Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do they teach writing in college? Should they?

Okay, seems like a simple proposition. It has a significant impact on us, especially those in ASP and Legal Writing, that deal with writing everyday. I have yet to attend a conference where someone, either at lunch, or in a formal program, decries student's inability to write. Their inability to write is often conflated with an inability to be logical or formulate a coherent analysis of an issue.  To me, that is a different, albeit equally challenging, problem. Another problem that is conflated with the inability to write is the idea that this is a part of a generational war; "back in the day, when I was a student..." everyone was a great writer and...so on and so forth.  Maybe, maybe not. Do students lack the ability to write? My completely anecdotal, unscientific polling would suggest that yes, most of us believe many of our students don't know how to write when they get to law school, and it's not a skill we should have to teach while teaching doctrinal material. (I believe Legal Writing is doctrinal and skills-based, and I am framing the argument from that perspective). 

There is an argument that writing, or composition, in it's purest form, is not taught in college. At the undergrad level, writing is taught in "writing-intensive" courses that focus on content, not style, grammar, or clarity.

Stanley Fish from the New York Times (and a fellow law professor) wrote a wonderful piece on the problem of writing instruction at the college level. The piece discusses other problems of a political nature, but it provides a thought-provoking argument about the lack of writing instruction at the undergraduate level. Should we, as part of the legal academy, make certain writing skills, or composition, classes a requirement for admission to law school? Should we be a part of this discussion? If we complain enough and feel this brings down the level of our instruction, do we have a duty to insist that students come to law school knowing basic composition? I admit, I never had a composition class in college--I tested out of them--and I feel my writing reflects my lack of instruction in the area. I don't have any answers to these questions, just lots of thoughts. (RCF)

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/what-should-colleges-teach/

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2009/08/do-they-teach-writing-in-college-should-they.html

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