Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Professor Stanley Fish on writing - "don't call it a writing course unless you're actually teaching them how to write"
On his New York Times blog, FIU Law Professor Stanley Fish criticizes college writing courses that focus on substantive topics - "novels, movies, TV shows and . . . a variety of hot-button issues [like] racism, sexism, immigration, globalization" - rather than the craft of writing as an end in itself.
As I learned more about the world of composition studies, I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research.
Professor Fish rejects the assumption most of us make that the best way to teach students how to write is by giving them something to write about. Indeed, he says we're wrong to advertise it as a writing class unless it focuses solely on developing grammar skills, "style, clarity, and argument."
That essay provoked a lot of reader response - much of it negative - that Professor Fish must be off his rocker if he thinks writing can be taught as an abstract set of skills. Professor Fish responds in part II of "What Should Colleges Teach?" asserting that contrary to popular belief, thinking doesn't drive good writing but, rather, developing good writing skills actually improves our students' ability to think.
Is Professor Fish right? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Hat tip to Professor Michael Masinter.
I am the scholarship dude.