Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Status: writing gets no respect

From a student paper in my advanced legal-writing class. This will sound familiar to legal-writing teachers:
“Rhetoric and Writing” is a division within the English department. But a rhetoric course doesn't count toward an English degree any more than, say, a history course. The rhetoric division's offices are located in the basement of the building, but the offices for the English department proper are on the first floor. The course descriptions for rhetoric are also located in the basement, but the English course descriptions are posted on the first floor. (The latter area sees a great deal of foot traffic, but hardly anyone goes into the basement.)

In theory, all freshmen have to take an introductory rhetoric course, but about a third of students get out of it through a high SAT II or AP score. Of two upper-division rhetoric courses I tried to take, one had to be canceled due to low enrollment, and another had to be downgraded to a lower-division course for the same reason. And the English courses themselves focus almost exclusively on how to analyze texts; almost no class time is spent on how to frame that analysis persuasively. Commentary on my papers was limited to either the substance of my argument or microscopic issues like punctuation and word usage, but hardly any mid- or high-level structural concerns.
I knew this kind of thing was true because my mom taught English composition at a university for many years. But here it is again, in black and white.

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