Friday, September 24, 2010

Seeing Red... Pen

Though I don't claim to be an expert in the field of composition, my experiences as a writing center tutor, as a student, and now as a professor have lead me to see trends in education, not all of which are good. One trend I find particularly unsettling is a seemingly new-found student obsession with grammar.

Working as a tutor, I see students come to sessions all the time claiming that they need to work on their grammar. Even worse, sometimes they demand that I ignore their content and only address their grammar. This doesn't just happen in writing centers, though. After asking my Composition course students what they thought made good writing and what they thought were their writing weaknesses, I found that grammar was reiterated over and over again. When I asked them to define revision, there was almost no mention of anything idea-related or content-based. Nearly every revision step they suggested was related to editing and proofreading, in other words, looking for grammar error. My own brother, who is now a college freshman, repeated these sentiments when he would talk about writing during his senior year of high school. He had good ideas, but when he talked about the papers he was writing, he almost never discussed his ideas. Instead, he talked about page limits, formats, and how to fit his list of examples into a prescribed structure for essay writing.

Perhaps, I'm naive, or I experienced school much differently than my peers, but I don't remember being obsessed with grammar when I transitioned from high school to college. My high school years, however, took place before there was any attention paid to the SAT Writing Section. Today's traditional freshman students are part of this next generation. Their high school writing experiences include very little creative writing or writing done at home that is later brought back to be workshopped. High school writing assignments consist mainly of 30 minute topic-based timed essays with a focus on test-prep, if I'm understanding correctly.

But is there something more to it? I can't help but think there must be. The way I hear students talk about language and think about grammar tell me that something else is happening, something cultural, something deeply tied to our democratic, multi-faced society. comPOSITION, I hope, will present a social space for the continued exploration and inquiry of this trend.

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