Disruptive Documents: Linda Brodkey and the ‘Troubles at Texas’

Chapter two points out a model of public engagement in the field of rhetoric and composition’s past to showcase the nuanced and layered ways academics have gone public in debates about writing and writing instruction. Specifically, this chapter highlights the public discourse surrounding the controversy at the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 1990, where composition scholar Linda Brodkey came under severe public scrutiny over her disruptive redesign of the freshman writing course “English 306: Writing About Difference.” I consult primary texts in the form of the UT student newspaper, the Daily Texan, and other national newspapers covering the controversy including the Austin American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, and New York Times, in addition to other popular publications, underground magazines, media accounts, and academic scholarship. From this archive I argue that Brodkey’s redesign was deeply disruptive, despite evidence that the UT student body was generally receptive of a writing course focused primarily on difference. The fierce opposition to English 306 and the institutional backlash that resulted in her departure from the university, moreover, should not be seen as a failure, for her disruptive curricula created reverberations throughout UT’s institutional culture and the culture of the field of rhetoric and composition more broadly that can still be felt today. Rereading the Battle of Texas through rhetorical and historical contexts allows for a more thorough understanding of the role of disruption as a form of public engagement available to rhetoric and composition specialists.

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