Discourse, Interdiscursivity, and
College composition instructors and administrators miss an opportunity to contribute substantially to their students' liberal education by not thinking critically about what students should read and write about in general writing skills instruction (GWSI) courses. When educators think of basic skills in GWSI, they rarely think of issues involving subject matter. To most educators, the idea of basic skills lies largely in the areas of the form, structure, and correctness of whole texts, paragraphs, sentences, words, and mechanics. Educators maintain this limited formalist-structuralist view of basic skills even though it stands in sharp contrast to two obvious facts. First, the subject matter of student writing has come to play an important, if ill-defined and underinvestigated, role in composition studies. Indeed, one of the principal emphases in GWSI for the past three decades has been to teach students how to learn about subject matters by writing about them and to draft and revise compositions filled with clear, rich, well-developed substance. Second, there can actually be no such thing as a subject matter-free GWSI course: As they learn about writing, students must write about something. Thus, the questions instructors must address about the subject matters of student compositions are directly related to issues of liberal education: What do we want to teach students about the relationship between writing and learning? What subject matters do we want them to learn about through writing? Why are these important subject matters?