Sunday, December 15, 2013
The “Anyway” Argument
The Anyway Argument has a certain visceral appeal, and I enjoyed Schuman’s version of it tremendously. But any argument that relies on applying hindsight upfront strikes me as shaky. And I’d hate to reduce what colleges do to what 18 year olds can envision. On my better days, I like to think that expanding their vision is kind of the point in the first place.
College algebra is not required for an AA degree where I teach because it is not required for many majors at every state university and most other colleges that our students attend. That requirement was eliminated ages ago. There are, however, majors where statistics is either recommended or required. (Many social sciences fall in this category.) It is not necessary to know logarithms and solve cubic equations to learn statistics, and Statway provides an appropriate and successful curriculum.
Students in STEM majors are not allowed to follow the Statway path because it would increase the time to a degree for students who need logarithms, trig, and calculus.
PS: When I read lab repors, I deduce from the execrable writing (e.g., a single 2-page paragraph filled with sentence fragments) that what is learned from writing essays is not transferable to other classes or was (more likely) actively forgotten.
Here's the thing - a good paper assignment is work, for everyone involved. But after having slogged through grading required research papers in my upper level political science classes, I can see that my students learned something in the process of doing this. Did they all write good papers? No. But they almost all improved over the course of the semester because I worked at it with them and they worked at it too.
I have many relatives who do not write anything resembling an essay in their (very successful) lives. Building tradespeople, commissioned sales people, small business owners, some (not all) allied health workers, etc. Their jobs require that they describe what they observe and do, but within very standard protocols (usually). I agree that everyone could benefit from being able to write "cogent arguments" in different aspects of their lives; I just realize that at present we have no way of making sure that skill is developed by every person.
I mean essays, 5 or 6 paragraphs long with 3-4 sentences required in each paragraph, not research papers. Save the research and citations required research for AFTER the student has learned what an essay contains.
Demonstrating how to change some words and add or delete certain sentences can change the type of essay it is while maintaining the core of the ideas/tone in it. Students love to see this when it is done to their own essays.
Students hate essay writing, in my opinion, because some professors don't spend time helping the students plan and organize the essay. Some professors don't have a rubric with grade points for each requirement in the essay. The grading just seems arbitrary to the student.
Start students on 5-8 paragraph essays without research and include a list of what will be graded in the essay and students will learn how to organize and manipulate ideas into sentences. Then they will learn how to put sentences about the same subject together to make a paragraph.
Writing is a step by step process.
Real life occurrences have sequential steps to build or put together something; real life often requires taking a bunch of notes or ideas or facts and organizing them into a coherent whole.
Essay writing is good for developing analysis, evaluating and synthesis, the upper level thinking skills.
Let's keep essay writing in freshman curricula.
I was pleasantly surprised that students in my science-class-for-non-science-majors did a bang-up job (thoughtful, coherent, some even insightful) on the final exam short essay question. Of course, they'd been answering essay questions all semester, and they can be a pain to grade, but it was absolutely worth the pain to get the "By Jove - they got it!" feeling.
I'll be assigning the writing again next semester