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Don't pay for a writing class at a secular university

Just don't.

While I am working on a longer post on an entirely different subject, I give you this very, very depressing article on what college writing teachers are all about these days. Talk about educational malpractice. (Link HT VFR)

Not that long ago I was arguing in the course of a thread here at this site that leftists have deliberately destroyed the American academy and that a little huntin' shootin' right-wing anti-intellectualism (or "anti-intellectualism") is nothing, really, nothing, in comparison to the horrific, disgusting, deliberate destruction wrought by leftists on the study--even the possibility of the study--of the good, the true, and the beautiful in higher education. And it isn't getting any better. I instanced this article that recently came out in Intercollegiate Review. The article linked above shows that, if anything, things are getting worse rather than better.

A couple of options: Most colleges will accept English composition AP credit. I have a student who has received that credit. The English comp. AP test is kind of weird and silly in places, but not nearly as crazed as the secular writing classes must be. Get a couple of good preparation books, have your good student work hard on them in the semester or year leading up to the test, and it should be okay--a three is usually enough for credit.

Another option (I'm sure one of our readers won't mind my mentioning): I hear that this small Christian liberal arts college offers distance-learning English composition courses. Home schoolers are welcome, and double-enrolled high school/college students get a great discount. I have an inkling that these are normal writing classes sans insanity.

Comments (32)

Don't pay for a writing class at a secular university

I teach a couple of those. Don't you want me to have any students?

We'll just take your Christian students, Bill, so your classes can be even *more* fun! :)

Thanks for the recommendation, Lydia. I believe our 2-semester sequence will be excellent; we will have it online starting in the fall.

Well, Bill, okay, I got a little carried away after reading the article. But you have to admit: You're a rare phenomenon these days--a top-notch writing teacher with high standards and no trendy toxins.

When the intellectual class has gone insane, the anti-intellectual becomes pro-wisdom.

I just recently finished an introduction to literature at my oh-so-secular university.

It was basically a mixture between Freudian/Jungian psychoanalysis and radical feminism, coupled with disparaging remarks about anyone on the right. She even gave out political handouts supporting her views.

The literature we read was about depression, despair, homosexuality, rape, etc. I thought I was going to shoot myself during one of the classes, but thankfully I refrained.

I did get an A, though.

We are bigger than comp/rhetoric. . . . We do language,” she declared to nods of agreement.

Alas, a proper use of the more vulgar form of the word "do."

A lot of truth to that, Kristor. That was represented by my scare-quoted use of "anti-intellectualism."

I can, with just a bit of a stretch, imagine _genuine_ anti-intellectualism: "What are you studying that for, boy? It won't make you any money" or something silly of the kind. Not that I ever actually hear anyone say that, but I'm sure there are some such people in the world. But the fact remains that the "boy" will still probably have to get a college credential to get a job (so his adviser is wrong, at least as regards gen. ed. courses), and there is nothing whatsoever (or at least nothing the hypothetical anti-intellectual father is doing) stopping the people who teach the writing class(es) he'll have to take to get his degree from _actually teaching him to write_. And the same is, of course, true at the high school level, where he also has to take English classes. Or we could back up all the way to grade school.

Oh, golly, Todd, sad but true.

One could also connect that quotation about "doing language" with the Latin word "interficio," which comes from the Latin word "facio, facere" meaning "I do." "Interficio" means "I kill, I destroy." Rather similar to the American expression "to do someone in."

From the first linked article:

A performance, by the White Horse Singers, opened and closed the early morning address by Gwendolyn Pough of Syracuse University. The thousands of assembled English teachers stood and faced the trio of drum-banging Native Americans--as homage and thanks to “indigenous peoples whose nations are rooted in the lands we now call ‘Atlanta’ and ‘north Georgia,’” as we were told after one of many greetings in a Native American language. We were advised to “Stand outside your comfort zones,” learn to read the Cherokee writing on the cover of the program, and attend as many indigenous workshops as possible.

I wonder if there is a video of this. Put together a YouTube and spread it around and perhaps universities will change their tune when the Alumni stop sending in their wampum. Unfortunately, this has filtered down to our churches in the worst thing possible: White guy playing djembe.

One wonders how representative these kooks are. I know many philosophers -- who, as it happens, do much of the writing instruction on campuses -- and they are not much inclined to the silliness reported in this article. [They are much too busy doing their best to destroy America... I kid.]

This is not to say that all is well in our colleges, of course. As far as I can tell, the problem begins before students get to us. Many of them have never been required to read much of anything. This has dire effects on their capacity to write, as you can imagine. Additionally, many of them have not been made to practice writing -- as far as I can tell.

Even at my fairly selective institution, I estimate that about a third of the students probably require remedial writing training. And they are not getting it. It is simply too labor intensive. [That said: about 15% of them are talented enough writers -- like wee colleagues. They arrive this way.]

I doubt that the condition in which they enter college is primarily the result of leftism. My students are mostly culturally conservative kids from culturally conservative backgrounds. [e.g. many of them were simply not taught evolutionary theory in high school biology.] I suspect (speculatively!) that their condition is primarily the result of the spread of television as a form of entertainment -- which crowds out reading, whatever its content.

I know many philosophers -- who, as it happens, do much of the writing instruction on campuses -- and they are not much inclined to the silliness reported in this article.

Philosophers teach many of the _composition_ courses on campus? That hasn't been my experience. They may teach writing, but they do it in philosophy courses. And indeed, the philosophers I have known usually demand, or try to demand, normal stuff from their students--grammar, spelling, ability to understand and/or state an argument. But composition courses--which is to say, the courses that are _all about writing_--are taught by the English departments, which do not usually hire philosophers. (In fact, most philosophers wouldn't _want_ to be hired by an English department, though I suppose if it were that or work at Macdonald's, and if out-of-work philosophers thought they had a chance, they would apply.)

I doubt that the condition in which they enter college is primarily the result of leftism.

In part, it is, beyond all doubt. And the trends of the kooks in the story, in one way or another, are related to that. For example, the idea that it is "oppressive" to teach students grammar. Some version of supposedly "egalitarian" anti-prescriptivism has been at work in the educational establishment and has _definitely_ made its way into the high schools, though sometimes in a watered-down form.

Even at the grade school level and in the area of reading, here's just one little interesting fact: Rudolf Flesch was a European and, by his own designation, _not_ a political conservative of any kind. He wrote a book called _Why Johnny Can't Read_, published in the 1950's. It was all about phonics and the teaching of reading. In the 1980's Flesch published a follow-up called _Why Johnny Still Can't Read_. In that book, he expressed his frustration and annoyance over the fact that educrats had labeled phonics teaching as "politically conservative." He thought this nonsense--which, of course, it is. However, it was a _fact_ that it was leftists (the other leftists in this case, not Flesch) who were using the "conservative" label to block the teaching of phonics-first reading methods in the schools. Flesch also pointed out that his critics argued that in some strange way the teaching of phonics did not take into account the need to teach minority students. Flesch could not imagine how this could possibly be a racial issue and was frustrated by the criticism. And, again, he was right educationally. There is no reason whatsoever why phonics should be thought of as a "white" method or as somehow not appropriate for minority students. But, again, it was a _fact_ that left-wing political buttons were being pushed as pseudo-arguments against a successful educational method that was scorned as old-fashioned.

That has been true again and again. Trendiness in educational methods and the deliberate abandonment of tried-and-true methods and standards have been expressly connected with left-wing agendas and sold in that fashion. Flesch's experience just shows that this is not exclusively some sort of new phenomenon and also that it is not confined to the teaching of writing.

What Lydia said (8:11).

When I was up for tenure here, I was asked why I don't belong to any of our English lit/comp organizations. I copied the program from a conference of one of them to demonstrate my answer. This was 5 or 6 years ago, and it was just this bad. I asked if they wanted my or the school's money to go to support homosexual, lesbian, Marxist, feminist, etc. activism and indoctrination; they were inclined to agree it wouldn't be a good investment. Even the Christian literary organization (can't think of its name) tends to be secular "research" with a Christian veneer . . . that sad desire to be accepted by both worlds. (Not entirely, but enough that I don't care to belong to it, either.)

It's hard to teach composition well when the students are almost universally unprepared, for the reasons Lydia notes. It's not a matter of their being from conservative or liberal family or even local backgrounds; almost all school systems use the same sorry methods. Most of my students are conservative evangelicals, and their abilities are little if any different from those I taught in secular venues. The best students are home educated or from homes that so highly value education that the kids practically imbibe good habits of thinking and writing from the home atmosphere no matter what happens in their schools.

I think to some extent philosophers, especially analytic philosophers, may not realize how this has gone, because they themselves may be politically left or may have colleagues who are politically left while being educationally tough and in some sense "traditional." It's easy enough to confuse, "I'm somewhat liberal (or my colleagues are very liberal), and we all have high academic standards" with "This must not in any sense be a left-right issue." But though there is no logical necessity to the history's having gone this way, this is _in fact_ the way that it has gone. The difference is between, "All political leftists are educational kooks," which isn't true, and "All or nearly all present-day educational kookery and deliberate destruction of educational standards has historically been pushed through and made part of the establishment on a progressive bandwagon," which is true.

Another good school with a great DL program: http://www.phc.edu/

But much more expensive than Bryan and, last I checked, I believe they had no English comp. course that would be considered comparable in credits to freshman comp. elsewhere and transferable. I know people who would like to send their children to PHC but just cannot afford it. The cost has really spiked just in the past couple of years, especially for degree-seeking students.

In my experience, introductory philosophy courses generally devolve into basic argumentative writing courses, just 'cause nobody else is really teaching that stuff anymore.

"When the intellectual class has gone insane, the anti-intellectual becomes pro-wisdom."

Almost a quotable apothegm. Reminds me of:

"In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

But it needs some tweaking.

The most interesting, and frustrating, thing to me was the rhetoric - Mary Grabar's, and yours too, Lydia. The message of Grabar's article is a no-brainer. We've been seeing these articles published regularly for the last two decades at least, and I'm definitely on Grabar's side.

OK, rhetoric. Grabar's audience is people who already share her views. She's not trying to persuade or enlighten anyone. Her goal is to fire up the troops. To that end, her rhetoric is effective.

Effective doesn't mean good, though. Did anyone else notice that her article was saturated with quoted words and fragments, that it contained only a handful of longer phrases, and that it quoted few or no complete sentences? I don't think there was a single quote of more than one sentence in this whole, relatively long article. Forget about quoting a whole paragraph. Despite all the quoted fragments, or rather because they're only fragments, the only view we get of the participants' presentations is filtered through Grabar's polemics. We're totally dependent on her authority, or ethos. But she does nothing to establish that ethos, because she doesn't have to - she's chosen her audience and her purpose in a way that makes her job as rhetorician as trivial as possible. Her audience is ready from the start to trust what she says, as long as it fits a certain ideology. All this is OK, instrumentally speaking. In the same way, vacuous and formulaic pop songs are OK given their audience (kids) and their purpose (to make money). That doesn't mean they're good.

Some of the topics at the conference actually seemed interesting to me. I would have liked to have known something about what the people were arguing. Amidst all the ideological garbage, one can find some very good cultural criticism on the left. But Grabar's chosen function as rhetorician is to hide the content from us. "Here, take a peek at this awful thing here - nope, stop looking, you can't see any more!" Grabar doesn't bother to engage her adversaries. Again, that's because she doesn't have to, having chosen the cheapest rhetorical path available.

In Lydia's post, there's one polemic phrase that bothers me. I've brought this up before here regarding almost the exact same phrase, so I don't expect to convince anyone, but I'll just note it again. The phrase is "deliberate destruction." Obviously, from the participants' own point of view they're contributing to scholarship, not destroying it. They believe that they're adding knowledge (truth) and doing good; I don't know about the beautiful. That's the problem with the word "deliberate." Deliberate destruction would be, for instance, throwing stones at the windows in the university building, or consciously publishing lies in order to undermine scholarship. "Deliberate destruction" implies that one knows that one is destroying.

To preempt an objection: yes they think they're "destroying" white privilege, sexism, etc., but "deliberate destruction" obviously refers here to the destruction of something good, and the leftists don't think those things are good. They're not deliberately destroying a good; they're deliberately destroying something which, unbeknownst to them, is on the whole good, not bad. There's an enormous difference there. Again, I don't expect anyone to agree with me here. Just noting it for posterity, ha ha.

I suppose it goes without saying that the standard of standardlessness is hoist on its own petard. How can these people fail to notice? Doesn't the cognitive dissonance bother them? How can they _stand_ it? Are they engaged in massive, strenuous neurotic bad faith? Or do they, in fact, not feel the dissonance at all? Either way, how do these folks get along in life? I mean, how do they feed themselves? Force of habit, I guess?

@Aaron: "I'm definitely on Grabar's side"

Really? Seriously? In what way? Please explain.

I assume that you're familiar with the expression: "concern troll?"

Since I emerged from primary school at the age of eleven, I have never been taught anything whatsoever about the art of writing good or creative English. Despite this 'handicap', I was able to graduate with a respectable degree (in English) at a reputable British university. The process of matriculation, in my day, eliminated applicants for places at college who had a 'literacy deficit'.

Institutions of higher education are not supposed to be concerned with teaching basic skills. What's more, I don't believe 'creative writing' can be broken down into a set of skills that can be mastered in a formal course of study. Talent is the key to accomplishment in the arts, I think.

Ah, yes, Aaron--deliberately destroying standards of English prose and the entire edifice that had been carefully erected to pass those on to the young might just be honestly mistaken by our self-styled intellectuals for attacking "white privilege" and "sexism." I should go easy on them. Please.

Alex, first, you're lucky if you got something good up through middle school. Second, there's a big difference between failing to teach, on the one hand, and deliberately encouraging bad writing, shallowness, text-speak, exhibitionism, and propaganda on the other. If you missed that in your high school and college education, you are lucky. Thirdly, my husband last night was grading a philosophy paper in which the person used "instantiates" as an intransitive verb. It seems unlikely to me that most 11-year-olds, even in an older age of better education earlier, would get that all worked out before the end of middle school. There is some point to high school writing courses. I agree with you that if all were as it should be, college writing courses should be unnecessary. But since they aren't unnecessary, they should do a good job of teaching rather than promulgating deliberate mis-education. Finally, creative writing is not the first and most urgent need but rather writing _at all_--essay writing, expository prose, etc.

The problem isn't in English composition skills. It is in reasoning skills, in general. While one should (generally) respect one's teachers,
nevertheless, the commitment to Truth must be higher. The problem is that one may spout any nonsense
in Composition and as long as it is well-stated, it is given an A. I once had a discussion with one of my
graduate math professors, whose brother has a Ph.d in English, and the math professor remarked," That's what's so different
about the two fields. In math, you have to make sure everything is correct before you publish." Things such as tv and the Internet
have so conditioned people to accept statements and assertions uncritically, that someone who demands clarity and precision of
themselves and others will almost sound harsh. Where some English comp teachers will ask for a citation as proof of an assertion,
the reasoning person will ask for facts that are verifiable.

Of course, if one has something unreasonable to hide, it is useful to dim the lights of reasons.

Part of the reason we have so much teenage
angst these days is because a growing number of teenagers can not argue against their despair with anything like
either common sense or argument. Although there are biologically-based difficulties, a large part of the
problems that many people (not just teenagers) have is because they cannot think dispassionately.
Cognitive therapy, which seems to be so effective, is nothing more than reasoning by prescription.

I fear that we will not win the war against the psychology of ease which is the root cause of much of the compositional
nonsense. Hard work is anathema in so many areas, it seems. Criticism, which used to be both charitable
and an act of charity, is no longer greatfully accepted. Academics are the worst offenders as they can rarely accept
being wrong with grace. Mathematicians have no choice but to accept when they - one can prove them wrong at the blackboard.
Perhaps that is why they try not to be wrong. Everything is on public display. There is no really comparable
correction mechanism in Composition. All depends on the opinion of a single professor, not the joint
accumulated wisdom of knowledge. Math must be consistent; logic must be consistent (generally), but composition?
The sort of logic taught in composition courses is of the most banal kind. I really wish that composition
were taught by philosophers who are skilled in argumentation theory. Rhetoric presumes that one has
a defensible point of view, otherwise, it becomes nothing more than pretty words on a page.

The Chicken

I know, I know...gratefully...not greatfully and " ...but to accept when they are wrong."

Sorry. Not a lack of compositional skills (I hope), although I'm all for the irony.
I got distracted by having to deal with an off-brand browser that doesn't format properly, as you can probably tell,

The Chicken

"I can, with just a bit of a stretch, imagine _genuine_ anti-intellectualism: "What are you studying that for, boy? It won't make you any money" or something silly of the kind. Not that I ever actually hear anyone say that, but I'm sure there are some such people in the world."

No need to stretch. This is exactly the mantra I heard constantly in my youth from all sides. Even now, with a doctorate and a teaching job, I still hear it. "When is your fancy degree finally going to start making you some real money?" "Never," I say, "I never thought it would." Baffled silence.

In what way am I on Grabar's side? In that I wish English departments were dominated by people with her philosophy and not by the kind of people she's describing. I don't have any direct experience of those teachers (English was always my most-hated subject, and I took the minimum needed to graduate), but I think they're doing really serious damage.

Yet somehow, Michael, you've managed to get educated despite that. That's my point. Poisoning the very wellsprings of knowledge actually makes that nigh-impossible. Merely making silly comments about "making real money" does not.

Okay, Aaron -- what's the right case to make against your hypothetical good faith liberal who thinks the academy should be a place to interrogate patriarchial, racist, heteronormative representations of power or whatever? Let's say she does so for the usual good faith liberal reasons: Oppression by the white, male power structure is systematic and endemic (as shown by the fact that gays were persecuted, the studies showing implicit racial biases in hiring and politics, etc.) and the former, putatively conservative, orthodoxy in academia discredited itself by opposing the Civil Rights movement, endorsing imperialism, criticizing Reconstruction, promoting phrenology, and so on.

You say you're on Grabar's side but you don't like her arguments. What arguments do you like?

What arguments do I like? Take the strongest presentation or the strongest two or three from the conference, present them relatively completely in a fair way (or if you want to be cynical, then in a way that appears to be complete and fair), which probably will include quotations of key points, and then rip them to shreds. That's if you want to write a polemic.

Alternatively, you might acknowledge some good points or insights of your adversary's and incorporate them into your own position. Lefties call this thinking dialectically, but they rarely do it either. In either case you seriously engage your opponents' strongest arguments, even if you yourself have to strengthen the arguments your opponents actually presented (rhetorical bonus points for that!). I think that's one common ingredient of recipes for good rhetoric. One risk, though, is that if you do engage your opponents' best arguments, what starts out as a simple polemic might turn into something deeper.

I can't answer your question with specific arguments because I don't know what the presentations were really about because the author didn't tell us. But anyway that's one start to writing good rhetoric, as opposed to the demagoguery that Grabar gave us.

By the way, a pedantic point: you call these people liberals, but my guess is that most wouldn't call themselves that. Most of them sound like self-identified leftists, who see liberalism as the enemy. Academic liberalism is just leftism lite.

I suggest New St. Andrews in Moscow, ID or perhaps St. John's in Annapolis, MD.

Well....I know a little bit about NSA. Perhaps it's changed since I knew about it. Last I knew, it was presenting itself as a degree-offering institution in (I was told) violation of state law, as it had not fulfilled the requirements of state law for offering degrees. I'm not sure what I think about the existence of all those regulations, but they _do_ exist, and NSA just was blowing them off. It was not at the time I knew of it on a par at all with St. John's or Patrick Henry or any of these other small Christian liberal arts colleges, which really are, in official and legal terms, colleges. It had no full-time faculty, for example. And that was deliberate. It had no intention at that time of even acquiring or ever having full-time faculty. There was something of the bogus and misleading about it and its self-presentation. I would not have minded had it presented itself merely as a discussion group or a "study house" or "center" or something of the kind. There are many such in the country. But those who were in charge insisted on presenting it as a "university" or "college" when it was not legally anything of the sort. Nor is this merely a matter of accreditation. There is, in fact, some space in many state laws (I haven't checked out Idaho's specifically) for a school to present itself as degree-granting without being accredited, though usually it has to be seeking some sort of accreditation, which can be from a religious accrediting agency. But, again, at the time that I knew of it NSA was not even going this far.

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