Friday, January 06, 2012


I'm sure I linked it in some prior incarnation of this blog, but here is Craig Vetter's delightfully mean-spirited essay on teaching freshman comp, "Bonehead Writing."
There's a sort of low moan that goes up periodically from the English departments at colleges and universities across the country over the fact that most students, even the good ones, can't write a lick - not a love letter or a suicide note, much less an essay or a term paper. It's nothing new, but according to the teachers who have to read this crap for a living, the further we get into the computer era the worse it's becoming. So at places like Harvard and Yale and Brown, they're holding faculty conferences to hash the problem through; they're designing bonehead writing courses and setting up special peer-group tutoring problems in an all-out, last-ditch effort to ensure that their graduates will at least be able to fill out applications for day labor without embarrassing themselves.

They haven't gone so far as to suggest that a student be required to write, say, one short coherent paragraph in order to graduate, but there are signs that they're getting a little desperate. For one thing, they're hiring more and more writers, and I don't mean just the cocktail-party lions of big fiction, either. They're actually cleaning out the mop closets to make office space for journalists and other freelance grubs who have spent most of their careers below decks, sweating and wiping the greasy pipes in the engine room of the profession.

Somehow, I haven't been asked. I am qualified, though; at it almost 20 years with nothing to show except a world-class alcohol/tobacco habit, debt that follows me like a huge pet rat and a small, used Olivetti with a leatherette case. Credentials, in other words. And I know some things about writing that others are not likely to tell you; ugly things. I think I could cram most of them into the first lecture, which, given the size of the problem, would probably have to be held in a fairly large room. If I did it right, though - if I were honest with my students - I think we could most likely hold the second class in a Datsun and get everybody in comfortably.
As the Datsun reference indicates, this first appeared in the 1980s, in Playboy as I recall.

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