Re: authenticity

Charlie Hill (hill@VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU)
Mon, 19 Aug 1996 12:18:28 -0500

I don't post often, but my posts tend to be long. Sorry.

Some years ago, I taught a business and technical writing course in which
all the students were professionals engaged in writing projects in their
careers. They took the course because they had specific writing goals
with which they needed help. After the first day, I threw away the
syllabus and we worked on the projects they brought in. Easiest money I
ever made, and the students were all entirely satisfied with the
experience. Immediately, I thought, "all writing courses should be like

The trouble Eric Crump is having with his writing courses doesn't just
stem from the fact that his students have been conditioned by their
previous schooling. An even bigger problem is that his students are
walking into a required course--one that most of them would not choose to
take on their own--and then being told, "You find your own
justification for having to take this course." While some students will
jump at the chance, it just stands to reason that some will get really
ticked off. I know *I* would.

This isn't Eric's fault. He's argued *against* required writing
courses--a proposal that I agree with--and he's doing what he
thinks is best given the reality in which he finds himself. I think I
agree with his description of the problem, but while I try to give students
a lot of choices and a lot of freedom, I don't work nearly as hard
as he does to push students to make their own choices. IMHO, forcing
students to choose their own writing tasks when they don't have writing goals
or any interest in writing is as artificial as giving them an assignment--
maybe more so. Some students will make good use of the opportunity, but many
will just choose tasks that they think they can easily accomplish.

I don't think that required writing courses are a complete waste of time.
But I *do* think that they do not give a return that comes close to
justifying the resources, effort, and worry that goes into them.
They're a bad idea, especially on the freshman level. Abolishing them seems
idealistic only because they serve so many entrenched interests.

Maybe there are times when students just need to be made to learn
something, whether they want to or not. I'm not against imposing my
authority if I'm convinced it's for the best. But, for several reasons,
I don't think that works for courses like freshman comp.


Charles Hill Bitnet - hill@oshkoshw
Dept. of English Internet -
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, WI 54901