Yes, it's fall again. The leaves are turning; there's a crispness to the air; the semester has begun, and yes, yes, we cannot forget the annual ritual of the rhetoric of decline. The latest example is from Stanley Fish in the New York Times.
I think Fish's argument rests on a distorted picture of what actually goes on in writing courses. Fish seems convinced that most writing courses today are doing something other than writing. Apparently we're watching re-runs of Three's Company. Fish seems bent on generalizing from the occasional bad example. Last time I checked, my students write in my writing course. And they work on revision, continually. When I look at writing program websites at other colleges and universities, I see curricula that echo the WPA outcomes which include radical suggestions such as students should
- learn common formats for different kinds of texts.
- control such surface features as syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
What's really disheartening, though, is reading the comments section. (I advise against it.)The discipline has a difficult time battling popular perceptions about the supposed decline of writing.