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Research Writer Interview With Ann

Higher Education And Writing a Composition

Would you say you are cynical about higher education?

Norman O. Brown said, "Education is the process by which the information in a professor's notebook passes into a student's notebook without ever having contact with the brains of either." Cynics are disappointed romantics, and I was never a romantic. I'm a great believer in Hobbes, who said that life was short, mean, and brutish.

We are all going to be consumers, producers, citizens, and God willing, parents. Some of us will even be leaders. It's best to be a reasonably educated one, because otherwise you'll be hurt, and taken advantage of. You'll be hurt and taken advantage of regardless, but at least, if you avail yourself of education, you'll have some perspective on what is going on. Maybe you'll even improve the world, slightly.

As a former University Writing Instructor, now a self-employed research writer, what were some of your greatest frustrations with students?

Students who regarded college as a bar with a 20,000 a year cover charge. This is a social class thing. Community College students generally knew exactly why they were there. To be fair, most of my students were trying, but almost all of them were incapable of critical thinking.

Which is what exactly?

Critical thinking is the ability to formulate and sustain a logical argument, to reason clearly, and to evaluate sources. I got frustrated with students who expected their professors to change their intellectual diapers, to think for them. Many students were competent at rote repetition, but when asked for actual thought they froze. Another thing that frustrated me was that many of them didn't assume any responsibility for their own learning. They just wanted to passively ingest information and regurgitate it.

What do you think of College Writing? Do you think Composition is generally well taught?

I think Composition, as a discipline, should cease to exist. Students can actually write a decent paper according to some set rules, but immediately after they leave the class, they forget, because professors in other disciplines don't care about writing. Perhaps they shouldn't.

Writing should convey ideas, as clearly as possible. No amount of rhetorical flourish will disguise absence of thought. It's like putting on fancy lipstick when you have no nose. Teaching writing within the disciplines would convince students that it wasn't just an empty exercise done to get a grade.

Can you give me two examples of bad student writing?

With pleasure-well, not pleasure-more like morbid glee.

Paper #1:

"Hitler's rise to power was very frustrating and hard to deal with. He ambushed the Jews and gave them bad titles."

Paper #2:

"Suicide is a form of death. No one really knows why someone might commit suicide."

Paper #1 has grave problems with usage and diction, but it has a thesis. It has content that a patient teacher and motivated student could ferret out. It's the kind of sows ear that will never be a silk purse, but with some work, it could be an adequate Wal-Mart tote. Paper #2 is hopeless. It begins with circular reasoning, and then posits an absolutely indefensible thesis.

What happened to these students?

Paper #1 student got a D. He rewrote it-we rewrote it, and he got a B. Paper #2 student was more problematic. I gave her an F, and she came into my office in tears. She wrote the paper because her brother killed himself. That was what the paper was about-and once she found the thesis-suicide devastates the family-she wrote an intelligent, moving, well researched paper. I was young and idealistic when I received these papers, so I worked with them. Now I am old and tired, and so I refuse to teach. Students should be aware that quite a lot of their teachers are old and tired and still teaching.

Thank you very much for your time.

You're very welcome. I'm getting back to work :).

Random writer: /3/writer-roan