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Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900 - 1985

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Berlin here continues his unique history of American college com­position begun in his Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Colleges (1984), turning now to the twentieth century.   In discussing the variety of rhetorics that have been used in writ­ing classrooms Berlin introduces a taxonomy made up of three cate­gories: objective rhetorics, subjective rhetorics, and tra Berlin here continues his unique history of American college com­position begun in his Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Colleges (1984), turning now to the twentieth century.   In discussing the variety of rhetorics that have been used in writ­ing classrooms Berlin introduces a taxonomy made up of three cate­gories: objective rhetorics, subjective rhetorics, and transactional rhetorics, which are distinguished by the epistemology on which each is based. He makes clear that these categories are not tied to a chronology but instead are to be found in the English department in one form or another during each decade of the century.   His historical treatment includes an examination of the formation of the English department, the founding of the NCTE and its role in writing instruction, the training of teachers of writing, the effects of progressive education on writing instruction, the General Education Movement, the appearance of the CCCC, the impact of Sputnik, and today’s “literacy crisis.”


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Berlin here continues his unique history of American college com­position begun in his Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Colleges (1984), turning now to the twentieth century.   In discussing the variety of rhetorics that have been used in writ­ing classrooms Berlin introduces a taxonomy made up of three cate­gories: objective rhetorics, subjective rhetorics, and tra Berlin here continues his unique history of American college com­position begun in his Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Colleges (1984), turning now to the twentieth century.   In discussing the variety of rhetorics that have been used in writ­ing classrooms Berlin introduces a taxonomy made up of three cate­gories: objective rhetorics, subjective rhetorics, and transactional rhetorics, which are distinguished by the epistemology on which each is based. He makes clear that these categories are not tied to a chronology but instead are to be found in the English department in one form or another during each decade of the century.   His historical treatment includes an examination of the formation of the English department, the founding of the NCTE and its role in writing instruction, the training of teachers of writing, the effects of progressive education on writing instruction, the General Education Movement, the appearance of the CCCC, the impact of Sputnik, and today’s “literacy crisis.”

30 review for Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900 - 1985

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The early chapters make me want to give this two stars, as Berlin is brutally unfair to 19th century figures, though the middle chapters redeem him a little bit. Still, this is a very slanted view of college writing instruction, and the taxonomy is only of limited use. Part of the problem is that Berlin's history of writing instruction really focuses more on theories of writing instruction and not the actual instruction itself. Lots of gaps in the chain of inference (early on) and a very centeri The early chapters make me want to give this two stars, as Berlin is brutally unfair to 19th century figures, though the middle chapters redeem him a little bit. Still, this is a very slanted view of college writing instruction, and the taxonomy is only of limited use. Part of the problem is that Berlin's history of writing instruction really focuses more on theories of writing instruction and not the actual instruction itself. Lots of gaps in the chain of inference (early on) and a very centering narrative toward the end (everything should be or wants to be epistemic). He doesn't account for some of the reclassifying from the last book, which seems odd. Still, his history gets better (i.e. more firmly dressed with disciplinary data and some historical/cultural data) as he moves closer to the seventies. Oh, and apparently, technical writing doesn't exist. You wouldn't know about it from reading this, anyhow.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hana

    I read this for a rhetoric/composition class. I have no passionate opinions about this book. I am entirely neutral.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    In Rhetoric and Reality, James Berlin offers a historical overview of the major movements and developments in writing instruction in American universities. He categorizes these movements in terms of epistemology rather than ideology “because it allows for a closer focus on the rhetorical properties … of the systems considered” (6). His three primary categories are thus “objective theories” assuming “the real is located in the material world” (7), subjective theories of rhetoric that “locate tru In Rhetoric and Reality, James Berlin offers a historical overview of the major movements and developments in writing instruction in American universities. He categorizes these movements in terms of epistemology rather than ideology “because it allows for a closer focus on the rhetorical properties … of the systems considered” (6). His three primary categories are thus “objective theories” assuming “the real is located in the material world” (7), subjective theories of rhetoric that “locate truth either within the individual or … a realm that is accessible only through the individual’s [nonempirical] internal apprehension” (11), and transactional rhetoric, which “is based on an epistemology that sees truth as arising out of the interaction of the elements of the rhetorical situation” (15). He begins with a quick overview of the rise of composition courses in nineteenth-century American colleges, then turns to the continuing development of English studies as a discipline--noting the creation of the MLA and NCTE--from 1900 to 1920. He begins his overview of “major schools” in twentieth-century writing instruction with the “oldest”: meritocratic “current-traditional rhetoric,” which “was designed to provide the new middle-class professionals with the tools to avoid embarrassing themselves in print” (35). He contrasts this with the subjective, individualistic “rhetoric of liberal culture” (43), then with the transactional rhetoric championed by Fred Newton Scott and influenced by John Dewey. The latter viewed “reality as a social construction, a communal creation emerging from the dialectical interplay of individuals” (47). He then turns to 1920-1940, noting an increasing number of quantified measures being applied to writing instruction, the rise of “expressionistic rhetoric” based on the liberal-culture model (73), and Warren Taylor’s “enlightened conception of … a social rhetoric of public discourse” (88). From 1940-1960, he focuses on the rise of communication-oriented courses, as well as the influences of literature, linguistics (particularly structural), and rhetoric on composition pedagogy. From 1960-1975, he points to rhetoric’s revival and documents attempts to found a “New Rhetoric” to complement New Criticism and structural linguistics’ “New Grammar” (126). During this period, he documents behaviorist psychology’s influence on objective rhetoric, the continuation of expressionist and subjective rhetorics such as Murray’s and Elbow’s, and subdivides transactional rhetorics into classical, cognitive, and epistemic. For proponents of the epistemic, “knowledge is always knowledge for someone standing in relation to others in a linguistically circumscribed situation,” and “there is no knowledge without language” (166-67). He places Bruffee, the formulators of tagmemic linguistics, and followers of Paulo Freire in this category, noting in his “postscript on the present” that rhetoricians influenced by “poststructuralist … criticism,” Marxist criticism, and the revival of “philosophical pragmatism as led by Richard Rorty” have continued to push writing instruction in this direction (183-84). He ends by arguing that the writing course “prepare[s] students for citizenship in a democracy,” enables them to “learn something about themselves,” and “empowers students as it advises in ways to experience themselves, others, and the material conditions of their existence” (189).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Berlin's 3 key philosophies of composition (current-traditional, expressionist and social constructionist) described throughout the century. He has a strong interest in the project to "vindicate the position of writing instruction in the college curriculum" (1) and is unabashed at that. Current-traditional is the most vehement and widely accepted of the objective rhetorics, but behaviorist, semanticist and linguistic rhetorics are also put into this category (9). "The new university invested its Berlin's 3 key philosophies of composition (current-traditional, expressionist and social constructionist) described throughout the century. He has a strong interest in the project to "vindicate the position of writing instruction in the college curriculum" (1) and is unabashed at that. Current-traditional is the most vehement and widely accepted of the objective rhetorics, but behaviorist, semanticist and linguistic rhetorics are also put into this category (9). "The new university invested its graduates with the authority of sicnce and through this authority gave them an economically comfortable position in a new, prosperous middle-class culture" (36) In expressionist writing "the teacher cannot even instruct the student in the principles of writing, since writing is inextricably intertwined with the discovery of truth. The student can discover truth, but truth cannot be taught; the student can learn to write, but writing cannot be taught. The only strategy left, then is to provide an environment in which the individual can learn what cannot be taught" (13)."For the proponents of liberal culture, the purpose of the English teacher was to cultivate the exceptional students, the geniuses, and, at the most, to tolerate all others" (72). For expressionists "writing--all writing--is art. This means that writing ca be learned by not taught" (74). "Most important was that the students read all papers aloud to the entire class and were given immediate responses [...] the teacher did not lecture but acted instead as an ad-[83]ditional respondent" (84). On conflict & problem definition: Braddock's 1961 Research in Written Communication and subsequent founding of Research in the Teaching of English (1967) is important because "Only a discipline confident of its value and its future could allow this kind of harsh scrutiny" (135). Lit studies "have appropriated as their domain all uses of language except the narrowly referential and logical. What remains [...] is given to rhetoric, to the writing course" (30). Birth of CCCC-1948 paper by George S. Wykoff and ensuing conflict leads to John Gerber of U of Iowa proposing a conference to discuss composition. 500 attend April 1-2 1949 (105). "With the establishment of the CCCC and its journal [...] teachers of freshman composition took a giant step toward qualifying for full membership in the English department, with the attendant privileges" (106) Importance of pamphlet The Basic Issues in the Teaching of English published as a supplement to College English in 1959. Identify key questions for English, especially in pedagogy (should writing "be taught as expression or as communication" (Berlin 124). Graduate programs: Turn of last century "the notion that rhetoric might be a fit study for the new graduate school--a commonplace today--quickly became so alien that a survey conducted at the furn of the century found that nearly half of the college teachers responding could not imagine which might be considered in such courses (Mead "Graduate Study of Rhetoric" qtd 24). More students led to more writing teachers and "these teachers began to promote graduate training for (120) their discipline. By 1975, graduate programs in rhetoric and composition were forming, and rhetoric was becoming a respectable academic specialty" (120-121). qtd 1929 English Journal survey by Snow Longly Housh for high percentage of CW in schools.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    Of course, Berlin is one of the most influential scholars in rhetoric, finally making a strong case for the connection between epistemology and rhetoric. No longer can they be seen as exclusive fields. In this book, Berlin adeptly follows strands of epistemologies inherent in composition classrooms throughout the 20th century, pointing out how we adapt to historical and cultural factors. Though Berlin's taxonomy can be problematic, in this case, it is a useful heuristic for us to reflect on our Of course, Berlin is one of the most influential scholars in rhetoric, finally making a strong case for the connection between epistemology and rhetoric. No longer can they be seen as exclusive fields. In this book, Berlin adeptly follows strands of epistemologies inherent in composition classrooms throughout the 20th century, pointing out how we adapt to historical and cultural factors. Though Berlin's taxonomy can be problematic, in this case, it is a useful heuristic for us to reflect on our heritage and classroom practices. Of course, there are elements missing in this history, but it is a great starting point.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Graham Oliver

    Book does a good job of being very critical of theories that have already largely been removed from the mainstream pedagogy (and, of course, the people who still use the outdated philosophies generally aren't teaching rhetoric or composition and thus will never see this book). Very slanted writing. Dismissive of a lot of practices without directly arguing why he's dismissive (thinking here of his emphasis on merit of removing literature from comp classes, having independent rhetoric department, Book does a good job of being very critical of theories that have already largely been removed from the mainstream pedagogy (and, of course, the people who still use the outdated philosophies generally aren't teaching rhetoric or composition and thus will never see this book). Very slanted writing. Dismissive of a lot of practices without directly arguing why he's dismissive (thinking here of his emphasis on merit of removing literature from comp classes, having independent rhetoric department, etc.) which gives him license to make subtle jabs without backing them up. Prefer other historical looks at the time period which dive into the scholarship of the time with less summary.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelli Perkins

    Berlin's book, Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985 (Studies in Writing and Rhetoric) gives readers a comprehensive and scholarly look at the field for the majority of the twenty-first century. Berlin devises a taxonomy of three different rhetorics: the objective, subjective, and transactional, and through these three subtypes offers readers a look at the shaping and current theoretical viewpoints in the discipline. Recommended for graduate level study in rhe Berlin's book, Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985 (Studies in Writing and Rhetoric) gives readers a comprehensive and scholarly look at the field for the majority of the twenty-first century. Berlin devises a taxonomy of three different rhetorics: the objective, subjective, and transactional, and through these three subtypes offers readers a look at the shaping and current theoretical viewpoints in the discipline. Recommended for graduate level study in rhetoric and composition, not for the casual reader.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    In Rhetoric and Reality (1987), James Berlin offers a Marxist historical account of composition in the twentieth century and a taxonomy of different rhetorical models of composition throughout the century. He taxonomies based upon epistemology, assumptions about how knowledge is known (3): objective theories, which locate reality in the external world, subjective theories, which place knowledge within the individual, and transaction theories, which locate reality as between people, objects, and In Rhetoric and Reality (1987), James Berlin offers a Marxist historical account of composition in the twentieth century and a taxonomy of different rhetorical models of composition throughout the century. He taxonomies based upon epistemology, assumptions about how knowledge is known (3): objective theories, which locate reality in the external world, subjective theories, which place knowledge within the individual, and transaction theories, which locate reality as between people, objects, and language (6).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Siemann

    History of the theorization and practice of teaching writing on the college level in the previous century. Accessible and sometimes frustrating, seeing the cyclical nature of the field. I also better understand why people in comp/rhet resent us literature Ph.D.s, even the ones who are on their side . . .

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    Boring, but essential for those interested in comp theory/history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    So... I read this book in grad school... I don't remember much of it but it seemed to me that it was informative on the subject of writing instruction in the U.S. So... I read this book in grad school... I don't remember much of it but it seemed to me that it was informative on the subject of writing instruction in the U.S.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Comprehensive review of composition studies in the US

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I'd really like to give this another read. I'd really like to give this another read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    JSA Lowe

    Ugh. Why they made me did this.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amanda May

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

  17. 5 out of 5

    James Sherwood

  18. 5 out of 5

    Clark Draney

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

  20. 5 out of 5

    Karenna

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Martin

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jo

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carl Whithaus

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emily Simmons

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sean Milligan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diana Stout

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris McKeever

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erick Piller

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