Colleges should focus more on liberal arts

Discussion in 'Education and Academia' started by quentinc, Jan 15, 2007.

  1. quentinc

    quentinc New Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Annapolis, MD
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA011107.01B.WORKFORCE.PREPARED.2e78792.html

    Since I'm probably going to attend a liberal arts college, it's somewhat validating, but I wanted to hear opinions from people who have more first-hand experience either way.
     
  2. Footer Phooter

    Jul 23, 2000
    Falls Church, VA
    I don't know. There are plenty of upper level employees who can't write well either. While I don't doubt that improvement can be made, we need a lot of highly technical types as well. A liberal arts education doesn't give you that.
     
  3. Brook

    Brook BigSoccer Supporter

    Sep 13, 2001
    Cleveland
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Shouldn't university students have learned how to write in high school?
     
  4. Pauncho

    Pauncho Member+

    Mar 2, 1999
    Bexley, Ohio
    Club:
    Columbus Crew
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    It's the same old story: ask senior executives what they want in principle, and they will say communication skills and personal qualities. Follow the actual line managers and HR people around, and they hire technical education and experience. What people says and what they does is two diff'rent things.
     
  5. ForeverRed

    ForeverRed Member+

    Aug 18, 2005
    NYC
    Club:
    FC Bayern München
    Nat'l Team:
    Germany
    I actually think secondary education should be more specialized. High Schools should be stepping up in terms of liberal arts education and provide that there and then. I personally feel like I waste time and money going through useless prerequisites and requirements instead of focusing on my major and minor.
     
  6. StrikerCW

    StrikerCW Member

    Jul 10, 2001
    Perth, WA
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    If I'm hiring an engineer, they should be able to write technical reports, but more importantly solve engineering problems that they will be using on the job.
     
  7. Dead Fingers

    Dead Fingers Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 22, 2004
    St. Paul, Minnesota
    Club:
    Minnesota United FC
  8. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    You're not attending a technical school, you're attending college. There's a difference.
     
  9. Chicago1871

    Chicago1871 New Member

    Apr 21, 2001
    The City
    Bingo.

    You learn to write (and by write I mean more than just one page essays with short sentences) in junior high/middle school. In high school you should be learning more advanced writing skills and honing them. In college you should be perfecting them.

    If college graduates suck at writing (I'm always amazed how many of my peers are just awful writers), most of the blame falls on their high school English teachers.
     
  10. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    I mostly agree, but it's hardly only the fault of high school teachers. The kind of writing that students are asked to do today in high school is the most reductive, buzz phrase oriented writing because of the way that state standardized tests, the AP, and now the SAT grade essays. When my wife was teaching high school history, she had to teach students to insert mention of "core democratic principles" in their essays without ever questioning the meaning of phrases like liberty, democracy, etc.

    Also, too often in those kind of wrote essays, students are taught a process of writing that emphasizes that ideas precede writing -- that writing is just the process of recording fully formed ideas -- and that plugs those ideas into a set form (the five paragraph essay, which is drummed into students today). Rather than using writing as a way to think through and develop their ideas, as a separate form of thinking, this kind of teaching develops writing that is incredibly formulaic and that rarely goes anywhere or produces anything new for the author. Having taught at an elite liberal arts college for the past couple years, a lot of my time was spent trying to get students to develop ideas in their writing rather than just repeat set truths.

    Of course, repeating staid truths is the best way to score well on the AP and the SAT, given that each reader is spending 2 to 3 minutes on each essay.
     
  11. quentinc

    quentinc New Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Annapolis, MD
    The SAT essay is complete joke.
     
  12. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    And yet, more time is spent teaching students how to write that essay and similar ones (for good reason, they're high stakes) than almost any other piece of writing.

    And students remember those lessons to their detriment as writers. The college I taught at had a 3-week introductory session for first-year students that was essentially a SAT deprogramming exercise.
     
  13. quentinc

    quentinc New Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Annapolis, MD
    Bard, right? We briefly discussed it over PM's not too long ago.

    I didn't really focus too much on the SAT essay, however. I only took it twice, and the actual essay is such a small part of the overall writing score (10% or somewhere around there), that I really didn't sweat it, and took my 9.

    The AP is a bigger problem, because AP English classes spend an entire year training students to write to that format (not to mention history and gov classes).
     
  14. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    Yeah, Bard has a 3 week session for first-years before classes start that's all about getting students to write as a way of thinking and to move away from the 5 paragraph essay. And you're right that the AP is probably the biggest problem among more advanced students.

    The form of those essays is structured to be read by grad students and high school teachers sitting in hotel suites hopped up on caffeine, grading 150-200 essays per day. Hardly a recipe for developing good or interesting writers.
     
  15. StrikerCW

    StrikerCW Member

    Jul 10, 2001
    Perth, WA
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    It's funny that the two composition classes I have had to take (well only took one thanks to AP) taught us some new techniques but basically carried on what I learned in highschool.

    Of course in highschool I took all honors English (hated it, and probably lost some scholarships because of it, I would make a C or B in there and get a 4 or 5 on QPA, but the colleges still put it down to a 2 or 3 on my GPA, thus my actual GPA was much lower than my graduating class stance QPA), and the 1 comp class I had to take was cake and I made something like a 105 in it whilst there were people FAILING it!!!
     
  16. Chicago1871

    Chicago1871 New Member

    Apr 21, 2001
    The City
    You won't hear me disagreeing. The amount of time spent 'teaching to the test' is absolutely pathetic.
     
  17. ForeverRed

    ForeverRed Member+

    Aug 18, 2005
    NYC
    Club:
    FC Bayern München
    Nat'l Team:
    Germany
    Well I was making a general point about colleges which I believe holds true.
     
  18. NaMusa75

    NaMusa75 New Member

    Nov 2, 2005
    Unfortunately, SoCal
    It's up to you whether or not you want to be a good writer. Don't put the onus on your educational institution, put it on yourself.

    I went to a college prep school and we wrote a lot. For the average English class Freshman, we had to write 3-5 page papers every two weeks based on some central theme in a novel or collection of poems/short stories. PLUS, we had a big research paper (20-25 pages) to do every semester. By the time we were Seniors 3-5 turned to 5-7 and 20-25 turned to 50. Not all of us were pulling As, but everybody got better at it by practice. You know what they say, practice makes perfect.
     
  19. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    No, you weren't. Nor is it true.
     
  20. quentinc

    quentinc New Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Annapolis, MD
    Good luck getting your average public school student to do that, although it does seem quite effective.
     
  21. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    That's harsh. Much of the writing that people do is writing to persuade/explain, such as most of my history papers, for example. There you start from a hypothesis, to go research, change your hypothesis, move on to an outline then write.
    Obviously your paper changes as you flesh out your ideas, but there'd be times where I would manage to follow my outline carefully enough to ensure minimum derivation even after adjustments during writing.

    This is why I'm a bit suspicious of the "more liberal arts" notion - what exactly is a liberal art? I appreciate creative writing, for example (to a certain extent), but I don't write like that and never have. I'm a much less exciting writer, even if I've gotten very technically proficient at it due to the requirements of my job. My historical writing (and the economics writing I did) prepared me relatively well for that. Is that what we mean when we say more liberal arts? I'm not sure.

    I do, however, think that everyone should be required to take a seminar class before graduating in anything. If you can't explain your ideas on paper in a decently sized writing project (i.e. 10-20 pages) your usefulness will decrease.
     
  22. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    You do realize that the rest of your post inherently contradicts this statement, yes?
     
  23. NaMusa75

    NaMusa75 New Member

    Nov 2, 2005
    Unfortunately, SoCal
    Blaming the system can only get you so far. At a certain point, you have to start pointing that finger at yourself.
     
  24. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    Oh, I entirely agree with this approach, and it's pretty much how I teach writing. But, as you emphasize, your ideas have time to change and develop in your work process and then you account for those changes. Too many students, in my experience, approach the process of writing as 1. have an idea, 2. find some quotes that support that idea, 3. bind those quotes to their hypothesis with some loose transitions, 4. conclude that the idea is correct. The essays are boring intellectually, not stylistically. The other thing I try to teach is that writing can help in the early steps of idea formation, and is not just the final process. If you do that (and good note taking is writing), then you can develop an outline that doesn't need much adjustment.

    I should say, I could never develop the kind of outline you do (I'm somewhat jealous). I always needed to completely reconceive my dissertation chapters about halfway through. But I know people who could. One of the things that college can help students develop, if they take it seriously, is intellectual processes that work for them, that help them make sense of the work they do.

    My fears of the standardization of writing that's emphasized for the high school tests is that they've overemphasized a model that works for writing essays that need to be written in 2 hours and read in 3 minutes but fails spectacularly for anything more thoughtful than that.

    Yeah, liberal arts is notoriously inexact, and the last thing the world needs is more bad poets. I think what the study's mainly saying is "We businessmen don't want to teach writing" and somehow the liberal arts becomes this magical thing that does. But people only become better writers if they commit time to it. A seminar paper requires you to do that (or fail really spectacularly, which I've seen). Seminars are, by the way, the easiest classes to grade, as there are huge gaps between those that invest time and those who try to put something together in the last week.

    I think "liberal arts" here stands in for "more writing intensive courses." One problem is that few people teaching in academia have any training in teaching writing. I came across my training in writing pedagogy entirely accidentally, never as part of my graduate work.
     
  25. NaMusa75

    NaMusa75 New Member

    Nov 2, 2005
    Unfortunately, SoCal
    That was merely an account of how I got better as a writer. Some people can't afford or don't have access to such methods, but in the end, you won't get better unless you practice writing yourself.
     

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