Condon and Rutz: “A Taxonomy of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs”

Condon and Rutz, in a thorough contribution to the stages of development often found in writing across the curriculum programs (WAC), present a taxonomy that can enable both established and emerging programs with a useful model. Indeed, WAC programs are contextual in nature, and the needs and structure of each institution are independent. It does not seem to be their goal, however, in providing a universal heuristic for all institutions who utilize WAC programs in some shape or form. Condon and Rutz recognize that creating a taxonomy to reflect all WAC programs and their phases of development would not possible, and their analysis and description of WAC programs at Washington State University and Carleton College does not serve to promote or patronize themselves, but to describe their success through a set of transferrable terms.

As I read through the first several pages of the article, it seemed apparent that the work of composition specialists and instructors across the curriculum (i.e., engineering, chemistry, business, etc.) retain highly disparate views of writing and its value. It seems incredibly simple to read the phrase suggested by Condon and Rutz: “write-to-learn” and “learn-to-write” (357). Noted as a model in approaches to WAC pedagogy and implementation in the 21st century, Condon and Rutz highlight another feature of contemporary pedagogy and administration in relation to WAC programs. The first year composition course – noted as the “inoculation” of writers – is not solely efficient in preparing writers to be successful and satisfied with their skills upon entering their respective professions.

As a graduate assistant, I teach a section of a first year composition course that seems to echo the inoculation model suggested by Condon and Rutz. This article has inspired me to look closely and critically at the structure of our own composition program at St. Cloud State, namely, do we have a WAC program at our university, what sort of writing requirements are necessary for all graduates, have any portfolio reviews or assessments been conducted to determine student skill or satisfaction with their writing, to what extent are professors in various departments teaching writing, and if so, how are these instructors supported and provided with ongoing training and feedback?

Dependent upon major, students are required to fulfil an upper-division writing requirement. These courses are taught by specialists and academics in their respective areas of study, yet to my knowledge, these writing requirements have yet to be identified or promoted as a form of WAC. Further, the missionary activity described by Condon and Rutz does not seem to extend beyond the English Department, although I would be happy to be corrected. If no effort has been made to archive materials, policies, and program history, it can be safe to assume that our program, whether considered WAC or not, is likely rests in Condon and Rutz’s foundational stage.

My application of the WAC taxonomy to our own university seems like a natural reaction to the article, yet the integrity of our department and the value of writing and a rhetorical education at our university must not be compromised. While it may seem rather mundane to claim that the taxonomy suggested by Condon and Rutz can serve as a framework for change, the adaptation and development of WAC programs at neighboring institutions can help both instructors and students identify needs and formulate their own goals for progress.

As Condon and Rutz make very clear, creating a taxonomy to account for the diversity of all WAC programs can be problematic. In spite of this fact, the authors suggest a pair of terms borrowed from quantum mechanics: location and momentum (360). In brief, while “we know either an electron’s location or its momentum, but not both,” understanding how both can be applied to a useful observation of WAC program development is imperative. Locating the WAC program is essential in determining its identity, the professionals working on that program, the courses issued, the assignments assigned, and the resources required to fuel it (Condon and Rutz 360). As the authors reiterate, “momentum is what WAC does, rather than what it is,” and “Recognizing the wave and particle (momentum and location) nature of WAC allows us as a profession to develop a system capable of describing a program as opposed to its constituent components – for example, pedagogy, philosophy, and staffing” (Condon and Rutz 360).

Just as Condon and Rutz advise, the location of each WAC program is not always easy to identify. Our own program at St. Cloud State, for example, does not seem to be designated as a WAC program at all. The transparency of such a program does not necessarily equate to a lack of success, however. It does seem rather certain, however, that when advanced writing requirements are instilled at the upper undergraduate level (in this case, the 400-level upper-division writing requirement), students may leave their class with a false sense of their own preparedness for the nature of writing they may well rely on for a career in their respective fields. In short, a students seem to be merely inoculated at the beginning of their college experience (i.e., first year composition) and at the end (i.e., 400-level upper division writing requirement) of their college experience, and their support and success as writers throughout the bulk of their college careers is either transparent or assumed.

While Condon and Rutz do seem to inspire a critical assessment of the institutions we are bound to, their use of momentum can help display the possibility for thoughtful observation and planning for the future. Of course, a thorough self-assessment or external review would be vital to locate and identify areas for improvement in any program (Condon and Rutz 379). Administrators across the curriculum, however, can find great value in “large-scale taxa” that can helps solidify the evasive terminology often found in composition studies (Condon and Rutz 379).

As Condon and Rutz suggest, of all the “Types, phases dimensions, benchmarks, generations, waves” used to describe the status of WAC programs in context, none of them invite professors and administrators – often self-proclaimed non-writing specialists – to apply WAC terminology to the goals of their curricula (380). So-called “Quantum WAC” serves as a clever and useful model to inspire educators across the curriculum to adopt the best course of action to serve the diverse needs of students and the paths they will take.

References

Condon, William, and Rutz, Carol. “A Taxonomy of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs: Evolving to Serve Broader Agendas.” College Composition and Communication. 64.2 (2012): 357-382. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.