|Beyond Economics: Intersections and Opportunities with Adam Smith in the Writing and Rhetoric Classroom Page 2 of 8|
Building a Bridge, Making Connections: Opportunities with Adam Smith in a Writing Classroom
The WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition adopted by the Council of Writing Program Administrators calls for skills in the following areas: Rhetorical Knowledge; Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing; Processes; Knowledge of Conventions; and Composing in Electronic Environments. Under the “Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing” heading there are four learning outcomes:
At the same time The WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition were revised in July 2008, US Department of Education data reveals fifty percent of all undergraduate degrees awarded in 2008 and 2009 were divided between five areas of study: business, social sciences and history, health professions, education, and psychology. Linear-track business degrees were the most popular; thus, writing instructors, like myself, may find themselves in classrooms with students not interested in writing or who may not see the relevancy of writing coursework to the real-world jobs that they intend to obtain upon graduation. This can place instructors in a position of arguing for the relevancy of their work in an English Department to the work of students in a business school. Yet by using Adam Smith in the classroom, an economics or finance student may be more interested in learning about the rhetoric and mechanics of writing or research since Smith relates to their field of interest. As Smith was also a moral philosopher, teacher, public lecturer, and writer, students from other degree programs may also find “father of capitalism” an interesting topic worthy of further consideration. Smith can serve as a vehicle for connections between a writing course and business course, between a liberal arts education and a business degree, between rhetoric and economics, between education and philosophy, between history and current events.
David Glenn, in a piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, contends that “student disengagement” in business education courses is contributing to low achievement. He explores this point further by quoting Jerry M. Kopf, a management professor at Radford: “Getting students alert and motivated—even getting them to class . . . it’s a challenge.” According to Glenn’s research, “History and philosophy . . . provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students.” In this same vein, Robert E. Wright contends: “History should be taught . . . because the past becomes the present much more seamlessly than skeptics of history concedes. . . . professors should show [students] when and how to examine the past for help in their decision making” (697-8). Giving students the opportunity to explore portions of Smith’s 18th-century texts presents evidence of the value of close reading, critical thinking, and the opportunities within our field to connect the work of rhetorical historians to contemporary society. This also allows our students to see how facts and theories can be misappropriated and incorrectly represented.