A Rhetoric for WPA: Using History as a Tool for Success

Demographics, community, and culture are three variables inevitably ascribed to the climate of a writing program. But why are writing programs so concerned with these issues in their curricula? As my Master’s program nears an end, I find myself considering these three concerns more than ever. With the possibility of moving hundreds of miles away from where I have been groomed as an educator and as a student of literature, I am increasingly more concerned with the challenges that may arise as demographics, community, and culture change according to new and distant schools or areas.

In Chapter 18, “What is a Writing Program History?,” Shirley K. Rose discusses how writing programs are each unique to their institution, and their location. For this reason, keeping a “writing program history” is essential in building and supporting a thriving program. In the same way, program histories can be beneficial for all subjects, whether it be writing, literature, history, or others.  Chapter 18 further discusses how studying the past efforts of a program—such as its policies, curricular models, and structure—can create a better understanding of the program’s mission, and also aid in “understand[ing] as well why current practices that might seem problematic were initially put in place” (240). Therefore, new instructors entering a university (or even a high school) program can look to the history of a program to educate themselves about the purpose of present curricula.

Because demographics will change according to a university, there may be certain policies in play, which cater specifically towards the student needs, and approaches, prevalent in their institution. For instance, student needs in inner city schools may differ wildly from those in suburban areas. These same differences can be found in colleges and institutions. This echoes the sentiments of Chapter 1 when it discusses the diversity of students, their rights, and their feelings, saying as administrators and educators “your responsibilities are to all the students and the whole system…students embody systems, and systems represent students (17). So if the responsibility lies on the administrator, the administrator must become increasingly aware of both the students and the system. Neither can succeed without the other. Thus, when entering a new institution, it is important for all new instructors to educate themselves about the surrounding community, the culture, and the people. If they do not, the students and the system are both at risk. Referring back to Ch. 18 again, one simple way to delve into these cultural differences is to study the history of the programs in which they enter, be it oral history (as told by others in the department), archival history (taken from collections or documents in an archive), or documentation from a variety of sources (242). Planning to enter a new institution, in an entirely different area, as an instructor in the near future it will be important that I refer to the program’s history to better equip myself with the tools necessary in teaching the system’s students. Though Rose’s chapter emphasizes using history specifically for writing programs, her strategy can be useful for all types of programs.


How might an institution’s demographics affect the best practices used in teaching their students?


When might it be appropriate (if ever) to revisit failed curricula found in the history of a writing program, and why?


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