In composition and rhetoric, the scholarship and accompanying textbooks have developed and improved over the years, quite in advance of any putative tests in critical thinking (CLA), composition, design, or rhetoric. Compare Downs and Wardle’s Writing about Writing or Palmquist’s Joining the Conversation with traditional modes textbooks that are still with us. There have been advances in understanding of transfer learning, academic “mutt genres,” Genre Theory, Activity Theory, and the institutional place of comp-rhet outside the orbit of English Lit, which I think drives someone like Elizabeth Wardle to talk about re-orienting comp-rhet as an introduction to Writing Studies, rather than have it be a quixotic course on remediating all linguistic surface errors and creating disciplined critical readers with careful professional academic standards in sixteen weeks.
What keeps the old textbook approaches in circulation? 1) There are certainly some instructors whose professional opinion is that these approaches serve their purpose (there is nothing if not a diversity of approaches to writing pedagogy). 2) Textbook publishers keep producing what textbook committees want. 3) A majority contingent labor force doesn’t get involved in textbook selection, isn’t paid to develop opinions on the matter, and receives little or no professional development to pursue an investigation of the scholarship wherein they might have time in between shuttling from campus A parking lot to campus B parking lot to develop a variety of interesting and substantial opinions about writing studies, its research areas and pedagogy. 4) That leaves a department of full-time faculty, reduced in number, but still with full-time academic and institutional obligations, to keep up with the scholarship and available approaches, and to do that independent of the tender mercies of the textbook publishers who are eager to offer their opinions about the right textbooks for that college or university’s local conditions. 5) In some, probably suspect institutions, administrators, or even faculty outside the discipline, who may have little actual familiarity with the scholarship, but with full power to decide what gets taught and how, might take upon themselves some sort of say in the matter. These factors all give weight to people’s received initial graduate training and perceptions about writing that may be decades old in terms of ever having any familiarity with issues in writing studies.
The miracle is that any innovative pedagogy and textbooks informed by current research get out in front of the institutional and economic inertia.
Comment at The Academic Blog.