Review of Coming of Age: The Advanced Writing Curriculum

Coming of AgeEds. Linda K. Shamoon, Rebecca Moore Howard, Sandra Jamieson, and Robert A. Schwegler
Boynton/Cook 2000
ISBN: 0-86709-567-9     $23.00 (paper)    179 pp. and CD-ROM

Review by Laura Bartlett
University of Louisville

As Robert Connors writes in his afterword to Coming of Age: The Advanced Writing Curriculum, this book “proposes and provides a program for an entirely new conception of undergraduate literacy education, one based on the centrality of writing rather than literature.  This conception will be, in fact, the alternative English major for the twenty-first century” (147).

Coming of Age is specifically written for those who are striving to develop an advanced undergraduate writing curriculum. However, all compositionists would benefit from reading this book.  It provides a stunning collection of essays from rhetoric and composition scholars who reflect upon the history of composition in the university, theorize the need for growth, propose advanced writing courses, and suggest strategies for implementing an advanced writing curriculum.

The essays in Part One, “Redirecting the Field from Advanced Composition to Advanced Writing,” review the history of composition and assess the field's current state of affairs.  The authors identify a disturbing gap in composition studies between first year composition courses and rhetoric and composition graduate programs.

Parts Two and Three, “Considering Options for Core Courses in Advanced Writing” and “Considering Options for Elective Courses in Advanced Writing,” suggest models of undergraduate writing courses that fill this gap and, thus, move beyond writing instruction solely for the purpose of skills enhancement or teacher-training.  The essays collected in this section describe courses that explicitly make “writing” their subject and area of inquiry.  As the authors describe course goals and assignments, they discuss the theories of language, composition, and pedagogy informing the course design.  Collectively, they describe courses that help students gain a metalinguistic awareness, an historical context, and theoretical backgrounds.  Although these authors describe upper-level courses, they address themes and topics that many instructors introduce in first year composition and provide a wealth of assignment ideas, bibliographies, and course goals that could be modified for any level course, whether first year or graduate level.

Part Four, “Designing and Protecting the Advanced Writing Program,” gathers narratives from compositionists who have successfully implemented writing concentrations and majors.  While recounting the specific conditions of their programs and universities, these authors offer practical strategies and subtle wisdom for other departments working toward similar changes.

The most disappointing aspect of Coming of Age is the organization of proposed courses into content areas--disciplinary, professional, and civic--which sometimes seems arbitrary and inaccurate.  Additionally, the essays are further separated into "core" courses (which appear in full text only in the printed book) and "elective" courses (which appear in full text only on the CD-ROM).  This division of essays between CD-ROM and printed text may frustrate some readers, and although the editors have chosen this innovative format, they don't fully exploit its advantages.

The essays in the book engage many of the important issues in composition studies: the history of composition studies; the role of composition instruction in the university and in society; the relationship--past, present, and future--between literature and composition; abolition of first year composition; and theories of writing.  Importantly, many of the essays describe courses that realize the potential of composition studies by inviting our students into the debates surrounding these issues.  As the title suggests, the advanced writing curriculum marks the “Coming of Age” of Rhetoric and Composition.  Both the book as a whole and the individual essays make the argument that the time has come for a composition curriculum that enables students to assume a professional identity as a writer and share the knowledge of our discipline.

| introduction | CD-ROM | organization | contributors | 1 | 2 & 3 | 4 |