“Syllabus for Freshman Composition (English 01, 1, 2): Second Semester, 1946-47” was written in the fall of 1946 for teachers at Washington State College in Pullman, WA (now Washington State University). English 01 was basic writing, a two-hour, no-credit course for students whose essay on the local placement examination showed major problems in mechanics. English 1 and English 2 were the fall and spring components of the regular first-year writing sequence, required of all students except those exempted from it by the placement examination. The school was on a semester system, and although the committee authors of this teacher handbook indicate there would soon be a shift to the quarter system, it never happened. Some time in the next decade the requirement of two semesters of first-year composition was changed to one semester, in part so that the English faculty could teach a 3/3 load.
Only two authors of these guidelines are known for sure. One was Paul P. Kies, who co-authored with Valeda Brockway and Ella Clark A Writer’s Manual and Workbook (Crofts, various editions, 1933-1964) and A Brief Rhetoric (Lymanhouse, 1939), and who, locally at least, was famous for his collection of autographs. The other known committee member was Albert R. Kitzhaber, one of most influential figures in post-WWII composition studies, author of Education for College: Improving the High School Curriculum (Ronald Press, 1961), Handbook for Basic Composition (Prentice-Hall, 1961), Themes, Theories, and Therapy: Teaching of Writing in College (McGraw-Hill, 1963), Reform in English (NCTE, 1965), plus many books on literature, language, and writing for high-school students, President of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (1959), President of the National Council of Teachers of English (1963). In 1946 Kitzhaber was earning his MA at Washington State after a number of years teaching high school. How much of a hand he had in writing “Syllabus for Freshman Composition” is not known, although some of the pedagogy sounds much like his, such as the opposition to teaching by the modes (which shows up in Rhetoric in American Colleges: 1850-1900, the influential dissertation he wrote at University of Washington in 1953, reprinted by Southern Methodist University Press in 1990. An historical aside: Kitzhaber’s son, John A. Kitzhaber, who became a controversial, conservationist governor of Oregon, was born in Colfax, WA (where Kitzhaber lived while going to WSC) the year after these instructor guidelines were issued.
For composition studies, “Syllabus for Freshman Composition” is of historical interest because it provides such a detailed view of college writing just after WWII. The coverage ranges from pedagogy to classroom practices to daily syllabus. It contains teaching advice that mingles traditional methods, to be expected in 1946, with surprising contemporary methods. On the traditional side: “avoidance of error” as the main objective in basic writing, the ownership of student papers by the teacher, the marking of papers for surface error with only “a few substantive comments,” the brevity of assigned essays (the “long” paper in English 2 was little more than four typed pages), ” the insistence on impromptu, in-class essays, the focus on semantics in English 2, and, stylistically, the unapologetic use of the universal “he.” On the contemporary side: the recommendation of a folder or portfolio system for evaluation, the recommendation of peer-critique groups, the explicit expulsion of fictional literature from the courses (“especially should any consideration of plotting and short-story technique be excluded”), the expulsion of modes or “techniques” (“To present certain facts about the meal-ticket dispute, to answer an argument about slot machines, or to apply ideas about freedom of the press to the college or home-town newspaper, is a more challenging sort of problem than to write a definition or a comparison or an enumeration”), the encouragement of open class discussion, and need to appeal to the student’s motivation to communicate, only through which “composition be made a really stimulating subject.”
This text of ““Syllabus for Freshman Composition” was re-typed from a copy of the poorly mimeographed 24-page original. Format and pagination of the original are strictly retained. Thanks to Sue McLeod for rescuing the copy from periodic cleaning out of department files at Washington State University.
RH, Nov. 2006