AH: In some of your work you've likened the contemporary academics' complaints about training students in various electronic media to Plato's complaints about training students to write. Now more composition textbooks are including visual texts, and even privilege visual texts. There are movies and podcasts being created in composition classrooms. Do you find that visual and other kinds of multimedia texts are being marginalized in the academy? Or do you think that what you've called "fifth-canon consciousness" is being raised sufficiently?
KW: Yes. I do think that fifth-canon consciousness is being raised. Look at Cynthia Selfe, Richard Selfe, Gail Hawisher, Laura Gurak, Barbara Warnick, Andrea Lunsford, Hugh Burns, Lillian Bridwell-Bowles (and I've left out a lot of people here). These scholars in composition and rhetoric have absolutely done marvelous work in this field. There is also Todd Taylor, whom I haven't met; I just keep seeing his incredible work. Yet what I see as I evaluate English departments around the country is an amazing recurrence of the Current-Traditional Paradigm. I see the five-paragraph theme or five-part theme with a focus on error correction, putting the teacher "the writing teacher" in the subject position of being really a police officer enforcing correctness. It's everywhere. We think that we have transcended it, moved beyond this 18th century construct. Sharon Crowley's The Methodical Memory: Invention in Current-Traditional Rhetoric (1990) shows where the methodical memory came from, how it takes hold, and why it's so difficult to get rid of. While important writing instruction is taking place all around the United States, at the same time, the Current-Traditional Paradigm keeps popping up. Sometimes it pops up in universities that have strong rhetoric and composition programs in English departments or in stand-alone departments because of the idea (which remains very strong in the United States) that anybody can be a writing teacher and that if you know how to write, if you're functionally and mildly critically literate, then you can teach writing.
I see a lot of work going on with the undergraduate and graduate students and various people doing exciting things with imaging. What I don't see is ... more coursework. What I've been promoting is a sophomore-level course in arguing with images. Learning argument is so hard. Learning enthymemes and syllogisms and how they morph is so profoundly difficult that you need more than the freshman writing sequence (and every college and university should have a year-long freshman writing requirement, in my view). Even if you're as good a writer as, say, Shakespeare, that's fine. You still need more work. We need a sophomore-level semester-long or quarter-long or two-quarter-long writing and imaging course taught by rhet/comp people or rhet/comp graduate students or other people who are trained by us in imaging. This could take place in a technology-rich classroom.
Of course, we all know that in the junior year, students need to be writing in the disciplines in which they've chosen to major, so we have to do more Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines. In the senior year, it's very important to do some kind of capstone thesis or continue to write. I think all the longitudinal studies have indicated that students who write formally and with professional response through their four college years are able to retain the work, and they're able to build complexity in the way they write.
There's a tremendous need for dissertations and M.A. theses in rhetoric and writing studies on these issues. The courses and curricula are there at many places. Ohio State comes to mind; Purdue also has a stunning program. Many of these—University of Texas, University of Oklahoma, University of Colorado, New Mexico State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Stanford—are doing exciting things with both writing and imaging. In other words, we need more required courses. We can't really add any more to the freshman writing course. It's so hard now [Laughs].