The composition turn: Exigency and pedagogical ramifications of Back-To-Basics
This dissertation examines how the term back-to-basics became a metaphor that drove a decade's conversations about teaching writing. It traces how political ruminations about the state of education affected the public's sentiments, which led to heightened media attention on a much touted literary crisis. The momentum of back-to-basics came through the voices of the public whose vested interests in the education of their children and powerful indictments of school curriculums created the impetus for change. More importantly, the information regarding the literacy crisis, perpetuated by not those teaching the class, but by those outside the academy, arose from many different sources. The archeological approach used by Michel Foucault sets a framework for the excavation and examination of documents, such as speeches and newspaper articles, from the 1970s to demonstrate the discussions about back-to-basics.
The first chapter provides both the political and cultural lens and the historical background for the study. Chapter 2 considers the literature of the 1970s and highlights documents that specifically address higher education and the back-to-basics movement. Chapter 3 provides the theoretical underpinnings and the methodology for this study. This chapter observes the relationship between exigency and the production of discourse that influenced both the public and the academy. It also explains how, as a metaphor, back-to-basics created a new ‘truth’ about education. Chapter 4 traces selected documents from the 1970s that provide the impetus for the espousal of the term and illustrate the consequences and the corollary effects on the college English classrooms left in the wake of its appropriation. The documents range from political speeches to newspaper articles and culminate with a college newsletter. Chapter 5 is a discussion of the implications of the term that arose as a seemingly apt approach to talking about all that ailed education yet transformed the teaching of the students who were not meeting standards.