Wednesday, September 29, 2004

More school blah...Prepare for the Rant

I hope I wasn't too harsh yesterday. The whole thing just pisses me off, and not entirely for selfish reasons. I mean, really, when it comes down to it, it's to my advantage to have my classmates be poor writers because it makes me look better. But, it's also the reason why my grad program is only a regionally rated program and has no national recognition at all (let's just ignore the fact that "my program" is based in St. Louis - the international border issue is just too confusing). I mean, I have to wonder, would other, potentially stronger programs be dominated by people who have difficulty writing in complete sentences?

Well, no matter. I'm fairly happy with my papers. I have several, very minor changes to make this afternoon and then I'm done. They're longer than they had to be, but I wanted to be thorough and it was difficult to pare down the text without leaving out relevant details.

I ended up reading another classmate's paper yesterday and, while it was better than the first one, it was still not very good. This girl, however, is not what I would term a "poor writer". She just had no organization. In fact, it was clear that she didn't have a mastery of the content of her paper topic, which is why the organization didn't make sense. I gave her some extensive comments and I hope she has time to incorporate them (she had not started her 2nd paper and it's due Friday).

For the last fourteen months, most of you know that I have been the editor for We receive article submissions from all over the place, so, as editor, I have to decide what to publish (often in consultation with Dave) and when to ask for resubmission. What I've learned is that a lot of people with college degrees are just not very good writers. In fact, in my opinion, the question of whether you have a college degree or not is almost entirely irrelevant. Some of the best articles we've published have been from people that barely smelled college, not to mention finished. The point, I think, is that with my limited cross-section sampling of American writing ability, there's a clear dearth of excellence on average and that's a tragedy. How are people expected to understand relatively complex debates like the War in Iraq if they can't express their thoughts, feelings, or arguments in a straight forward fashion?

I'm wondering if the inability for young people to communicate with the written word is because the American education system stresses things that I'll term "appearance" over substance. By this I refer to spelling and form. For example, I was told the other day by the girl that critiqued my paper that every paragraph should contain a minimum of 4 sentences. What a bunch of bullshit. I asked her where she came up with that one, and she explained that she was taught that by one of her college professors. And when I reflect on my own education, primary education was dominated by spelling concerns, not grammar or substance. In the modern era of computers, spell checks, and, spelling is a worthless endeavor (even though it bothers me to no end when people misspell stuff - me included).

I have to say, in my opinion, America has an education crisis. Not only that, we've had an education crisis for as long as I can remember. Those of you who have had this argument with me know that I believe that US education system doesn't challenge its students enough. For example, when my Mother was growing up, she was forced to diagram sentences as part of her grammar lessons. It sounds like a total pain in the ass, but she knows her grammar better than anyone I know. I never had to do that. In fact, even though I have worked as an editor for over a year, I probably couldn't explain most of the "rules" of English grammar (although I was smart enough to buy the AP styleguide so that I don't have to know them, I can just look them up).

When I went to Emory in the Fall of 93, I had no idea how to write a research paper, how to study, or even what to be challenged in the classroom meant. My performance suffered greatly because I just slid by as I had throughout high school, expecting that I would just pull out some grades at the end of the term. It was a lot harder than I expected and I was forced to learn how to study on my own. I did, however, have a very good writing symposium as a Freshman that helped tremendously. To this, I'll give credit to Emory for stressing the right stuff. We had to write three or four essays over the course of the semester, each of which required rough drafts that were read and discussed on a one-to-one basis with the instructor (a grad student). It helped a lot, and it's a tra-sham-ockery that other colleges don't do this.

The national response to the education problem in America is to incorporate things like standardized testing, school choice, and head start. To me, that's pretty much worthless. If we're not going to have a national curriculum (which is a complicated issue since the federal government traditionally plays little role in education), then perhaps the Fed Gov should push States to strengthen curriculum locally. But even beyond that, we need to invest in teachers. It's absurd that one of the most important professions pays so little. I mean, aside from doctors, who else is as important as teachers? Low pay and a relatively low entrance requirements is a race to the bottom. That's why there are so many bad teachers (Bowden). It simply isn't hard enough to become a teacher for those who need it to be hard and it simply doesn't pay enough for those that might be gifted teachers but choose other, more financially rewarding careers. Until the country addresses the teacher and curriculum issue, I expect education in America to be widely disparate.

Ok, I'm done ranting.


Blogger Eric said...

Wow, so much to comment on. Let's see, I will start with the most important stuff first: diagramming sentences. I had to diagram sentences, as u know we are the same age, also I had to suffer through 4 years of hellish instruction on how to write a research paper in HS, so what u were alluding to is something that we already knew: NJ is better than VA. See, how can u argue with such a wonderfully constructed argument as that. Since I am such a brilliant product of an amazing educational system, grammar great am I!

Seriously, as the Editor in Chief of ur esteemed web site, u are certainly familiar with my inabilities to construct concise thoughts that follow any sort of organization. Seeing as how I was forced to diagram sentences and went through the wonderful Emory writing symposium, I take it you wrote this to insult my abilities and to prove that even you urself don't really have a valid point. ;)

Screw you, Mr: I suffer from Limey envy! Leave me alone ;)

You know I kid. Proving however that I am the center of the universe and that this rant is really about me (more sarcasm), you also know that I recently decided to become a teacher. Seriously folks, do we not see where paranoia can transcend into someone really talking about us?

So let's give teachers more money, teach people how to write, and accept that the uneducated do remarkably well in the American educational system (Um, Dexter Manley ring any bells, skins boy).

Not that standardized tests mean anything, but there has been a large discrepency between the Math and Verbal scores for a long time. You speak the truth my brother, people don't know shit! Maybe u need some new friends. I mean, think of it like this. You already have informed us common folk of your prowess in class. So if I werent too dumb to realize that I am simply a glorified ape, and managed to muddle through an undergraduate program, I must have done it by finding someone smart to leech off of? Congrats! Your an idiot magnet. Again, you rain insults upon me after my long and terrible day which ended with a perfect example of my own stupidity.


Tired...I cant believe it is only Wednesday. Please let me make it to Bruce and REM in Philly with my head still attached. Friday night, Vote for Change Tour!

This comment is definitely taking on the form of something that I will regret writing while utterly exhausted. Hopefully when I read this on Friday, as Thursday has me on the go from 8am till 10pm, I will actually chuckle at it. I hope you do as well.


10:49 PM  

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