Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the Fish, writing, and classroom regulation

Stanley Fish starts a rant on something else with a rant on college students' writing proficiency.

I like Fish's columns. A pleasure to read. (And sometimes expensive; this column prompted me to buy two books. They both proved worthwhile reads, though the thoughtful "Shop Class as Soulcraft" will be kept on my shelf, whereas the disappointingly lightweight "Big Sid's Vincati" I'm sending to my brother...for him to pass on once he's done with it.)

Anyway, from today's column, two highlights:

I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence.

Yeah, me too. Every time I sit down to read students' papers. And often when reading email. And though I can't quite articulate and diagram the problems as well as Fish (perhaps a failing of my undergraduate institution's writing curriculum), I can do well enough. And do well enough to know that either my students' prior training in writing has failed them, or that the bar is set exceptionally low, or perhaps both.

I am...against external regulation of classroom practices if only because the impulse animating the effort to regulate is always political rather than intellectual.


I am especially against external regulation of classroom practices by those on the other side of the classroom from me. It strikes me that a student is in a particularly bad place to evaluate the usefulness of a course's content or the relevance of a degree's curriculum. Having thus concluded, it becomes preposterous that search committees and college administrators place so much weight on student course evaluations. But sometimes it's all we have. So we make do. Though I'm sure there's a better way. I'm afraid, however, that we're too lazy, entrenched, and (perhaps) fearful (of students, in part) to implement it.


Anonymous said...

I receive resumes and letters occasionally from hopefuls looking for a first job out of college. On more than one occasion, I've returned them with a suggestion that learning to write would drastically increase their possibilities.


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