Over the past thirty years, composition has flowered as a discipline in the academy. Doctoral programs in composition abound, and its position in the pantheon of academic fields seems assured. There is plenty of work in composition. But what is the nature of that work now, and what should it be? James Slevin asks such probing, primary questions in Introducing English, an overdue assessment of the state of composition by one of its most respected practitioners. Too often, Slevin claims, representations of composition take the form of promoting the field and its specialists, rather than explaining the fundamental work of composition and its important consequences. In thirteen thematically and methodologically linked essays, Slevin argues toward a view of the discipline as a set of activities, not as an enclosed field of knowledge. Such a view broadens the meaning of the work of composition to include teaching and learning, a two-way process, creating alliances across conventional educational boundaries, even beyond educational institutions.
Slevin traces how composition emerged for him not as a vehicle for improving student writing, but rather as a way of working collaboratively with students to interpret educational practices and work for educational reform. He demonstrates the kind of classroom practice - in reading accounts of the Anglicization of Pocahontas - that reveals the social and cultural consequences of language and language education. "For good or ill," writes Slevin, "composition has always been at the center of the reproduction of social inequality, or of the resistance to that process." He asks those in the discipline to consider such history in the reading and writing they ask students to do and the reasons they give for asking them to do it. A much-anthologized essay by E. B. White from The New Yorker is the site for an examination of genre as social institution, introducing the ways in which the discourses of the academy can be understood as both obstacle and opportunity. Ultimately, Introducing English is concerned with the importance of writing and the teaching of writing to the core values of higher education. "Composition is always a metonym for something else" Slevin concludes.
"Usually, it has figured the impossibility of the student body - their lacks that require supplement, their ill-health that requires remedy." Introducing English introduces a new figure - a two-way process of inquiry - that better serves the intellectual culture of the university. Chapters on writing across the curriculum, university management, and faculty assessment (the tenure system) put this new model to practical, innovative use. Introducing English will be necessary reading for all those who work with composition, as well as those engaged in learning theory, critical theory, and education reform.