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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | The Glass of Time »

December 06, 2008



I wish you taught me!

John Thomas McGuire

I agree that we need to take student composition more seriously, although I wonder if we can improve anyone to a significant extent once they graduate from high school. In addition, I have noticed certain English departments react to the idea of teaching student composition with contempt.

Professor Zero

Teaching English comp or comp in any language is actually fun, creative, and gratifying if:

a. you accept the fact that the students' initial grasp of the language is whatever it is;

b. you can actually choose materials and make assignments which fit the interests and needs of the class(es) you have;

c. you have few enough students so that you don't get overwhelmed with the volume and variety of problems you must address.

The most important point is (c), so I think the desperation over comp is a in large part a labor problem.


Also: Spanish professors don't complain about the subjunctive because our problem is also that students haven't absorbed what one would think might have been learned in a composition course in any language. That is for many of us the underlying problem.

And: there are horrors in 101 classes in English, foreign languages, and math ... science gets out of it by having courses for non majors, and at many schools social sciences either do something similar or something machine graded. So one is left with what amount to serious problems with the acquisition of language and system SHOWING UP in English, foreign languages, and math.

And: those are the courses most often outsourced.

And: English, well it's the common language, so people freak out when students whose native language it is are not really competent in it.


In my department (music history), there is some complaining about students being unprepared when they arrive--not only are many of them not proficient in writing in English, we occasionally get one who barely reads music.

Fortunately, the second half of the complaint is always "we have to work so much harder to compensate." We have to assume that none of our students have any knowledge of mythology, visual art, or European history, and find ways to incorporate those explanations into lecture, even if it means less time spent on the music itself.


Also, though (and I keep coming back to this post because this issue of Profession bothered me for various reasons) - when people say, we need to take comp., or anything 101 more seriously, they often don't follow up by thinking about curriculum, goals, etc. With unprepared students, or with a course / articulation issue that is a constant problem, you just have to think about addressing the structure in which the problem exists and which probably produces it. It's not about just being more tolerant, as an individual, of individual students' unpreparednesses.

(I actually think I sin in the other direction, which is why articles about needing to become yet more tolerant grate. I was also bothered by the Barsky article in Profession because I only *wish* I were in a position to do what he says without having the denizens of David Horowitz descend upon me.)

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