One of the biggest reasons students have a hard time writing analysis and argument is because they often don’t have sufficient subject and domain expertise about what is being argued. They can describe what someone else says, but don’t yet have the knowledge to build upon that information. I see this time and again in the analytical research papers I assign as students struggle to insert their ideas into debates they’re not yet prepared to join. If your (history, philosophy, sociology, economics, political science, whatever) course is the first time they’ve encountered your field, they will struggle.Indeed. Imagine the Lombardi era Packers only practicing Thirty-Six and Forty-Nine once a week.
In the current business model of higher education, the student-as-customer sees freshman composition as a hurdle to be gotten out of the way, and the department-as-profit-center sees writing intensive courses as too expensive to offer, or a forlorn hope in the presence of budgets that encourage reliance on freeway fliers and other false economies. Thus students get no additional practice at "realizing their thoughts in clear, coherent language" (just read any railroad's Book of Rules to see what that looks like), although they might play at making up presentation slides.Precisely. Mr Warner notes that those false economies extend, in that majors get insufficient practice with the discourse practices of their disciplines (wherein allusion and elegant variation and foreshadowing and all the other devices of the novelist don't move an argument forward.)
When faculty in other disciplines complain that students “can’t even write a decent sentence,” (likely true when looking at the actual assignments), the problem is not that students don’t know grammar and syntax, but because they are struggling badly with making meaning, and because they have no idea what they’re trying to say, why they’re trying to say it, or to whom, flailing commences.In these days of "doing more with less," though, is anyone surprised that "assessment" reduces to fill-in-the-bubbles scantrons and online quizzes, where the machinery invites students to use the discourse practices of text messaging?
I don’t mean this list as an excuse for unprepared or underperforming students. No one wants student writing to be better than the first-year writing instructor, but my time in the trenches tells me that we could be doing more to help students achieve success.