In his speech, Crofts argues that the expansion of the university and the resulting intensified competition among publishers has changed the industry in fundamental ways, encouraging publishers to focus on the presentation of their product, at times at the expense of its content. “In the formal educational period of most of us,” Crofts says, “there was little or no attempt made by authors or publishers to appeal ... to the emotions and ... the aesthetic tastes of the reader.” Crofts’ talk illustrates these changes demographically:
Crofts notes that this period saw the creation of the first publishing departments dedicated to the acquisition and marketing of college textbooks (81). More importantly, Crofts issues a warning about a trend towards “subjective” treatments of knowledge, especially in sociological textbooks. Crofts describes this shift in terms of a move away from “the traditional weighing of evidence without personal bias to a subjective treatment generally towards the liberal and, not infrequently, the extreme left” (89). The publisher’s task, Crofts believes, is to balance market sensitivity with attention to quality, which he associates with attractive but not overwhelming packaging on the one hand, and with an objective treatment of the subject matter on the other. For Crofts, objectivity is outside of politics, neither left nor right, and the appeal to “emotion” represented by more attractive packaging are simply a matter of creating a more effective appeal in the market.
As a publisher, then, Croft is himself concerned with the relationship between ethos and aesthetics, apprehensive that the latter will overcome the former. Crofts’ formulation of the proper place of the popular ethos, as well as his suspicion of aesthetics and persuasion, also shapes the pedagogy he advocates. What’s more, any discourse that formulates this relationship differently is by definition ethically suspect. In an era crossing both war and economic depression, any non-objective treatment of content seemingly tends towards the left, and by implication represents a threat to the system of property on which the market rests. Crofts stresses that attractive packaging is important, and that academic trends may come and go, but objective standards are a “duty [that] cannot be escaped.” While he laments the “subjective” bias of these newer texts, Crofts’ worries are allayed by his belief that market influences have created a conservative inertia in college textbooks that resists intellectual fashion. In addition, while the market shapes textbooks, the textbook publishers must also shape the market, insofar as they can resist this “subjective” bias. “Popular reading tastes influenced the trade,” Donald Sheehan wrote in 1952, “as much as the trade influenced popular reading tastes” (22).
Crofts’ sense of the duty of the publisher recalls James Berlin’s description of the “objectivist rhetoric,” that underwrote what he terms “the most pervasive of objective rhetorics in the last hundred years and… the dominant rhetoric overall” (Rhetoric 9). Berlin believes this epistemology of language rests on the naïve scientific faith that the “economical and political interests of the new professional middle-class were... inherent features of the universe” (Rhetoric 37). Even more, Berlin writes,
For Berlin, objectivity, in the form embodied in composition textbooks, was as much a matter of scientific method as of political and social self-justification. As a professional himself and a “trained observer,” Crofts “sees” in the market a demand for textbooks whose assumptions reproduce a belief in the necessity and validity of his own class position. The professional textbook publisher produces textbooks that reiterate the objective validity of the social status of professionals, and Crofts’ “duty,” put bluntly, is to the reproduction and maintenance of his own class. What Crofts’ speech illustrates, moreover, is a powerful concordance between an objectivist pedagogy of writing and an astute marketing sense.
At about the same time that Crofts was publishing his textbooks, universities in the United States underwent an extensive, if not often noted institutional transformation, led by educational foundations and supported by the federal government. These reforms, as Clyde W. Barrows has shown, were achieved in a political climate in which pressures for increasing access warred with concern about costs and the aims of higher education more generally:
The result of these “progressive campaigns for greater economy and accountability,” Barrows writes, was that “colleges and universities became susceptible to the same kinds of judgments about their “value” as any other institution” (97). And, Barrow says,
Universities, like business, had to justify their work through a system of accountability judged by corporate standards:
Barrow illustrates in detail how the managerial expertise presumed necessary was developed by “corporate intellectuals” and funded through organizations such as the Carnegie foundation. The end result of these reforms included an administrative cadre more distant both from academic concerns and from standardized methods of measuring institutional efficacy. Importantly, for the purposes of my analysis, Barrows also shows how Crofts’ marketing strategies, as well as his pedagogy, found such sympathetic ears in education.
Writing of these “corporate reformers” Barrow also notes:
Similarly, publishers such as Crofts, drawing on the financial resources newly made available to universities, reinforced the foundations’ goals and rhetoric through a marketing and educational ideology that, perhaps not surprisingly, relied on the progressive ideals of neutral objectivity.
encouraged the propagation of these ideas throughout the higher education system, a process reinforced by what John Hagge calls “scientific optimism.” Seeking to eliminate what were thought to be inefficient institutions, organizations such as the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board promoted a distinction between the university and the college, “on the basis of graduate research and professional training leading to a post-baccalaureate degree”(84). This rationalization, of course, makes Crofts’ task all the easier.
The subsequent rapid increases in the demand for education and the perennial lack of adequate public funding—then, as now—further reinforced the foundations’ power to effect change. In effect, objectivity as an educational philosophy is imposed not simply as a pedagogical necessity, given the increase in what were thought to be ill-prepared students, but also as a political project consistent across different sectors of the professional middle classes. “Presidents [of universities] with populist loyalties,” Barrows writes, “or those who too strongly defended the claims of faculty members against governing boards, littered the decade of the 1890s” (78).
In this context, Berlin’s description of the pedagogical aims of “objectivist rhetoric” is worth quoting at length:
Language is a problem if used incorrectly, and the technicalities of grammar and syntax are taught in hopes of avoiding an inaccurate reproduction of the author’s originating perception. Moreover, the ability to spell correctly, to be precise yet vivid and so to faithfully reproduce pre-existing knowledge, is itself evidence of an educated, middle-class sensibility. One aim of the UEC, then, is the reproduction and maintenance of the class that profits most by its success, both economically and culturally; epistemology shapes the market as much as the textbook.The UEC opens with an “Orientation,” in which students are given the fundamentals of college writing, beginning with the “Form and Appearance” of the manuscript, and ending with a section on reading. The next four sections—Grammar, The Word, The Sentence, and The Paragraph—introduce students to an analytic approach to language, and work up to increasing levels of linguistic complexity. “The Whole Composition,” next focuses on what Berlin calls the “modes of discourse,” which included chapters on Exposition, The Research Paper, The Feature Article, Biography, The Book Review, The Informal Essay,
The chapter on exposition offers an ethos of writing arising out of the assumed common experiences of educated professionals:
Educated people must learn to write, in other words, because, once you know the answer you cannot help but try to communicate this knowledge. As Crofts might say, it is a duty that cannot be escaped. This knowledge imposes an ethical obligation, in that it is wrong to withhold your expertise. The necessity of exposition is underlined in the introduction to the Research paper:
Imagine, the authors imply, a doctor who sloppily researches the possible medical remedies for your affliction, or an engineer who skips over the arduous chores of calculating metal fatigue.
The popular aesthetic or ethos, as Bourdieu says, is rooted in both moral obligation and necessity, and extends even into what might be seen as the subjective realm of biography. In the words of the UEC:
Exposition is at the heart of the enterprise of learning to write in college and of the student’s professional and moral obligations, because concise communication is the purpose of knowledge as such. Once you know, you have an obligation to tell. We learn not in order to persuade but in order to understand. To paraphrase Marx, the purpose of composition is to describe the world, not to change it.
This emphasis on understanding (and explication) over persuasion (and argumentation) is important because whereas persuasion implies a degree of individual bias, understanding reinforces the ideal of an objective reality captured in language. Discovery, as Berlin notes in Rhetoric and Reality, is essential: meaning is found and then expressed, not created in process (6-8). The writer does not invent or design meaning, he or she transmits it, and the expression of this truth is the central problem of the student as professional-to-be. The UEC contends that, “A body of knowledge is never brought to its most concise and valuable form until it is transmitted into writing” (3). Thus, the UEC authors argue, even if you come to school fluent in English, precise grammatical knowledge is crucial:
Even the person who has always heard perfect grammar from those with whom he has associated, and who can usually distinguish a correct from an incorrect form merely by deciding what sounds right, needs to learn grammar. For all of us, the study of grammar, the systematic description of the ways of the English language, is necessary before we can be sure that what we speak or write is correct. “Grammar … is a set of tools for shaping one’s language into a correct and logically sound medium of expression” (50).
Intuition is not enough, any more than it is for the scientist who must do more than simply sense that something is true. Science must provide evidence that can be shared. Effective exposition based on objective standards can itself do the work of persuasion; scientists know because they have seen the facts. Grammar, arising out of the scientific study of the ways of the English language, provides objective proof of the propriety of Standard English. Science has demonstrated the importance of learning to write in college, the authors argue, and investigation after investigation, each carried on with scientific objectivity, proves the truth of it (10).
As in any profession, the writer must undergo a difficult apprenticeship, learning the value of hard work, efficiency, and dedication:
The order of the list of adjectives expresses the hierarchy of values: one aims to write correctly and thus beautifully. In addition, effective writing requires the widest familiarity with the available tools of the trade, as it were, and so vocabulary is indispensable. The authors quote Johnson O’Connor, on the efficacy of the acquisition of a wide vocabulary:
Again, it is science, here of Human Engineering, which warrants this ideology of language acquisition, and so justifies the work of learning vocabulary. Science, in turn, as I have argued, is itself warranted by the ideals of merit in a democratic society.
A rhetoric of persuasion, in contrast, must recognize that language is always at least potentially guided by subjective bias, and that meaning is co-created in a complex interaction between writer, audience, and text. In Rhetoric and Reality, Berlin calls this view a transactional theory of language. Berlin argues that, while non-objective rhetorics have always been present in composition theory, they did not reach a position of real influence until well after the 1940s.
An objective rhetoric, however, rationalizes communication as a more or less simple matter of understanding what tools are available, which are necessary given the task at hand, and then employing them to accomplish factual communication. If students are defined as co-producers of meaning, an entire array of complexity arises, not least of which is the formal properties of language. As professionals in the making, however, who must locate and employ objective knowledge, the task is simpler if no less arduous, and the student can remain a fundamentally passive recipient—and transmitter-to-be—of received knowledge.The knowledge represented by the UEC can be described as a hyper-rationalized model of the English language. The extensive use of lists, rules and schematics reinforces the conflation of fluency and professional expertise. Grammar is relentlessly divided and then subdivided again, in what seems an infinite series. The sections describing nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and infinitives all include instructions for diagramming. Words are broken down into three main categories of meaning (not exclusive of prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections). Usage has six levels (The Common, Literary, Technical, Colloquial, Slang, and Illiteracy). Prose discourse has four forms, again, perhaps in order of importance
The notion of hard work implicit in the rationalization of language plays an important ideological role in the UEC’s description of the work of learning to write. In a meritocracy social status is just insofar as it is earned. The harder you work, the more you earn, and an investment of time and effort into the accumulation of cultural capital yields the profits of increased status. The laborious work of language requires, too, that the UEC offer frequent warnings about the necessity for vigilance; improper grammar can have disastrous personal, professional, social, and even economic effects. Many definition problems, the writers explain, can be resolved with a dictionary. As might be expected, the UEC offers advice on buying and using this important tool, advising students that a good dictionary is one that is written accurately and scientifically (130). In the end, however, the meaning of words is arbitrary, even if assigned through a variety of objectively valid historical and social processes, rather than by individual decision or whim. This is a particularly acute problem with abstract terminology:
This gentleman’s agreement on the meaning of words extends to the choices of specific terms—decisions which the UEC argues depend especially on social circumstances—and demands a precise understanding of slight nuances of meaning.
Here the authors discuss the coloration of synonyms of the word walk, emphasizing that nuance reflects precision:
The meanings of words are based in the gentleman’s agreement of social convention and the assigning of meaning is as logical as the gentleman scholars themselves. The existence of an objective world—measured, defined, expressed—means that mistakes, misrepresentations of fact, are possible. Language, in short, is a human institution (unlike the objective world), and like all human institutions is subject to errors that the student, and the professional, must avoid. There is, in short, an objective world out there, and the struggle for an accurate representation of it is central to the human enterprise.
If the popular ethos dominates the UEC in every way, the beautiful nevertheless has its place. The beautiful, or what might be more accurately called the non-useful, is associated not simply with the formalist aesthetics of style, but with social, non-quantifiable knowledge generally. As with Crofts, aesthetics is held under a kind of suspicion closely related to an overly subjective epistemology. The study of rhetoric, the authors contend, while grounded in the necessity for precision and efficiency in communication, also embraces what I have called the genteel tradition, of the educated middle-class:
Again, the mastery of the mother tongue, must come before both specialized technical knowledge, and the students’ understanding of human relationships, the social world, and their cultural heritage. The useful is the foundation on which the beautiful—the non-useful, but still unavoidable—is constructed.
The UEC’s lists, schematics, and rules provide a framework into which the authors have inserted a variety of texts that serve to illustrate and to reinforce the social and linguistic values of a prescriptive grammar. Each text is introduced briefly in the context of the lesson under discussion, and many are followed by exercises. The section on verbals is illustrated with the essay Some Participles I Have Met, by Eugene S. McCarthy, and concludes with a series of seven Suggestions for Study (123). Although some belles lettres selections are included (Twain, Macaulay, De Maupassant, and the like), the texts are said to be chosen primarily for their professional relevance:
The purple patches of (literary) prose are to be avoided both because they represent texts or desires with other than expository purposes, and because they are unrelated to the narrowly defined goals of professional education. In addition, as elsewhere, the standards of students’ writing are defined in terms of objective processes of validation; the order of adjectives suggests the hierarchy of values:
Interestingly, creativity is equated with the professionalization of writing, and with a level of craft that the student is unlikely to find necessary or to achieve. This too, reflects a curriculum in which writing in particular, and communication in American English generally, comes first and more often than literary studies. Here, as elsewhere, the progressive emphasis on professional expertise, defined as an ethos rather than an aesthetic, takes precedence.
This is not to say, however, that the UEC completely ignores issues of style, or the necessity of understanding your audience:
As Berlin notes, current-traditionalist rhetorics recognize that objective knowledge, if presented in the wrong way, can lose its audience to boredom. Crofts too, emphasized the importance of aesthetics, properly contained, in marketing his textbook. Writing can best reach its audience if it reflects the writer’s original engagement through drawing on emotions associated with a pleasurable activity. Interest, moreover, is closely associated with efficiency and with social propriety. In a selection titled “Dr. Johnson on Tediousness,” James Boswell tells the story of Johnson’s reaction to an overly long narrative whose simple point was that “the Counsel upon Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas” (661).
The counsel could have more simply and efficiently communicated his point; his slip undermines the transmission of fact, which ought to be his goal, and distorts the importance of his message, reflecting poorly on his character and status.
every way, then, the UEC embodies the genteel traditions of the
American professional middle-class, stressing Lynn Z. Bloom’s
baker’s dozen of social values (self-reliance, responsibility;
respectability; decorum, propriety; moderation and temperance; thrift;
efficiency; order; cleanliness; punctuality; delayed gratification;
and critical thinking). In the UEC’s representation of
the struggle for cultural nobility, the useful would contain the beautiful;
the authors assume, of course, that this struggle has already been won.
As Crofts suggests, this containment of beauty is at the same time an
encasement of what were thought to be dangerously subjective political
aspirations. As an objective rhetoric, the UEC contends that
the concise communication of the external world is a moral and ethical
Crofts’ notions of the market and Berlin’s ideas of the theory of language that underlies a current-traditional rhetoric can each be seen as reinforcing a pedagogy of composition rooted in a self-justifying professional methodology. Put another way, as professionals each promoted the very forms of cultural capital they had successfully invested in professional occupations. Here, as I have noted, a pragmatic educational philosophy prevailed over a traditional liberal arts approach, and the useful came to encompass the beautiful. Barrow’s detailed analysis of the “industrialization of the U.S. university” illustrates that this ideological and epistemological formulation would have found a ready audience in the corporate reformers of the day. Language, in the UEC, is as fundamentally rationalized as the institutions in which it was to be taught. Ironically, of course, both in institutional arrangement and in disciplinary discourse this relationship is turned on its head: literature is the “higher” pursuit, and professors of English are better paid than adjuncts in composition. Yet, the popular aesthetic, in itself, can provide only the rudimentary means of distinguishing between the kinds of cultural capital that mark significant differences within the middle-class. All professionals are supposed to share a proper grammar, but other forms of cultural capital are distributed unequally, even among the middle class. This helps to explain why within English departments instruction in those distinctions of what Bourdieu calls the formalist aesthetics was left largely to (later) literary pedagogy. Freshman composition also served as the opening gambit in the sorting processes that, for example, would eventually produce English majors. Mastery of its ethos, assessed in every college course, helps shape students’ professional destinies.
In the logic of the traditional curricular sequence, the popular ethos was first refined through composition pedagogy, and then transformed through literary instruction. The degree of exposure to the latter is determined by success or failure in the former. Not all of the middle class, in other words, in a system of specialized knowledge, shares similar forms of linguistic cultural capital more generally, and the hierarchy of economic capital more or less accurately reflects the hierarchy of cultural capital. Literature, as many writers have noted, is a more prestigious subject than composition, and professors are better compensated than adjuncts and graduate students. The study of literature is also more difficult, and so fewer students are likely to be capable of its intellectual rigors. The economic game of class mobility, in fact, entails more than mere technical competence in linguistic cultural capital; it demands an aesthetic sensibility. In this sense, these narratives of freshman English and composition cannot tell the entire story of the cultural capital of a university education, or of the corresponding system of status gradations and academic values.
The UEC, in Hagge’s terms, is anthropologically complex in that it is linguistically prescriptive and concerned with the preservation—if not creation—of a learned and genteel professional image. [i] In A Foreword to Students, the authors contend that good writing must prioritize accurate communication, but that what is communicated is not simply thought:
The genteel tradition that would avoid the bad connotations of improper usage is important insofar as it is useful in effective (accurate) communication. In this sense, a useful grammatical knowledge said to facilitate the precise transmission of thought is given pedagogical dominion over the genteel tradition, which justifies the importance of avoiding bad grammar, faulty sentence construction, and incorrect diction. The student’s first concern ought to be linguistic propriety, and the social effects necessarily follow. What is most beautiful socially is what is most useful linguistically: the clear expression of ideas (and of social status) through a proper grammar. The aesthetic pleasure of a professional report or official letter, as well as its social efficacy, lies in its crisp conveyance of thought and adherence to grammatical propriety.
The foundation of all communication—even of the precise transmission of social status itself—is grammatical accuracy:
In writing, the authors warn, the writer creates a social calling card if not a Döppelganger, and its appearance can reflect badly on its creator. One might consider here the professional and social impact if my father’s professional writing had presented an incoherent or incomplete analysis to the city council. My father, too, seemed to believe that a vivid account of the powerful social and economic pre-determinations of his childhood was either inappropriate or unnecessary in his letter to the Veteran’s Administration. Again, the writing and the writer are invisible and the facts do the talking.
Along with the personal and professional costs of bad grammar, the UEC authors contend, grammatical imprecision can have economic effects, illustrated through a characteristically over-literal, if not apocryphal, anecdote:
Socially, bad grammar and the resulting miscommunication—in ideas or in status—may be embarrassing and awkward, like wearing high yellow shoes at a formal ball, but economically and professionally, they can lead to substantial, that is, to economic disaster. [ii] Class stability is predicated on the successful acquisition of a proper grammar; it’s no exaggeration to say that my father’s job and his social capital as a professional depended on this investment of time and energy.
The overall structure of the UEC further emphasizes the importance of proper grammar over its social significance as a marker of an educated, middle-class status. Here, as in Crofts’ description of his marketing strategies, aesthetic considerations must not overwhelm the ethic of objectivity. An understanding of the genteel tradition of social status is a less important goal in learning, this implies, than technical knowledge as such. If the latter is mastered, the former will come as a matter of course. The UEC for example has two major sections, Orientation and Grammar. The opening chapter of the first section, A Forward to Students, frames the student’s work in terms of the pedagogical aims of the course. The second chapter, The Manuscript, discusses the basics of academic writing, including detailed instructions for everything from the folding of papers, to legibility, to plagiarism.
Again, the authors use remarkably over-literal examples, often related to class. Here an analogy with a thieving servant makes their point: “The specific idea of another person … is his property, just as much as a piece of silverware he might own” (10). Ideas are equated with property, and despite the complexities of discourse in an academic community, use of these ideas reduced to theft. The third chapter, “Reading,” argues for the importance of reading in a course devoted to writing. Subsections include a description of types of reading, a discussion of reading speeds, and analysis of words, sentences and paragraphs as they relate to comprehension. Yet these initial sections, specifically related to knowledge associated with cultural status, only take up the first 50 of 733 pages (excluding the 126 page appendix of grammatical exercises). The bulk of the textbook, as the section title “Grammar” indicates, emphasizes the acquisition of technical competence in language. Individual learning, this implies, not socio-economic class, most decisively shapes linguistic competence.
Here, Hagge’s “anthropological complexity” reflects a historical transformation of the (educational form of) cultural capital in which the beautiful is collapsed into the useful, the formalist aesthetic into a popular ethos. The curricular dominance of the genteel tradition, once thought to be best learned on the job (or at home), is now to be the primary focus of composition instruction in school. Although the UEC includes readings (texts that might be said to represent an effort at educating the student into a genteel tradition), these readings are structurally related back to the grammatical section in which they are placed. The authors explicitly reject Arnold’s famous dictate of the best that has been thought and written, in favor of more pragmatic, that is, professionally (and pedagogically) useful, texts. Rather than choose a short story from Washington Irving, for example, in the section on Unity, Coherence, and Emphasis, the authors present a selection from The Author’s Account of Himself. Presumably, students could find parallels between Irving’s education and travels and their own aspirations. Other selections are even more explicitly related to undergraduate experience, as is the essay “Work Your Way Through College?” by N.E. Steele and R.C. Hutchinson (449). Perhaps most literary of all in the traditional sense of the term is the section called Description, which includes short selections from Charles Dickens, Thomas Wolfe, O’Henry, and Herman Melville, among others (628).
In the UEC students are asked to study texts—both literary and otherwise—in order to further their understanding of language and grammar, not to study language and grammar in order to more fully understand texts. Aesthetics is at the service of the useful, and the formal properties of any text are only important insofar as they either do or do not facilitate communication. Similarly, a fully achieved proper grammar underwrites social status, rather than social status determining what is grammatically proper. What’s more, the authority of this grammar is scientific, and so said to be independent of any particular individual, economic or social interest. In this sense the grammatical is closely related to the democratic ideas of the progressive era, which held that anyone who is willing to work hard can succeed, no matter what his or her social status. The first line of the UEC’s Orientation proclaims its confidence in these ideas in its typically chauvinist style: “Experience and evidence prove that a student with fair intelligence can master any subject in which he takes enough interest” (1). With fair intelligence and enough interest, cultural capital can be earned rather than inherited. Bourdieu terms the idea that intelligence is no more than a gift of nature an ideology of charisma (Distinction 1). Here, however, charisma can, at least in part, be earned.
The pedagogy of the UEC is best understood in terms of a running battle between a pragmatic, vocational educational philosophy and one that would accentuate the professional’s genteel image. This configuration, as Bourdieu suggests, teaches a process of communication… an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code (Distinction 2). “One can say,” Bourdieu concludes, “to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir), or concepts, the code, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are, as it were, programmes for perception (2). Grammatically correct language, the UEC suggests, is the program for perception, a code though which we understand and enact writing and social status. Here “we” refers, however idealistically and provisionally, to every member of the democratic state. As Barrow shows, this same epistemology was deployed in a successful effort to create a corporate model of the university where publishers such as Crofts could successfully market their products.
The pedagogy of the UEC also embodies what Bourdieu terms a definition of the legitimate relation to culture and to works of art, and therefore … the conditions of acquisition of which these dispositions are the product (Distinction 2). Current-traditional rhetoric, as an objectivist epistemology, became the dominant form of cultural capital represented by composition studies at least partly because it was thought to be consistent with the popular ethos that governs professional discourse. Progressive reform used a similar ideology of professional expertise and objectivity in order to create a modern, professionally managed educational institution. At the same time, as the UEC suggests, the popular ethos provided the framework on which aesthetic appreciation was built. Objective rhetorics do not simply dismiss persuasion and aesthetics as irrelevant they suggest that, as subjective art, they are problematic at best, particularly in a professional context. Students are to use the textbook, the authors of the UEC imply, not to develop their cultural sensitivities (that comes later in the curriculum), but to acquire the linguistic competence necessary (in their view) in middle-class professions. Aesthetics, this implies, plays only a small, dependent role in professional life, whatever its function in the larger society.
In this sense the UEC itself reflects the composition of cultural capital of the English department, a formation in which the popular ethos comes first in sequence, and yet second in status; writing is in this way defined as only the first stage of the inculcation of a habitus. And, of course, successive stages are also processes of elimination as students pass through successive junctures of evaluation. Professional writing does not attempt to persuade but to report facts; texts are aesthetically valued, if at all, only because they are objectively accurate. In this sense, an objective rhetoric has to be understood as a kind of victory against the “genteel tradition” that had long limited access to the cultural capital represented by an education. At the same time, it was a defeat for composition at the hands of literary professionals. The continuing dominance of this rhetoric reminds us that this is a victory that must be won time and time again; cultural capital can be acquired in the home, but unlike economic capital, it cannot be directly inherited. Behind the class biases that so often accompany an uncritical approach to writing instruction lie profoundly democratic impulses of making cultural capital widely available. And beneath that ideal lies a pragmatic and arguably successful institutional strategy for dealing with the logistics and costs of rapid expansion.
[i] Hagge’s study is based on textbooks published between 1910 and 1925. The UEC was first published in 1942, but as I hope will become evident, it represents no radical break in the traditions Hagge discusses.
[ii] The term High Yellow was a colloquialism in the American South for light-skinned mulatto women. The racial and gender metaphor seems to overlap here with a class bias. In any case, the metaphor recalls that, in some senses, the UEC was pedagogy of and for the white American male as much as of the middle class. Clearly, race, gender, as well as class have always played an important ideological role in American society, especially in regards to access to higher education. I would contend, however, that while racial and gender segregation helps to shape the distribution of cultural capital and the specific content of that capital, the meritocratic, professional ideal as such does not preclude the inclusion of non-white males. Arguably, even in post-Jim Crow American society, this ideal shapes both the system of higher education generally, and multi-cultural curriculum of many Freshman English courses more specifically.
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