Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oh, great.

I recently found out that our university is jumping on the "Writing Across the Curriculum" bandwagon.  This means that, instead of writing (and the teaching thereof) being concentrated mostly in the English department, or the departments that do a lot of writing in the jobs they're purportedly preparing their majors for, every department is supposed to assign papers, and teach their students how to write them. 

Every department.  Including the math department, criminal justice, dental hygiene, and nursing. 

I've already heard grumbling in the library coffee shop from other departments' professors: "Why are we supposed to do the job the English department is supposed to be doing?  It's not like they're doing it anyway, but why are they pushing it off on us?"

I think this, more than anything else, is going to finish the job of making the English department fade into irrelevancy.  It's already halfway there with the way composition and literature classes are taught.

8 comments:

  1. That doesn't make any sense to me. Will you be teaching math next to your current classes?

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    1. It doesn't make any sense to me, either. And I'm not competent to teach math. Writing, yes. Math, no.

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  2. Given their inability to find enough competent writing teachers to fill your department, I can only imagine how much worse it's going to be with teachers who never even tried to learn writing, now trying to teach it.

    It says something about the perception of writing as a skill. Given the proliferation of blogs, it seems that having a passing familiarity with a language, and a spell checker is all you need.

    I'd think teaching math would be easier. People are exposed to fewer examples of bad math.... Oh, wait - I take that back. I forgot about reporting on the economy.

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    1. My students have major issues with using wrong words, run on sentences, sentence fragments, and punctuation errors. And this semester's students are very, very good. Usually, my students have those problems, an inability to comprehend how to create a thesis statement; that their body paragraphs' points need to follow the same order as they were covered in the thesis statement; that their paragraphs need to have claim, example, and twice as much explanation as the other two to be a well developed paragraph.

      Usually, the students I get have huge problems even stringing sentences together into a paragraph, and I don't have the luxury of concentrating on sentence-level errors like I do this semester.

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  3. My college went for this too. Had to write papers in Algebra. Luckily, they took papers on historical figures in mathematics and usages of math in industry. The non-English teachers don't teach how to write. They just assume the students already know how to do it, assign a paper, and make a half-hearted attempt to grade it.

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    1. It makes zero sense, and neatly places English departments onto everyone's shit list, either because they resent having to grade papers when they just want to focus on transmitting their knowledge, or when the first papers come in and they realize that the English instructors have not taught one damn thing about how to write.

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  4. This is a pending disaster. Technical writing for the hard sciences is a different animal than persuasive writing for political science or journalism. It is perfectly acceptable for technical writing to be factual and dull, after all how exciting can you make plasmid transfer rates between E. Coli strains? There is no poetry in the collision of molecules, no iambic pentameter needed to explain stress distribution in truss designs. Not that scientists and engineers can't be poetic or appreciate beauty, just that it is the point of the Chemistry and Engineering departments to teach math and science, not english as a secondary discipline. I can imagine a poem about Linear Algebra, "Oh matrices how you fascinate me, let me calculate the ways with a simplification of multivariable equations reduced to a number set subject to hard rules of manipulation..." Or maybe structural engineering, "Whether tis nobler in essence to compress or to stretch a supporting member of the structure, to whit my friend, you can't push a rope."

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    1. My department has a professional/technical writing program. They stupidly believe that an English major taking the course doesn't need an understanding of whatever they're doing technical writing on--it's enough to be able to string words together, never mind that they may be explaining something wrong.

      Our department needs to be able to teach students from all majors to create grammatically correct sentences and complete, well-supported paragraphs. But most of my colleagues are too busy complaining that a comp class has "no content" like a literature class has, and half-ass the course because they don't want to be teaching it.

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