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I skimmed this article and wondered if it wasn't a repeat from several years ago. I think they published a very similar article around 2000. My reaction then, as now, was to roll my eyes.


A colleague of mine passed the article along to me and I had a similar unease about it. There's much truth here about teaching in the community college and the struggles involved, but it's also not quite my experience.
One error I think the writer makes is in the nature of failure. It's typical of education to take one of our most natural learning mechanisms - trial and error - and stigmatize it. Prof X seems to feel that an F grade puts the student in a coffin, and if he has the F-as-death view, he probably communicates this hopelessness to his students as well. And there's a similar hopelessness that pervades the Atlantic article.
But I have often failed students in comp courses and had them return some later semester to succeed. Most of them I want to come back. I want my attitude to say that yes, it's the truth, they fail now, today, but the future is largely dependent upon what they have yet to do.


As some one who flunked out of college as a math major and later returned to get a BS in math (long story!), I really appreciate yr points about failure, Dale: failure as not-yet-success.

I've been reading lots of comments on this article around the blog world, most sharply critical of Prof. X's elitist attitude towards students and his inadequate, outmoded pedagogy; both criticisms are well-founded, I think. But in some cases, in part at least, the attitude of the cutting-edge comp-rhet specialist to Prof. X seems to echo Prof. X's attitude towards his/her student. How do we best handle both under-prepared students and ill-prepared instructors? Teaching canonical works in comp-through-literature courses seems in my experience to be the norm, as is teaching narrative, comparison/contrast, process, etc. essays in a standard comp course. Rather than attack the inadequacies of either student or teacher, the important question seems to be this: At an institutional or departmental level, what's to be done??

Jack Box

Writing is hard to teach. I am curious about the critique of the Prof. X's "pedagogy" because it suggests that if we just "taught better" everyone would "get better." This patently isn't true! It suggests that that individuals are simply the sum total of the programming and that "garbage in/garbage out" thinking is what's to blame. But keep in mind what Prof . X is trying to teach: writing (I know he/she teaches lit but the difficulties there are cultural in scope... some people hate reading and don't want to do it unless they have to. I myself am starting to hate going to the movies... but I digress). Writing requires practice, not memorization or implementation of directives. Once that is understood the question becomes "ok, how best do we organize such a class?" It seems to be the way to go is the to follow the example of some profs (I am thinking of one at LMU) who conducts writing classes strictly through one-on-one conferences. There are also whole-class workshop methods which are fun and helpful. But the way the composition classes are "done" these days (and from what I gather from having read other blogs on this same article) the composition directors seem fairly wedded to the reading/writing connection such that there now has to be as much reading as there is writing... which means there is less writing (if the teacher wants to actually use the books he/she is making the students purchase!) and in many cases, a second, novel-length book that has to be gotten through. Sixteen weeks in the semester... and, oh, by the way, these students do have other classes!

Jack Box

By the way... do you think instructors in other courses - say, geography or criminal justice (the latter being a popular major 'round these parts) have these kinds of existential crises? I rather think they must enjoy their weekends!

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