As an instructor of College Writing, I am struck by what expectations are placed upon our students in terms of the types of essays we ask them to produce and the level of academic savvy we presume they should display even within their very first semester of college.
Having been a Grade 9-12 English Language Arts teacher for a few years in a NYC high-school, I can attest that we are entirely unreasonable in our assumption that the skills we ask of them could possibly have been acquired simply over the course of the summer between graduating high school and entering our English 110 classes (because we know 95% of them did not acquire any of those skills in high school). I have had many colleagues agree with me that we have to “un-teach” high-school bad-writing habits before we can teach them good College Writing. And this is not even addressing the other 900 pound gorilla in the room which is the high proportion of students whose fluency in speaking English—never mind writing it—is not sufficient to allow for complex argumentation and detailed dissection of any number of academically rigorous topics.
Yet, we ask all of these same students—lifelong English speakers with bad writing habits and English Language Learners alike—to write “ academic” papers on a host of sophisticated issues, requiring serious research and organizational expertise when the basic skills of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, rhetoric are not at a level concomitant with the assignment.
We are told that E110 (or Euro120, or E130, or any of the “W”) classes are not grammar classes. While I agree that this should theoretically be true, in practice I struggle tremendously with assessing a student paper in which the lack of grammar and syntax skills greatly hinders, hides, distorts or prevents the communication of “meaning-full” ideas.
The inclusion of a CW2—a second semester of introduction to college writing—possibly represents a unique opportunity to significantly address this issue: perhaps at least some of the class time in CW1 (E110) should be devoted to such old fashioned topics as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, rhetoric…before we even ask the students to tackle research, MLA citation and other such esoterica.
I know Qc is a “Senior College” and, therefore, anything resembling a “remedial” class is anathema, but this should not be seen (or portrayed) as in any way remedial; rather, it should be understood that the study of these now-out-of fashion subjects is one of the building blocks towards really improved, truly adult, undeniably sophisticated, stylistically authoritative—in a word: persuasive—writing ability that ought to be the hallmark of any college graduate.
I wonder if any of you, my colleagues, have strong thoughts about this, pro or against; I would be curious to know.