Re: Emergency Room Teaching

Claudine Keenan (cgk4@PSU.EDU)
Sun, 21 Jan 1996 10:07:50 -0500

When you wrote to describe a remedial program that "...limits 15 students per class," that "is remarkably effective
because the students
each get so much intensive attention," I found myself silently rooting for
those of you in your institution who are fighting to preserve it. In
addition to the four-year university, I have also worked at community
colleges, where such individual attention is simply unheard of, due to
obvious cost factors. So "farming them off" would almost certainly ensure
their failure.

>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."

Well, we are diagnosticians first, by necesstiy. Perhaps we are wrong to
focus on students' inadequacies, but I don't see any other way of
determining where to begin to help students, at least in the beginning of a
writing course. How can we facilitate growth in our students when we don't
know which areas they need to concentrate on first? I agree that our
efforts after diagnosing individual student needs should be spent on
encouraging success, rather than "marking" failure, but I think Ken's
original metaphor is apt, since I share his experiences with that first
crowd of students who are jammed into his triage area.

As Ken points out, part of triage is deciding who won't make it, and I feel
terribly about the misuse of this philosophy, but I've seen it happen. I
hesitate to admit that I've even heard colleagues at a community college say
that they set deliberately high standards in remedial classes to "get the
numbers down" to something more reasonable than the 27 who are now permitted
to enroll, in defiance of NCTE standards, but of necessity under cc
budgetary constraints.
So treasure the program that you have, Tricia; it sounds like a winner.

'nuff said.

-Claudine Keenan