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Compositions in the New Liberal Arts

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The problem with implementing writing-intensive (or writing-emphasis) liberal arts general education (GE) courses is as evident as it is underacknowledged; that is, this seemingly well-bounded, modest reform involves significant change-on multiple levels and for multiple players in complex institutional and disciplinary activity systems. We know a little about such issues: Writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) programs are often said to present new challenges for teachers, such as a felt tension between the demands of teaching writing and covering content, and the need for substantial background in writing pedagogy (Russell, "Writing in the Academic Disciplines). Although such tensions are both urgent and real, they do not reflect the depth and range of changes a movement to discipline-based writing can entail-in terms of institutional traditions, departmental modes of operation, classroom practice, and students' understandings. And it is crucial to remember that liberal arts courses are almost always in some discipline. Michael Fullan's work on educational change suggests that although

these processes may appear "technically simple," they are in fact "socially complex" (The New Meaning 5), invoking individual and collective feelings of "loss, anxiety, and struggle" (The New Meaning 31; Fullan Change Forces). When attempting change, cautions Fullan, a good rule of thumb is to "assume that changing the culture of institutions is the real agenda, not implementing single innovations" (The New Meaning 107).


This chapter is published as Russell, David R. and Arturo Yañez. "'The World is Too Messy': The Challenge of Historical Literacy in a General-Education Course." Composition(s) in the New Liberal Arts. Eds. Joanna Castner Post and James A. Inman. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009. Posted with permission.

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Hampton Press



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