The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
– Langston Hughes
The ENG 101 syllabus of one of my former students states the following:
Students who pass the course will be able to do the following:
- Use appropriate rhetorical development (such as analysis, comparison/contrast, interpretation and argument) to respond to the central ideas of an assigned text
- Paraphrase sentences and short passages from reading texts
- Analyze a written assignment
- Develop essays of varying length and complexity that incorporate ideas from texts
- Use a variety of sentence patterns, indicating a generally mature style
- Evaluate effectiveness of their own writing via feedback from professor, peers and self to produce a rigorous revision
- Use vocabulary that conveys meaning accurately and appropriately for a college student
The thing is, I send my students out of my classroom with those skills. I send them out of the classroom with more than those skills.
As we fast-approach the end of the school year, my senior students are practicing their ability to analyze texts at their linguistic, semantic, structural and cultural levels and then apply various schools of literary criticism to find deeper meaning.
To their future professors, I say, challenge them.
We have been. It’s fun; trust me.
I’ve read plenty of articles denouncing the abhorrent linguistic skills with which college freshmen enter their university experiences.
Get over it.
Perhaps the problem lies not in the skills of the students but in the work they are being asked to complete.
On this same syllabus, the workload of the course is outlined:
In this class, you will write and revise 5 full-length essays plus write an in-class essay for a final exam. These will range in length from 3 pages (early essays) and gradually lengthen to 5 pages (last take-home essay).
My favorite implication in the above is the idea that an essay of 5 pages in length is somehow superior in content than an essay of 3 pages in length. I love the COSTCO approach to writing in bulk. It’s an excellent lesson to teach our students that more writing equals better writing.
Of particular note is the fact that the learning described in this syllabus will bore students to tears. Many high school teachers have gotten the memo that technology and 21st-century learning open up the ability for our students to learn and produce artifacts of their learning in varied and complex ways. And, we’re doing it while sticking to the content of yesterday as well. My G11 students will have written 12 analytical essays by the end of the year. Each of those papers will have centered around a thesis statement that is unique, inciteful and debatable – not to mention self-created.
Professors should also know they’re working and revising on google docs with peer feedback, building a portfolio of work on which they reflect at the end of each quarter. Their writing process is transparent, collaborative and authentic.
When the syllabus states, “Essays must be submitted to me in paper form (not email)…” I want to email the professor asking, “Why?” I reconsider, remembering this professor’s aversion to such correspondence.
My argument is simply this, whomever is designing the curriculum and pedagogy for the nation’s ENG 101 courses, know that we’ve been bringing our A-game for the last four years, and we’re sending you students who will be expecting the same from you.