Monday, December 22nd, 2003
The classroom is designed space, architectural and mnemonic. The things we do in college are also designed. Do we need colleges? My answer is no. Do we need smart people to learn about health and healing? Yes. Must college be the place to graduate professional citizens? No, but its probably as good a way as any other. There are, however, other ways, such as professional apprenticeships.
I find it absurd that education is sold. I find it absurd to sell it in semester chunks. Heres a course on Biology. It lasts 3 months. In this bio course all that you need to know will be covered in 3 months. I say cut it to two weeks. I say extend it to 6 months. I say lets write all our papers in Power Point or draw them in crayon or in acrylic. Lets do photo essays or films to express our understanding of cell mutation.
A year-long comp sequence should prepare people to express themselves in an economics course, sure, to execute a case study. It should also teach them to be flexible and to anticipate other writing situations. British Lit demands a different kind of writing than marketing. But the goal is the same: understanding and persuasiveness (and more). There are also hidden goals: to understand the bureaucracy, to learn who needs buttering, to learn that people will be judged by their grammar, to learn that life isnt fair, to learn that life is fair, to learn that stock issues in a policy claim necessitate an understanding of facts and value judgments, to learn that some people dont believe in god and have a different view of the minimum wage. To learn that writing is really a negotiation with space, to learn that the invention process is another way of thinking through memory.
Writing involves numerous and often contradictory skills: organizing time, mapping ideas, gathering data, establishing a subject, memorizing vocabulary and methodologies, learning subjects and their conventions, understanding failures in logic, making distinctions, channeling curiosity, learning and executing editing standards, anticipating audiences. None of these are under expressed ownership by any single department in higher education. The English Department doesnt own writing. It doesnt even own literature, just as the Law School doesnt own the law. Citizens own that or should.
Effective writing comes with time and practice. Since Im a visual thinker, I find it useful to think of writing as research as a subset of architecture: writing is design, construction, and the understanding of a kind of space which admits all other spaces. Writing is a cognitive map; writing is shared memory; writing is analysis; writing is the promulgation of image exchange between people engaged in conversation. Writing is a room where we sit and think. Writing expresses engagement.