Date: Wed, 8 Apr 1998 13:58:57 -0700
From: "A. Vine"
Subject: Re: freshman composition--again

Devon Coles wrote:
> Further to Peter Richardson's comments:
> As it was in the beginning, is now, and likely ever shall be, I am a
> student. I happen to write (mostly) A papers, and cringe when I see courses
> that evaluate solely by quizzes and exams. Generally, I avoid them like the
> plague.

As someone who has the opposite viewpoint, i.e. quizzes and problem sets are
writing is too fuzzy and so to be avoided, I think it might be useful to share

The writing training I received in high school and college never really gave me
concrete to work with. Many of the books I was required to read were not
interesting to
me at all. Having to write about these uninteresting, sometimes repulsive books
decidedly uninspiring (for me, _The Red Pony_ and _Pentimento_ spring to mind as
examples). The grading of these papers may have provided some instruction, but
it was
haphazard. To make a programming analogy, it would be like writing a program
based on an
incomplete specification, then having the user test it and tell you piece by
piece what
was wrong. This lengthens the time it would take to come to the same end as
that if the
spec were well written in the first place. In addition, I found I have no
aptitude for reading between the lines, nor was it interesting to me to learn
this skill.
This is not to say I don't enjoy reading and using my imagination to fill in the
gaps of
the story. What I am saying is, I don't enjoy trying to determine what the
writer was
saying which wasn't actually written. And I don't think I'm alone in this
regard. Still,
I needed to learn how to write.

In my junior year of college, I asked my roommate (who was an English major and
made A's)
what is required for a literary critique. She gave me a few rules; these were
the first
concrete descriptions I ever had heard. I've never had to use them, because
after 1st
semester freshman year I vowed never to take another English class. I write all
the time;
I just don't write literary critiques. Instead, I write technical papers
programming procedures, and memos discussing business issues and schedules. In
context, I would say Devon Coles rules are particularly poignant; I don't really
about the world of literary criticism.

Maybe it would be useful to some students to learn how to write outside the
context of
literary criticism. I think learning how to write procedural descriptions would
incredibly useful to students once they get out into the business world. It may
also help
them to focus on the points they are writing about. From there, if they so
desire, they
can take those skills to the more complex world of literary criticism.

Software internationalization
Sun Microsystems

P.S. To repeat the words of my freshman year roommate (in the History of Arts
and Letters
program at Yale) upon receiving a B on her paper, "I don't appreciate her [the
telling me that I'm a B thinker."

> I believe the reason many students don't write excellent papers is that they
> have never been taught an essential aspect of the process.
> I see an essay as my turn in the conversation. I have been granted the
> floor. Along with the privilege of speaking, I am charged with the
> responsibility of not wasting everyone else's time. I am expected to speak
> on topic, and not simply repeat what the previous speaker has already
> addressed. If I disagree with what has been said I am expected, first, to
> demonstrate that I understand clearly what has been said, secondly, not to
> misrepresent the previous speaker's ideas, and thirdly, to make clear my
> reasons for taking exception. I am expected to speak in a register
> appropriate to the conversation and to contribute something worthy of
> mention. Sadly, I am yet to hear any MA teaching assistant, doctoral
> candidate, PhD or tenured professor address this essay writing in these
> terms. Pity.
> Devon Coles