Diane Greco has some good thoughts on Comp Studies. She writes:
At first it seemed odd to me that the field of composition would even have theoretical developments. A writing classroom really isn’t a laboratory; it’s not controlled enough. Neither is any observation of a writer’s process. Even if you have a writer explain every single word she writes, as she writes it, you are only getting one person’s process. And presumably there are as many writing “processes” as there are writers. Even so-called “basic” writers will differ significantly (meaning, in a way that precludes generalization from one writer’s experience) in how they go about putting words on paper. Not to mention how artificial the experimental set-up is — if I had to write while explaining myself to myself, I doubt I would be able to write very much or very well at all.
She goes on to discuss three major writing theory camps: cognitivists, expressivist, and social constructionist. Here’s the zinger, though. She writes, “. . . I think maybe these ‘theoretical developments’ are necessary and important — but not for what they tell us about writing. Rather, these theories are important because they’re the stories composition teachers tell themselves about what they’re doing.”
I like this. I’d claim the narrative goes deeper though into a string of theories that are very difficult to work into a syllabus, especially given time and what we assume needs teaching: a little research, a little documentation, a little style, and a little argument or exposition. Sometimes I read College English and invariably put it down, wondering “Haven’t I seen this before?” and go instead to the stories in Confrontation.
Various approaches to writing can give context, but it will always be a loaded context. The desks, the chairs, the blackboards are all in the same place. Ultimately, it’s school, a version of mind.
My favorite approach to composition studies is still progymnasmata tailored to writing. Writing in this case becomes performance.