The Corner


Teaching College English — It’s a Battle

In a top-ten list of thankless and frustrating jobs that don’t pay much, near the top you’d have to put Teaching College English. The problem is that most students enter the class, especially freshman composition, already convinced that they are good if not great writers and they resist when the professor tries to point out otherwise.

In today’s Martin Center article, a veteran of the college English battles, Rick Diguette, explains why it has become, as he puts it, “a battlefield.”

The battle is largely fought against the bad habits that have resulted from the “language arts” teachers the students had in their K–12 years. In their efforts at building self-esteem (almost nothing is more important than that!), those teachers have told the students not to worry about oppressive rules of good English, but to “express themselves.” A diligent English professor therefore finds himself repeatedly explaining that there is a difference between “weather” and “whether.”

Should the professor decide to fight — and it’s tempting not to — he’s apt to encounter lots of whining from students who will say that they just can’t deserve a low grade or that their financial aid will be imperiled by one. At that point, the infamous “helicopter parents” are apt to appear to protest. Diguette writes, “Sometimes they will even visit your office, demanding that you show them why the paper didn’t deserve “at least a ‘C.’” They may also claim that this is the first time their child has ever received anything less than an “A.” Although it’s an unpleasant task, be prepared to go over the writing assignment in excruciating detail; if you do so, chances are it will keep that helicopter parent from knocking on your door again.”

After fighting against sloppy writing all semester, the professor is likely to find that near the end, a number of students who had appeared to drop out will reappear, pleading for mercy based on a host of problems. Diguette suggests that the professor resist the temptation to hand out gift grades. “Their mea culpas will be heroic and all inclusive, in hopes that you can overlook the fact they did virtually nothing all semester. Hear them out, then wish them well,” he writes.

Alas, there are too few professors like Rick Diguette these days. Many of the people who undertake to teach freshman English have bought into the leftist agenda and are more interested in promoting ideology through the topics they assign than in promoting clear and proper writing. That’s why so many college grads can hector you all day long about social justice and sustainability but do so in English that would have embarrassed sixth graders 50 years ago.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.