can’t see the forest

Why I Detest “Writing in Class”

Posted in college, Education, English, language, Life, Literature, Personal, writing by Curtis on 10/2/07

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Within the English department of my college, there is a general policy whereby students are expected to do the majority of their creative and expository writing—if not all of it—in class.

So, given a topic upon which to expound, one has, at most, two and a half hours over the course of a couple of class sessions in which to come up with a finished essay. The topic is not disclosed until the beginning of the first class session. Even for experienced writers, building an A essay from the ground up under such conditions is not a pleasant or particularly fruitful task, especially when the professor is stringent and demanding in scoring (as, I believe, he should be).

The reasons given for this asinine quirk of procedure typically include the elimination of plagiarism and the prevention of student collaboration. Collaboration: we wouldn’t want that, now, would we? People working together? How 1960s. And, I’m sorry, but no English professor of any repute is going to be concerned about problems in identifying plagiarism. It is painfully easy to spot, particularly in 100-level coursework.

Currently my class is working on an essay concerning the theme of Graham Greene’s excellent short story “The Destructors.” The narrative is rich in symbolism and double meanings, so producing a worthwhile catalog of its potential is not something that can be done in broad strokes.

The point is this: no one does his or her best writing under buzzing fluorescent lights and with such stringent limitations of time and space, and consulting reference works and the opinions of other students should not be considered “cheating” in the world of composition. If the point isn’t to draw from the students their best possible work, then, what is it?

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3 Responses

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  1. Bluebear2 said, on 10/3/07 at 4:56 pm

    In my high school and first year college English Literature courses we spent 85% of the time on the subject of the writings. It was very interesting and left me wanting to read and explore more.

    Then 2nd semester of my sophomore year I had a professor who didn’t give a rat’s ass about the damn undergraduate English courses. He was known to excel in post graduate Shakespeare, but let it be known through his attitude that we were a waste of his time.

    We were studying the first volume of Norton Anthology 1,600 some pages of early English.

    Not once did we discuss content – it was all about style. I was so turned off by it – I was planning on becoming an English teacher.

    The first 25 points of the final exam were based on a two paragraph piece and we were supposed give a short essay on the style of the piece.

    The second 25 points were to give another short essay on the language of the piece.

    The remaining 50 points were single line quotes out of the book and we were supposed to give the title of the piece, the author and the year it was written.

    The exam took me all of 5 minutes to complete.

    I wrote across the front page how absolutely irrelevant it was and exactly where he could put it – walked out of the room and joined the takeover of the ROTC office – protesting the Vietnam war.

    My dreams of being an English teacher were smashed and teaching jobs were exceptionally hard to find so I left college at that point.

    I finally went back about 5 years ago to take some engineering courses which I use in my work.

  2. Curtis said, on 10/5/07 at 1:36 pm

    Well, not to oversimplify, but I think that goes to show that teachers can make all the difference.

    My current Eng professor is a very good guy and extremely knowledgeable. He has an interesting way of explaining things like allusion and symbolism in literature, which, of course, I thoroughly enjoy along with most of the rest of the class.

    It’s just this g.d. departmental policy of writing everything in class: firstly, I’m not a writer. I’m a typer. Secondly, I definitely do my best work at the comfort of my own desk and not on a filthy, graffitied tabletop under the glare of industrial lighting. Y’know.

  3. Bluebear2 said, on 10/5/07 at 1:45 pm

    I always did my best work in the back corner of the campus coffee house by candlelight.


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