Saturday, December 06, 2008

Re: Re: You're Doing It Wrong: English Teachers

A friend of mine responded to my post "You're Doing It Wrong: English Teachers:"

I re-posted it for sake of context, and it's a good argument.
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Friend wrote
at 10:51pm on December 4th, 2008
(Sorry this was so long I had to put it in a word document and break it up lol.)

I came across this yesterday and couldn't help myself. If you’re going to speak of making a valid argument, while I find your own (regarding English teachers) interesting, certainly not without some tangible degree of merit, I find it even more porous and flimsily constructed on generalizations. I wholeheartedly agree with your point regarding the delivery of a convincing argument – it “has less to do with the argument and more to do with the delivering.” However, in my opinion, your claim “the people who teach delivery are the ones responsible for the Internet sounding like it’s full of stupid people” is, as you have characterized the human race, not at all stupid, but it does flirt shamelessly with the average. I find it strange that you acknowledge the ignorance in assuming people on the Internet reflect the world’s population while simultaneously lumping another group of people, English teachers, together in an incredibly generalized and unflattering heap.
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Friend wrote
at 10:51pm on December 4th, 2008
Our disagreement on the subject (your claim being that people sound stupid because English teachers are “doing something wrong”) may stem from possible differences in our views of the educational system. I believe learning is more the responsibility of the pupil rather than of the instructor, dependent on the student’s motivation and effort rather than on “answers” (if there are such things in the realms of literature and debate) fed to and gulped down by the lazy pupil. I believe, in terms of education, you reap what you sow. Perhaps it is the student, rather than the instructor, who deserves some of the rebuke you flippantly pawn off on the English teacher. I don’t know the names of each President of the United States, but to blame this lack of knowledge on History teachers everywhere is just silly. It is clearly my own fault; if I were genuinely interested in learning that information, or how to deliver a convincing argument in this case, I would make the effort: learn it, practice it, and make it my own endeavor, fueled by the desire to acquire that knowledge or skill. Perhaps your argument would be more aptly named “You’re Doing It Wrong: Students.” I recommend “The American Scholar” by Emerson if you haven’t already read it. He presents a similar case obviously more eloquently than I can.
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Friend wrote
at 10:54pm on December 4th, 2008
If that argument does not appeal to you, and if we were to assume that the dismal linguistic state of Americans on the Internet is fully the fault of the English teacher, then we’d need to take into account why that is the case. Surely it cannot be as black and white as you construe it to be, because very few things are ever black and white, right? It’s no secret that studying or teaching literature (and accordingly, debate) is less likely to put food on the table than say, a degree in the medical field. To consider the student’s socio-economic status and thus how the financial motivations of students across the nation surface in the subjects in which they aim to excel would both challenge your argument and add depth to it if you were able to incorporate it effectively. While I certainly acknowledge that argumentative skill is imperative to a student in science or medicine just as it is to a student in English, clearly the responsibility of teaching delivery is perceived as belonging solely to the English instructor. I’m of the philosophy that it all comes down to personal responsibility, but if that doesn’t jive with you, perhaps take a closer look at the significant budget slashes inflicted on Humanities departments in America under the Bush administration. Those truly passionate about English or debate or any subject in the humanities, really, may be less inclined or even unable to follow that calling because of economic strain. In that case, is the English teacher to blame? Or is it the system which inhibits the passionate from spreading the source of their fervor? The system which calls for English instructors to teach based on a Standardized Learning Test to meet government quotas instead of delving into the classics upon which literature was built and which instilled awe in the instructor in the first place? In this case, your argument would be more aptly titled “You’re Doing It Wrong: Government.”

Sorry to rant. I like English teachers :)
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So here's a few comments and my response:
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"I find it strange that you acknowledge the ignorance in assuming people on the Internet reflect the world’s population while simultaneously lumping another group of people, English teachers, together in an incredibly generalized and unflattering heap."

Yes, I am generalizing English teachers. I've also had incredible ones, but out of 13 years of school, only two of them I would characterize as such.

"I believe learning is more the responsibility of the pupil rather than of the instructor, dependent on the student’s motivation and effort rather than on “answers” (if there are such things in the realms of literature and debate) fed to and gulped down by the lazy pupil."

I agree. However, most teachers do not demand such out of their students. If apathy were infectious, many teachers have allowed themselves to be infected by their students instead of spotting it and stomping it out. The system is self-sustaining, but with a group of pupils moving through the system every thirteen years and a group of teachers moving through every thirty years (an estimated average), it's hard to blame a group that's in flux for a constant problem.

"In this case, your argument would be more aptly titled 'You’re Doing It Wrong: Government.'"

Oh yes. Couldn't agree with you there more, but that's its own set of issues.

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It's true, the teachers aren't entirely to blame and especially not as a whole. I did leave out the fact that some of the best teachers I've had have been English teachers. I'd point out particulars, but I'm not in a mood for flattery. Nevertheless, they were diamonds in the rough.

There are ways to fix the problem that I hadn't pointed out either. One of those is the fact that we have lumped two subjects into what we call English: Writing and Rhetoric being one and Literature being the other. Perhaps it's more efficient to clump the subjects into one, but there's plenty of things that are lost.

One of the lost topics is technical writing. English teachers are often forced to use literature as the source material for any sort of research essay that must be taught despite that most of their pupils will never need to write a literary essay. Instead of teaching technical writing--something that could be applied to any field of study in the sciences, engineering, or even business--students are asked to contrive a thesis about a couple of books. Unless you're going to study literature the rest of your life, it's not a useful skill. Useful skills could be derived from it, but starting with the real deal is better in the long term.

English curricula are still modeled after a pre-internet world where writing was planned out far in advance and done slow and tediously. It never was adapted to a time where publication is quick, immediate, and without paper. This adaptation will be possible once our generation comes of age and makes the curriculum appropriate for our world... I should hope.

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