Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Writing About Something Other Than Your Own Feelings

Apparently, the ability of high school students to write about anything other than themselves and their feeeeeeelings is slipping. I don't get the impression that we worry about that so much where I teach--it's a fairly high-performing school--but it's definitely something we should be aware of, like grade inflation and course title inflation.

Will Fitzhugh of the Concord Review wrote about the topic, and EdNews.org carried the column. It's entertaining, informative, and somewhat distressing reading.

In 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert introduced the idea of "truthiness" into the English language. The term characterizes speech or writing that appears to be accurate and serious, but is, in fact, false or comical. In college, I learned that one of the tasks of thought is to help us distinguish appearance from reality. The goal of "truthiness" is to blur that distinction. On satirical news programs, like The Daily Show this dubious practice brings the relief of laughter, but on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning—in which students are told that it's OK to make things up and to invent experts and "quote" them—it just brings confusion, even to the task of writing of "nonfiction." Postmodernists and deconstructionists at the university level have long been claiming that there is no such thing as truth, but here we have high school students being told, on a state assessment, that when writing nonfiction, it is OK just to make things up, for instance to invent an expert, and then "quote" him in support of an argument they are making.

The danger is that practices like these can lead high school students to believe that they don't need to seek information about anything outside of their own feelings and experiences. However, college students are still expected to read nonfiction books, which obviously deal with topics other than their personal lives. Students also have to write research papers in which they must organize their thinking and present material coherently. Too many students are not prepared to do this, and many end up dropping out of college. What a terrible waste of hopes and opportunity!

1 comment:

David Foster said...

"Too many students are not prepared to do this, and many end up dropping out of college. What a terrible waste of hopes and opportunity!" It would be an even greater waste of opportunity if these individuals actually made it through college and were hired for job in which their performance mattered to other people.