From trivium to triviality

Students can’t write because teachers don’t teach grammar, argues Troy Camplin, a community college writing instructor who’s also taught middle and high school English.  Students can’t frame an argument because instructors don’t teach logic.

Teaching writing without grammar and argument without logic is like teaching art without drawing. In both cases, all that students can engage in is abstract expressionism. Doing abstract expressionism if you have demonstrated your ability to paint and draw photorealism is one thing; doing abstract expressionism because you can’t paint or draw anything at all is quite another.

. . . College composition today teaches students next to nothing. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric—what was once called the Trivium—have been reduced to mere shadows of themselves, if they get taught at all.

Students should be taught grammar, formal logic, rhetoric and poetics in high school and college, Camplin believes. With that foundation, they can learn to read complex books and write well.

His grammar expectations — students should be able to write any sort of sentence — match what I learned in Mrs. Munski’s seventh-grade English class.  We studied formal logic in 10th-grade English. We did poetry in ninth grade, if memory serves. and nothing but expository writing — the dread 3-3-3 paragraph — all through high school.  College writing was a snap.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON November 2, 2010

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Core 4 All

Let’s hope with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, teachers can explicitly teach these necessary skills to prepare students for post-secondary education. The only way to improve our students’ writing is to create a standards-based curriculum and teach students to write effective claims, use precise words and phrases, demonstrating command of the language.

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