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We’re Missing Something Vital Here (or, Dude, Where’s My Comp?)

April 7, 2007

I have looked over many a paper in my time, to help a friend or classmate out, but the past two semesters have been deeply worrying.  I’ve come to the conclusion that while Literary Methodologies and Literary Research are great classes that do what they can, they are no substitute, when it comes to paper-writing, for Composition–and as far as I can tell, there is no Comp requirement for the Litt program.  There should be.  It seems that we as Litt majors are being asked to write without being taught to write.  And why should they teach us?  It shouldn’t be the profs’ jobs to teach the basics…except that it’s not being done in high school.  It sure wasn’t when I graduated in 1995–my ONE paper was a joke–and it isn’t now.  So if it’s not being done in high school and Literary Methodologies is about, get this, LITERARY METHODOLOGIES, where do the Litt majors go to learn to write?

When I took LittMeth, I looked at the syllabus and said “Oh God, it’s English 101 all over again.”  But now that I’m almost finished the class, I have come to realize it’s not 101, it’s 102.  That is: introduction to poetry, fiction, and drama.  A chunk of the syllabus is indentical; the Norton text is just a “portable” version of the one I still have from 2004.  Instead of one little lecture on methodologies, we’re spending some time on each one with the Bressler text and Dr. J’s lectures.

I want you to understand, reader, that I’m not putting blame on any professor, not one that I’ve had in the past or will have in the future.  I have learned so much from Lisa Honaker and Dr. Jacobson, both as teachers and as professional women.  I’m not even sure there’s “fault” here, exactly; not in a pointing-finger way.  And yet I KNOW, in my heart, that something is wrong.

So, English 101.  Composition.  This is close to the syllabus I had in Comp, and the Patterns for a Purpose text and that professor taught me the basics of all I know.  Over the course of the semester, we would switch between grammar lessons and different types of papers.  This was not a class you could test out of with basic skills…which at first I thought was something that was happening at Stockton, but when I typed “Composition” and searched, I found that the class was a GEN class, not the kind of Stockton-equivalent-to-English-075 class that I was expecting.

When I was at my community college, I took a class in public speaking.  It was a 102 course, but everyone said you didn’t have to take the 101 to do well.  Our first speech, we were graded as if we were taking our final.  It felt like sink-or-swim, and we all sunk.

I have to wonder if that’s how my freshmen-level classmates feel when they write papers at Stockton.

My fundamental problem here is that many of these classmates want to teach, but no one has taught THEM.  Do I think this means that Professor Honaker should step up and do even more with grammar than the Power Point presentation that she showed us in LittRe?  No, definitely not.  That is NOT the job of someone teaching literary research methods.  Should Dr. J cut out Marxism for causal analysis?  Hell no.

So what then?  Comp. A composition requirement* would make up for any lack in the K-12 public education system when it comes to basic grammar- and paper-writing skills. It would enable students to focus on long-term correction of their current mistakes, instead of feeling that they are only reacting to graded papers.  I think that, ultimately, a composition requirement would make the Litt majors better students and the end result would be better teachers, editors, librarians.

Thanks for your time.

*For freshmen.  Transfers on a case-by-case basis, with full credit for similar courses at other institutions.

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