Reading reflections

Having finished the Bizzell article in this week’s reading, I felt compelled to commit to paper some of the thoughts I’ve had while reading several of our last readings. I find myself in opposition to some of what I’ve read, from the standpoint of its usefulness for my students.

First, I want to respond to Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University.” While I don’t disagree with his assertion that students are approximating the kind of writing they believe they’re expected to do in college, I do take issue with what I believe to be his conclusion. That is, he seems to be saying that students need to be given the tools to sound like academicians. His article, in my view, argues for helping students become professional academicians and not judging their work against this standard until we, as writing instructors, have shown them how to achieve this. It sounds to me as if Bartholomae’s aim falls in line with what Mike Rose in his “The Language of Exclusion” identifies as one of the university’s major goals: to educate students who will become graduate students and finally researchers and professors. Let’s hold onto this assertion for a moment.

Second, I want to respond to the development of the “personal-style classroom” that Bizzell refers to in her article “Composing Processes: An Overview.” (I realize that Bizzell didn’t lead the movement for this sort of classroom, nor does she endorse it, necessarily; however, this is where I read about it.) In reading her article, I had the same reaction to the personal-style classroom, which teaches students to find and write in their own voice, rather than conforming to an academic standard, that I had to Bartholomae’s article. And that is, I don’t believe my students are in college to learn either to become academicians nor to find their true voice.

Increasingly, students are attending college, particularly large state schools where so much emphasis is placed on these intro-level composition courses, because they see it as a necessary step in competing for a good job in the current economy. With that in mind, developing writers into academicians or into expressive writers will not serve their goals. I believe my students are attending college because they want to become bankers, real estate developers, lab technicians, social workers, or computer programmers. Most of the likely professions my students will undertake after graduating will not require that they write in a convincing academic manner. Nor will they require intense self-reflection.

That’s not to say that my students won’t be required to write in their jobs. They’ll need to fill out performance evaluations, communicate with vendors, write reports, develop training manuals, and so forth. However, the aims expressed in Bartholomae and Bizzell’s articles won’t prepare them for the kinds of writing they’re likely to encounter. The problem with Bartholomae’s assumption that students need to learn to be academicians is that it’s not useful for them. And the problem with the personal-style classroom approach is that at some point we do need to focus on the mechanics of writing. Until supervisors and HR managers care more about the authentic voice of their employees than about the accuracy and readability of a report, validating and developing students’ personal style will not serve them.

It’s not just that a more practical approach to writing instruction will better serve the students. It also should help engage them in the work, if they can see how it will further their goals. In this, I think that Rose’s rejection of the label “remedial” for composition courses would help not only to lend credibility to these courses in the academy, but also would allow students to see why they’re there. If students believe that these courses are remedial, and are designed to initiate them into the “right” kind of college writing, they’ll absorb only what’s necessary to pass that class, no matter how practical the lesson might be, and won’t carry those lessons over to future writing, academic or professional. If, instead, we presented the course to them from the beginning as a practical course that will get them closer to their goals, they may invest more and retain more.

I realize this is a very long response to these articles, but I needed to get this out. I find myself resisting these kinds of readings, because they don’t seem to take into account the very practical concerns I believe my students to have. I also recognize that I have the ability and responsibility to tie our classroom work and our assignments to real-world skills and expectations. On the other hand, the book we use only allows for so much of that. It’s hard to see where a summary/strong-response essay or a personal narrative will be used beyond college. Obviously, this merits more thought on my part, as well as future revision of my syllabus and assignments.

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