Emergency Room Teaching

Tricia Christensen (christen@SONOMA.EDU)
Sat, 20 Jan 1996 13:28:19 -0700

I find myself in agreement with you again about helping those
who are in "Critical condition" to extend the metaphor.
I work for a state university and one of the ongoing debates
is whether remedial courses will continue to be offered or
whether students who do not display competency should be farmed
out to community colleges instead.

Currently, students do have access to both remedial writing and math
classes at my university. This really helps because one can then
work with most students who can't induce what they need from standard
Freshman comp classes. Our program limits enrollment in their
remedial freshman comp to 15 students per class, and in addition to
three hours of class a week, the students also have 3 required hours
of tutorial. This system is remarkably effective because the students
each get so much intensive attention. On average the students who
finish the remedial course tend to do better in freshman comp than the
students who go straight from HS into freshman comp.

So rather than pass over these students and determine there's no future
for them as college students, remedial courses offer students the
opportunity to gain the skills they need to pursue more difficult classes.
I've already mentioned in a previous post that few employment opportunities
await the HS graduate. So maybe, as you suggest, its our "right and
responsibility " to help those folks who need the most help. Naturally
not all can be helped, and some refuse every help that's offered. But
I'd bet at least half of those students who are given up as lost causes
could have completed college and done well had they not been passed up as
"terminal" patients.

I'm also somewhat uncomfortable with the metaphor that's been used here.
Inability to pass a course is not a sickness. That's rather like suggesting
that those who speak a second language are dumb because they don't
immediately pick up the rhetorical strategies of the new language they're
learning. Suggesting that we're somehow diagnosticians rather than
teachers helping students achieve a certain level of competency gets
us back to the "seek and destroy" method of teaching and the "screaming
red pen." On the other hand, I'd suggest that we have to assume our
students have been able to learn to be competent in a variety of discourse
situations. We're introducing them to a discourse situation that may be
wholly new to them, i.e., academic writing. Through a careful and
positive introduction to this new field of discourse we can help our
students become comfortable. Naturally they'll make some mistakes along
the way, but I'd like not to see these mistakes as symptoms of a terminal
illness. Rather, I'd like to see these mistakes as a natural part of
learning anything. We don't after all fault a 2 year old for making
grammatical mistakes. Through repetition, exposure to discourse, and
mimetic techniques, the 2 year old learns everything he/she needs to know
in order to say what he/she wants to say, and when he wants to say it.

Once again this post has gotten overlengthy. My apologies. One of the
things I am still trying to learn is how to edit my work :)

Tricia Christensen