Appreciating Tom Wolfe (1930-2018)

Carol Iannone

In remembrance of the man who critiqued a century.

The Incoming Flood of College Freshmen Won’t Learn How To Write

John Maguire

John G. Maguire discusses how to improve college students’ writing.

The Origins of the Readable Writing Method: Part II

John Maguire

John Maguire tells how he started teaching students to write using the Readable Writing Method. Part 2.

The Origins of the Readable Writing Method: Part I

John Maguire

John Maguire tells how he started teaching students to write using the Readable Writing Method. Part 1.

Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: New Children's Book by AQ Editor

NAS

Just in time for the holiday season, Felicia Chernesky, the managing editor of Academic Questions, has released the children's book Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Color.

Authors Wanted

NAS

Textbook authors seek collaborators who have expertise in genetics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

How Beauteous Mankind Isn't: Reflections on Today's Brave New World

Ashley Thorne

Ashley Thorne sees in today’s world elements from Huxley’s dystopia: birth control as environmentalism, world citizenship, slogans, indifference to “old things,” and abiding adolescence. 

The Unexamined Life of Academic Kindness

Marilee Turscak

A new Tumblr blog called Academic Kindness seeks to highlight instances of generosity, goodwill, and compassion in academia.

The Fall 2013 Issue of Academic Questions Is Out

Tessa Carter

The fall 2013 issue of AQ features "critical thoughts in critical times."

Terrific Essay Contest – Pass the Word

George Leef

Find out how to enter the second annual Douglas B. Rogers Conditions of a Free Society Essay Competition.

Before Turning Students into Writers, Teach Them Grammar

Troy Camplin

Should students be taught how to be writers or how to write?

Here's One Writing Prof Who Gets Results

George Leef

To teach students how to write well, explains John Maguire, train them to use active verbs and build good sentences.

The "Write" Stuff

Jason Fertig

Employers continue to hire - and complain about - college graduates who can't write well.

Ask a Scholar: That vs. Who

David J. Rothman

Writing scholar provides insight on the usage of personal and impersonal pronouns.

UK Students And Their Blooping History Exams

Glenn Ricketts

UK history students demonstrate blooping proficiency.

Signs of the Times: The Queen’s English Society Folds

Glenn Ricketts

Defending the Queen's English is a very hard sell these days.

They're Not Unteachable

Glenn Ricketts

It's more difficult, but certainly not impossible, to teach today's college students.

The Unteachables: A Generation That Cannot Learn

Janice Fiamengo

An English professor wonders how to teach students who can't learn.

Ze Only Confuses Hir Students: Teaching Gender Neutral Pronouns

Ashley Thorne

If gender is pliable, why not grammar?

How to Be Succinct

Peter Wood

Peter Wood suggests ways to keep it short.

The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp

Mary Grabar

The anthologies used in many freshman composition courses tell students what to think, not how to write.

Sentenced

Peter Wood

Peter Wood weighs Stanley Fish’s new book on how to teach college rhetoric.

Why I Might Stop Assigning Essays

Jason Fertig

Jason Fertig weighs the importance of teaching students to write against the other demands on faculty members' time.

Down with Research Papers, Up with Essays

George Leef

That’s the argument Professor Thomas Bertonneau makes in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call. Research papers, he contends, merely encourage students to cobble together opinions by “research” that consists mostly of copying from several sources. 

Colleges Ignore the Most Basic of Skills -- Writing

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Murray Sperber points out that most college courses do little or nothing to help students become good (or even moderately competent) at that most basic of skills -- writing.

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Can You Drop It on Your Foot?

John Maguire

A college writing professor urges students to avoid "abstractitis" and use concrete nouns.

They Can Write

Will Fitzhugh

Despite most people's willingness to dismiss their intellectual capabilities, high school students can rise to high standards if we expect them to.

Many British College Students Can't Write Either

George Leef

A common complaint with regard to American college grads is that they write very poorly.  Apparently, it's a problem in Britain as well.

Disadvantaged Students

Will Fitzhugh

The truly disadvantaged are those who have not been sufficiently taught how to read and write and graduate from high school unprepared for college.

Betrayed by Higher Ed...Again

David Clemens

My post “Betrayed by Higher Ed” has occasioned so many comments and emails that I want to offer a group response.

"Accepted Student Day"

George Leef

In an excellent Wall Street Journal piece, Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College writes about his visit to one of the schools where his son was accepted. It's a warts-and-all portrait of college life, heavy on the amenities and light on the academics. What little attention was given to academics is troubling: "The professor boasted of his history course, which had transformed merely curious students into 'social activists.' Under his guidance the young scholars read books by Sally Belfrage, author of the Cold War memoir 'UnAmerican Activities' and the socialist historian Howard Zinn, author of 'A People's History of the United States,' and they emerged 'ready to change the world.' So we have that to look forward to. "The professor's speech was just a hint of what was to come: Later my son told me that he had three choices for a mandatory writing class: 'History of the 1960s,' 'TV's Mad men,' and 'Intro to Queer Theory.'" I hope young Mr. Ferguson already knows how to write.

Some College Students Really Do Learn Critical Thinking

George Leef

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call,  Professor David Clemens discusses the general failure to teach college students critical thinking — despite the fact that many schools trumpet that as one of their goals — and then explains how he gets his students to learn it. He gives them a capstone assignment that requires them to write a lengthy essay on the question whether Holocaust deniers should be included in the curriculum. That compels the students to analyze evidence and arguments as most have never had to do before.

How Writing a Sonnet Helps Students Learn English

George Leef

In today's Pope Center piece, Troy Camplin explains the benefits of giving students a seemingly outmoded and irrelevant writing assignment -- composing a sonnet. 

High School Research Papers and the New York Times

Ashley Thorne

An article on Will Fitzhugh and The Concord Review mischaracterizes the NAS but brings needed attention to the "dying art of the research paper."

What's the Value of Freshman Composition Courses?

George Leef

Here's an essay about a composition course at UNC that was a waste of time.  No student, who wanted to improve his writing, would buy a course like this in a stand-alone, free market transaction.

A Voice from the Front Lines of the High School English Classroom

A reader offers constructive suggestions and deepens our understanding of the reasons high school teachers don’t (and can’t) assign research papers.

Censored Study Unearthed - Why Teachers Don't Assign Research Papers

Ashley Thorne

The NAS has published a long-buried study on the state of the history research paper in American high schools. The 2002 study sponsored by The Concord Review (TCR) went unpublished when its benefactor, the Albert Shanker Institute, found the results unflattering to high school teachers. Why aren't high schools doing a better job of teaching students to write? The suppressed study finds that 95% of high school teachers think research papers are important, but 62% never assign them. According to the report, the biggest barriers to teachers are time and class size. Most teachers said that grading papers took too much personal time, and that not enough time was provided for this in the school day. Teachers surveyed taught an average of 80 students each. Assigning a 20-page paper then means having 1,600 pages to grade. The Concord Review urged high schools to support teachers by providing more time for them to grade papers. Click here to read the press release.

Teaching College Students to Write

George Leef

Most college composition courses teach students "next to nothing" writes Troy Camplin in today's Pope Center piece. The problem is that most students have great deficits in their understanding of English thanks to their K-12 years and the small amount of time college profs have to cover the fundamentals of grammar is not nearly enough. Many people in the business world lament that the ability to write decently is a skill that is badly lacking among college graduates. This piece helps explain why. I also give Camplin three cheers for his advocacy of putting logic into the college curriculum.

"It Messes Up My Fishing Time": Why American High School Teachers Don't Assign Research Papers

Peter Wood

NAS brings to light a long-suppressed research report on how American high school teachers avoid assigning research papers.

What Has Become of Freshman Comp?

George Leef

That is the question Professor Robert V. Young of North Carolina State answers in this Pope Center piece we released last week. Back when he taught the course in the 1970s, it was like boot camp for college students who needed to improve their writing. There was a lot of work and it was rigorously graded -- tough on both the student and the professor. Unfortunately, the course metamorphosed over the years into one dominated by "composition theory" and like so many academic theories, that one has proven to be a dismal failure. More incoming students than ever need to improve their writing, but the way freshman comp is now taught, it's mostly a waste of time -- or worse.

Freshman Comp Ain't What She Used to Be

George Leef

We hear a lot of chatter about how it's so vital that we get more young Americans through college because college teaches them the "higher skills" that the globalized "knowledge economy" demands. I think that's baloney. For many students, college doesn't even teach the most basic skill of all, namely the ability to write clear English. In this video of a talk presented at the John  Locke Foundation, North Carolina State English professor Robert V. Young explains what has happened to freshman comp over the decades. It used to be a lot of hard work (for students and professor), but now.....

In Memoriam

David Clemens

Most good teachers had a model. Robert Pinsky had Francis Ferguson; Mark Edmundson had Frank Lears. I was lucky; I had two. My Freshman Comp. teacher was Dr. Idelle Sullens, a Stanford-trained medievalist specializing in 14th century literature. But I was mystified to learn that she had also been a naval officer in World War II and Korea. And rumor had it that she was something called a “Daughter of Bilitis.” But what really fractured my high school brain was seeing Dr. Sullens pull up in her brand new `64 Mustang. That I understood, and it elevated her beyond cool. My disturbing discovery was that one could seem professorial but also be startlingly complicated.  Two years later, it was the Lincolnesque Beat Generation scholar Tom Parkinson. One drowsy afternoon in Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium, Parkinson recited Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”with tears streaming down his partially-paralyzed cheeks (he had been shot in the face by a student). I was embarrassed but also feared that this moment was profound in a way I might never understand. How could he so reveal himself? It took years to learn that throughout one’s life, good literature deepens and grows, accumulating, preserving, and incorporating intense personal associations. Now there are poems I can’t read aloud without leaking tears. Both are gone now, but the spirits of Sullens and Parkinson still gently remind me to be unexpected, singular, complicated, and exposed so that my students will see that one day they can do the same.

Freedom from Bad Academic Writing

Jonathan Bean

The following column on George Orwell's advice to free students from bad academic writing is worth reading:

http://chronicle.com/article/Bad-WritingBad-Thinking/65031/?sid=ja&utm_source=ja&utm_medium=en

In two decades of teaching, I've worked with exceptionally bright undergraduates. Once they enter graduate school, however, they conform to the "smelly little orthodoxies" of theory and the jargon-ridden writing of their discipline. I've always despised jargon that deadens prose and will be passé by the time these young conformists hit old age. Future generations will have to decipher why words and phrases such as "subaltern," "post-structuralist," "late capitalism" meant to the scribbling class of early 21st century academics. The advice Orwell gives is very similar to advice Winston Churchill gave on good writing. This passage says it best (from Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"):

"Orwell leaves us with a list of simple rules: * Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. * Never use a long word where a short one will do. * If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. * Never use the passive where you can use the active. * Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. * Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I am posting this for my own students and as a reminder to myself (fallen creature that I am).

The Philomath Speaks: An Interview with Anu Garg

Peter Wood

"Words are like air — they are all around us even though we can't see them, and they are just as essential," says Anu Garg, creator of Wordsmith.org.

Squeezing the Grapefruit

Ashley Thorne

NAS president Peter Wood’s book review of Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, is linked on Arts and Letters Daily.

On the Beauty of Formal Grammar

Ashley Thorne

A charming blog on our blogroll, Quiddity - created by the Center for Independent Research on Classical Education (CiRCE) - has an excellent post on the beauty of formally-taught grammar. Author Andrew Kern, CiRCE president and developer of a classical composition program called The Lost Tools of Writing, reasons:

When you teach grammar for her own sake, you keep the benefits and also gain her blessings, many of which are simply unpredictable. When a child learns formal grammar, he becomes her intimate acquaintance and they flourish in a symbiotic relationship like a cherished governess or mother. She forms his mind to its own nature. She empowers the child to think. Form itself becomes a mental habit – if the soil is ready. You come to realize that things have structures. You start looking for the structures of things like language, poetry, literature, natural objects (e.g. trees, bodies, the cosmos), and knowledge itself. By recognizing structure and order you come to perceive the relationships between things and you realize that the life of the thing is embodied in its structure. You come to love order. But you don’t make it the end of your observations. It is always a foundation, a skeleton, and never the spirit. [...] And when a young child learns the form of grammar, he develops two habits of mind that are essential to self-governance and freedom:
  • He learns to limit what he is saying to what he is trying to say – he learns to think with limits and therefore to think about something
  • And he learns to insist that others mean something when they speak and limit themselves when they rule

Kern's article is worth reading in its entirety.

Politics as Pedagogy?

Ashley Thorne

At Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor has an excellent take on a professor’s recent article justifying her use of the classroom for political activism. Professor Gemma Puglisi, who teaches a writing course at the American University in Washington, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

the entire experience has made me re-examine my own teaching. What role do we as professors have in our classrooms? Is it appropriate for us to use politics as a pedagogical tool? Do we have the right to use our classrooms for activism?

Puglisi thinks so, but O'Connor disagrees:

There is much to be said for fighting to ensure due process and to defend those we believe have been falsely accused. But Puglisi should have done it on her own time. The fact that she might have been on the side of the angels on this one doesn't justify her abuse of pedagogical privilege.

We couldn't have said it better.

Acres of Rhinestones: Temple Betrays Its Heritage

Stephen Zelnick

This article by Stephen Zelnick recounting Temple University's departure from the Great Conversation appeared in the "Case Studies in Academic Malady" issue of Academic Questions (vol. 22, no. 3).

The College Backgrounds of America's Leading Syndicated Columnists

Tom Wood

Journalism's roots in higher education remind us of the university's role in public society.

The College Backgrounds of America's Leading Newspaper Opinion Columnists

Tom Wood

A look at how higher education has influenced the analysts and inscribers of American public opinion.

You Too Can Write Like Toni Morrison!

Peter Wood

It's not for nothing that Toni Morrison is the most assigned author in college today. Her revamping of written English gives a new model for fiction. As a service, NAS's executive director has distilled certain rules that we might adopt to emulate Ms. Morrison's colorful style.

Hypergelasts

Peter Wood

Are you ever hangry? Do you ever blamestorm? Then expiscate some new words with us.

Crying Out Loud

Glenn Ricketts

Scholarships for cheerleaders but none for history readers

If I Ran the Zoo VII

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein's simple rule for running the zoo: have other professors teach freshman comp too!