Home > College, Metablog > Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena

Yesterday, my father linked me to an essay by George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” He told me that it used to be required reading for many Freshman English courses, and was curious if I’d been assigned to read it. I haven’t, and the reason is that my English class isn’t actually about writing in the sense that I am writing here.

The entire course is instruction on how to properly adapt to new styles of writing. The lofty goal that’s been presented is that by the time we’re done, each of us will be able to critically analyze a writing style such as the writing characteristic of scientific reports, and learn it’s methods. This is to supposed to be done by critically analyzing three styles of writing — those of the “natural” sciences, social sciences, and the humanities — and learning the little items in each to watch for.

This lesser goal, learning the algorithm for manufacturing reports in certain styles, is a process already well known to any high school graduate, as it is what we’ve been doing on and off for a decade. The other goal, to understand the underlying mechanics behind each style, will likely go largely unachieved.

I’m not entirely surprised by this, because, as I have mentioned earlier in these pages, my classmates are largely the same sort of people I rubbed shoulders with in high school, and don’t really care about anything as dry as the underlying mechanics of writing styles. (It is worth noting, at this point, that this is mostly only a characteristic of classes I share completely with Freshmen. My Calculus III class, which is a mixture of all ages, is an entirely different atmosphere.)

But because this English class is being treated exactly the same way that any other class would, I end up seeing the same quality of work that I’m familiar with from previous years. Take a PowerPoint presentation conducted today during class, where the class was divided into groups and each person responsible for a single slide of each group’s presentation. In stark contrast to my purposely spartan slide, every single other member of the class had reverted to their old habits of making their slide a script to be read dully.

What I find to be the twisted irony to the whole affair is that, for the last four years, while preparing each PowerPoint presentation for a class, my classmates and I were exhorted to not simply read off of slides. The only place I ever saw this message hit home was on the PowerPoint presentations for the graduation projects where violation of this rule would entail repetition of the 12th grade.

So if the vast majority of the incoming Freshmen are hardly open to learning a new algorithm for production of PowerPoint presentations, why is critical thinking placed as the goal of the class?

(Answer: It’s not. But saying that you’re having a 4 hour per week class to teach kids how to write Chemistry and Psychology reports doesn’t sound very good.)

Categories: College, Metablog
  1. Grandma
    September 5, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Somewhere, freshmen have to be exposed to The Basic Stuff. Fortunately, you were exposed to it earlier because of the excellent (you now know) high school you attended. The poor unfortunates, your classmates, either were not exposed or resisted the knowledge of writing styles, and they will pay the price later, while you are having to pay the price now. Just regard it as “review,” and demonstrate the right way to do things. And if you don’t have to work too hard in this class, it will give you more time for your job and Calculus III. Somewhere along the line you will probably get an opportunity to take a class in creative writing, which is what you’d really like and profit from. Thanks for the post!

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