Assigning writing is my job.

3 02 2011

Mark Bauerlein’s stuff often drives me crazy, but this is from a post that I can get behind 100%:

When it comes to writing-heavy courses, students don’t want to take them and teachers don’t want to teach them. When it comes to writing assignments in non-writing-oriented courses, students don’t like them to run too long and neither do teachers.

Writing is just too much work for both sides. For every upper-division class in the humanities, 25 pages of finished out-of-class writing is a proper minimum. But for most students, that sounds like a daunting total—and an unjust one. For teachers handling three or more classes with 25 or more students, grading all those pages conscientiously (which means giving substantive feedback) keeps them up all night three weeks every semester. For those lucky teachers on a 2-2 load with 25 students or less per course, they feel the publish-or-perish mandate and all those pages of student prose turn into a road block.

I think assigning writing is my job and would feel horribly guilty if I didn’t. nevertheless, I can understand why others don’t. I have a colleague who used to teach one hundred students a semester and made she they all had to do write one paper. That’s why he now teaches with us. I seldom top sixty students per semester, so they all get at least one paper, usually with required drafts. The upper-level students get more.

I think what I like best about Bauerlein’s argument here is the relationship he draws between working conditions and results. Pack too many students into a class and the quality of the instruction will suffer. Sure, you can hand everybody a Clicker and act like your really testing them, but that’s not higher education in the broad sense of that phrase. Required writing is a good thing not just because people with college degrees are often expected to write and will write better the more often they’ve done before they graduate. Required writing is a good thing because it fosters critical thinking.

I like to think every professor is dedicated enough that they’d still assign writing no matter what they’re job situation, but Bauerlein’s right. Most of them don’t anymore because it’s not expected of them. Worse yet, doing so can actively hinder their careers. The relationship might not be explicit. If students don’t sign up for writing-heavy courses, the problem might go unspoken but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Students and professors alike should demand better.



One response

4 03 2011
We drive ourselves (and I don’t mean to work each day). « More or Less Bunk

[…] 3) We drive ourselves (and I don’t mean to work each day). Like the teachers who by school supplies out of their own budget**, good college professors work hard because they care about their students and their universities alike. One of my colleagues at his last job still assigned papers in every class despite having 150 students each semester because it was the right thing to do. I require drafts for almost all my papers not because it’s a job requirement but because I’d feel horribly guilty if I didn’t. […]

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