James Moffett: “Unhealed wounds and undeveloped souls will thwart the smartest curriculum.”

James Moffett responding to three papers based on presentations at the panel on spiritual sites of composing at the 1992 CCCC:

You can say that the business of colleges is something else, that those people who want spiritual sides of composing can continue to take workshops or form private groups. Public institutions are concerned with public matters. So college composition courses should continue to prepare stu-[end of page 260] dents to write term papers and do well on essay exams, that is, to fit into the institution’s evaluation system in  the other courses. Or, at a bit higher elevation, to do the kinds of writing that keep business and government and research moving (in whatever direction). Therapy and spiritual growth should be on your own time and don’t require a university.

But my pitch is not so much that the university should provide spiritual sites of composing for the sake of therapy and spirituality, which have done without universities since before the latter were founded, as that the university needs spiritual sites of composing for its own sake. For my point here, considering what therapy, spirituality, and the university’s mission are essentially about. I’ll designate them all three by one term, getting better — getting better in the sense of healing, getting better in the sense of becoming a finer person, and getting better in the sense of becoming more competent at some activity.

Now the university acts, and the writing program right along with it, as if getting better at doing something is really all it’s concerned with. But writing programs, and the universities along with them, will never get any better themselves so long as they don’t take together all three senses of this goal. People don’t learn to write well just to accommodate an institution and then the one after that, even if they try to and think they should. We get good at doing something as part of getting well and realizing our deepest being. I know, the university feels it shouldn’t play doctor or priest, dirty its hands with therapy and its mind with religion. But if it has real live students on its hands, its hands are already dirty. And the time has come for intellectuals to quit confusing spirituality with superstition and sectarianism. Unhealed wounds and undeveloped souls will thwart the smartest curriculum.

Moffett, James. “Responses.” College Composition and Communication 45.2 (May 1994).


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