The ‘anyway’ argument

Stop requiring college students to write essays, argues adjunct Rebecca Schuman in Slate.

Students hate writing them so much that they buyborrow, or steal them instead. Plagiarism is now so commonplace that if we flunked every kid who did it, we’d have a worse attrition rate than a MOOC. And on those rare occasions undergrads do deign to compose their own essays, said exegetic masterpieces usually take them all of half an hour at 4 a.m. to write, and consist accordingly of “arguments” that are at best tangentially related to the coursework, font-manipulated to meet the minimum required page-count. Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.

College instructors hate grading papers,” Schuman adds. “Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utter waste of their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers.”

Schuman suggests using written and oral tests to measure students’ ability to understand what they’ve read — or been told to read.

This is The “Anyway” Argument, writes Matt Reed on Confessions of a Community College Dean.

The Anyway Argument goes like this: requirement X is widely loathed, and causes all manner of angst among both students and faculty. Outside of a few specialized fields, most students will never need the skills built by requirement X anyway. So why not just drop it?

Carnegie’s Statway is an Anyway project. Most developmental math sequences are designed to move students through algebra to pre-calculus and calculus. But most students don’t want to go into STEM fields and won’t use calculus — or advanced algebra. So why require a course that generates lots of attrition? Statway channels non-STEM majors into statistics.

In the case of Statway (and similar projects), it’s fair to ask why a prospective commercial artist needs to be able to calculate second derivatives.  In the case of Schuman’s argument, one may well ask whether a prospective business major really needs to be able to delve into a nuanced subject for ten pages with MLA citation format.

. . . The problem with the Anyway Argument, I think, is that it works best in hindsight. If you know from the outset what you want to do, and you’re right, then it’s possible to identify requirements that seem extraneous.

As a former English major I may be biased, but I think it’s a lot easier for people to make their way in the world without advanced algebra than to succeed without being able to write clearly and persuasively. Business people write reports, citing evidence to support their points of view.

Years ago, my uncle, a successful businessman, analyzed three possible locations for his daughter’s store. (He must have sent a copy to my mother — who knows why? — because I read it.) Citing traffic, parking and  rental costs, he made the case for the “boring” location. The math was simple. The writing was strong. The business has thrived.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON December 23, 2013

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