Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Blog 9: Composition courses

From what I remember of composition courses, the emphasis seemed always to revolve around the production of writing argumentative papers. I am not sure which class it was, but I remember one class consisting of writing three argumentative papers. Thinking back, it seems as though the purpose the class was designed that way was to be a sort of catch-all for students, to initiate students into the world of academic writing. At bottom, what these classes seemed to be teaching was the "genre" of college paper writing.

I distinctly remember writing one paper in which I failed to supply an adequate accounting for the objections to my view. I recall feeling really frustrated about this because I felt it unjust that I would be docked, not for failing to articulate my point, but for failing to account for other point of views on the subject. As I look back, I actually tend to agree with the professor, or at least I sympathize with his decision to make that an essential part of the paper. What motivated the professor, I take it, was a desire to have students step outside of their own perspective and at minimum reflect (even if indirectly in the process of regurgitating something you don't believe because it's a requirement for the paper) on positions outside of the student's, which he or she presumably entered the classroom with.

One thing that I really did not learn in those classes was how to actually do substantive research. In fact, as much as I love the English department at Weber State, as an undergraduate I was never instructed with any rigor on how to really engage with databases and so forth for the purpose of doing real research. It was actually in philosophy classes that I was introduced to the world of doing my own serious ("serious" for an undergrad, anyway) research. Interestingly, my first class in the MENG program was spent entirely in the library going over research tools.

The absence of doing real research in the composition classes rendered pretty poorly informed papers. This also has to do with the fact that I was a few years younger and less experienced, of course. It would make sense, and maybe other instructors do, to emphasize research before you expect students to compose anything meaningful. Then again, for the purposes of a catch-all class, it might be far more efficient to just have all the students produce papers based on the same body of work you provide the class. Maybe it comes down to a practical consideration.


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