen broadly as the arts of discourse and related to the real world as well as to academia. At worst, the relationship between rhetoric and composition is seen in fossilized terms via formulae, as exercises (the Renaissance progymnasmata), too heavily dependent on classical models and practices, derivative, and “instructional” and pedagogically primitive. It is therefore no surprise that many students who experience this induction to academic study find the courses dry and irrelevant.