I think next semester I’ll teach exercise science, sociology, and maybe physics. I think I know a little bit about these subjects. I exercise on a regular basis. I’ve read some sociology texts, and I do live in a society. I took physics in high school…
I’m not qualified you say?
Hmmm…. OK, how about this. I’m going to teach a writing course next semester. I think I know a little bit about writing. I write sometimes. I took a composition course or two when I was an undergrad twenty years.
Sure no problem. Go ahead. Good luck with your class.
And you wonder why students’ writing performance coming out of such courses is roughly analogous to the understanding of exercise science they would get from watching me strech?
I’ve blogged a couple times recently about a writing survey and summit taking place on campus. To reiterate, I think it’s great that we can have a conversation about this important issue. The results of the campus survey were recently made public here. Nothing surprising. Students write poorly. They don’t use proper grammar. They don’t make effective arguments. They need to read more. They need to be assigned more academic writing.
Yes, we need to keep doing what we’re doing but more so b/c the results we are getting so far are so great. That’s Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity, right?
It’s not that I can’t explain why this perception of student writing exists on campus. Nor is it that I can’t offer a range of tactices to help students improve their writing practices (after all we can all improve as writers, right?). It’s just that I can’t tell you how to do it in five minutes or five hours or five days or even five months.
It would take more like five years. And, not coincidently, that would be the amount of time I spent in graduate school earning my doctorate in writing. Curiously, the study of writing and the teaching of this subject are part of an actual academic discipline with courses, degrees, faculty positions, journals, conferences, and all that neat stuff. You could actually dedicate your professional life to the study of such matters.
Now some may say that it’s not realistic to hire writing PhD’s to teach all this writing. In fact, I’ve probably said that here before. Maybe, maybe not. But why is it realistic to hire chemists to teach chemistry and mathematicians to teach math and historians to teach history but not rhetoricians to teach writing?
Call me when you’re serious about improving writing instruction.