Composition Studies, Again

Today the University Press of Colorado is celebrating it's 50th anniversary with 50% off books. (code: 50for50).  I was led there by a composition scholar and found a number of books on composition - teaching writing - that were very complex, theoretical, very rich explorations of theory and practice. 

This was exciting and I spent too much money, as usual. At the same time it's very sad. We have nothing like this for public speaking or debate or even argumentation. We have textbooks that teach genre and form, and do it in a very direct, simplistic way.

Where are the rich discussions about teaching debate and what happens to students when they are taught to argue in class? What happens when you have in-class debate assignments? What are the subject positions of the speakers, listeners, and the teacher? Do these categories even obtain anymore? 

One of the books I ordered was the application of avant garde theory to the teaching of writing. Such a book would be unimaginable in public speaking or in a debate course. In most argumentation courses, students are assigned to write a "letter to the editor," as if argumentation was cross listed with historical anachronism. A simple google search indicates just how basic our argumentation courses are compared with first year writing courses. 

We need more scholarly and critical engagement with the act of teaching oral composition, speech, argumentation, and debate. I wonder where these books are. I wonder why they are not being written. I wonder how and why composition professors are so motivated by their students' work and writing, and the politics of the act of teaching, and in speech communication we are not. We try to avoid teaching public speaking. On top of that, we treat public speaking as something like jury duty - you have to show up, but you can get out of it if you have a pretty good reason. 

What would it take to get scholars interested in public speaking and debate the same way that composition scholars are interested in composition? 

Step one is to significantly diminish the tournament as the centerpiece of the college debate experience.

Step two is the development of speech and debate across the curriculum style programs, staffed mostly by debate students, with writing center elements. 

But before any of this, it will take a nearly impossible act to get things started, which is turning the attention of speech communication scholars to the public speaking course, or the basic course, or the debate team as a viable, rich and interesting site for scholarly inquiry.