A happy coincidence that Infinite Thought should tag me with this meme when I’ve just finished grading a stack of papers and so been thinking a bit about what I’m doing when I’m teaching. This semester I’ve been teaching an introductory writing course, which is apparently a fixture of American universities, but is perhaps particularly important somewhere like Berkeley, where new students have such a wide range of writing abilities. There are, of course, structural reasons for this, including the fairly large number of students who don’t speak English at home (but who may never have received formal education in any other language), and the appalling underfunding of California’s public schools; but it’s interesting to see how these structures manifest themselves, because they don’t simply appear as an absence. That is, it’s not, strictly speaking, that those students who struggle haven’t been taught to write; they’ve all, or almost all, attended school for 13 years, after all. But during those 13 years, they have been taught to write badly. It seems like it would be an interesting research project in the sociology of knowledge to figure out how this happens. Everyone in the world knows that the five-paragraph-essay structure is stupid and harmful, yet students still get taught it. It’s aggravating; students would come to my office hours with incredibly interesting and insightful responses to the stuff we’d read, but be completely incapable of expressing themselves on paper (and, if it’s aggravating for me, it must be many times worse for them).
On with the meme. Read more↴