Writing Cops?

Laurence Musgrove has an interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed called “The Real Reason Students Can’t Write.” I think it’s interesting because I agree with just about half of it.

Musgrove, who is an English professor-type who teaches first year writing and who has been involved in some writing programs at different schools, suggests the following causes of “bad student writing:”

I believe most faculty think that when they find an error in grammar or logic or format, it is because their students don’t know “how� to write. When I find significant errors in student writing, I chalk it up to one of three reasons: they don’t care, they don’t know, or they didn’t see it. And I believe that the first and last are the most frequent causes of error. In other words, when push comes to shove, I’ve found that most students really do know how to write — that is, if we can help them learn to value and care about what they are writing and then help them manage the time they need to compose effectively.

I think that this is all very very true. Musgrove also suggests that a lot of “bad” student writing continues to happen across the curriculum for two reasons. First, it’s a lot easier for most professors to complain about their student writing than to actually do anything about it– like, you know, teach (as opposed to merely assign) writing. Second, students rarely face serious consequences for bad writing; bad writing might receive a less than excellent grade, but rarely do students fail as a result of their bad writing.

But then Musgrove kind of loses me when he proposes this:

All faculty members are hereby authorized to challenge their students’ writing proficiency. Students who fail to demonstrate the generally accepted minimum standards of proficiency in writing may be issued a “writing ticket� by their instructors. Writing tickets become part of students’ institutional “writing records.� Students may have tickets removed from their writing records by completing requirements identified by their instructors. These requirements may include substantially revising the paper, attending a writing workshop, taking a writing proficiency examination, or registering for a developmental writing course. Students who fail to have tickets removed from their records will receive additional penalties, such as a failing grade for the course, academic probation, or the inability to register for classes.

Wha????

Look, average people/students already think that English and writing professors are members of some sort of grammar Nazi patrol; this guy wants to give us the power to write actual tickets? No thanks.

I have been thinking lately though how it’s a problem that comp/rhet folks have reduced the role grammar, correctness, and proofreading in contemporary pedagogy too much. To me, I think this is especially a problem in writing classes beyond first year writing. But that’s another post for another time.

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4 Responses to Writing Cops?

  1. cbd says:

    I have been thinking lately though how it’s a problem that comp/rhet folks have reduced the role grammar, correctness, and proofreading in contemporary pedagogy too much.

    I don’t think they have. Composition pedagogy may have reduced the amount of time devoted to “teaching” this stuff, if you can call the usual methods teaching. But it still favors heavily in assessment.

  2. Steven D. Krause says:

    Well, let me put it to you this way: perhaps this is just a local problem here at EMU, but I think too often instructors in 300+ level classes use the same standards of “correctness” that they do in first year writing. This can be a problem. And besides that, the definition of “correct” and the importance of “grammar” is a moving target. Miss a few commas or whatever in FY comp or in many a college essay, no big deal– as long as the instructor gets the student’s point. But my students who are planning careers in journalism, PR, tech writing, or professional writing should be aware that there’s a pretty good chance that when they go for a job interview, they will literally have to take a “grammar test” to move on in the interview profess. Miss a few commas or whatever in those situations and they will show you the door.

  3. Pingback: Machina Memorialis » Blog Archive » Writing Tickets

  4. John Hobson says:

    I take exception to the statement “First, it’s a lot easier for most professors to complain about their student writing than to actually do anything about it– like, you know, teach (as opposed to merely assign) writing”

    I teach religious studies, not writing. If, for example, I’m teaching the history of the Christian Church from 313 to 787, I’ve got my time pretty well occupied telling them about the conflict between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius rather than verb-subject agreement.

    Yes, I will point out grammar and other problems on their papers, but it isn’t my job to teach them the basics.

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