Education and Experience

I think that I have made it clear through my previous post and comments in class that I am highly skeptical of many of the teaching ideas of the Third Way as they are represented in Uptaught. I remain skeptical that strategies which entail a departure from the teaching of more formal forms of English or the attribution of letter grades are in the best interests of students as they leave school and begin a career. Nevertheless, one of Ken Macrorie’s strategies which emerges during the second half Uptaught does hold special significance for me; I feel that the integration of experience into college curriculums is a necessary and vital part of education. Students all live in and experience the world around them, and I think writing majors in particular benefit greatly from attempts to allow them to connect their compositions to their experiences.

I have long believed that one of the most demeaning and potentially damaging comments that many people tend to make is that students do not live in the “real world.” This “real world” fallacy is so common that a great number of representations have appeared in popular culture to help express it. The concept of some kind of emergence into a world that is more legitimate because those allowed inside it are older and not students is absurd. First, it erroneously suggests that students are not dealing with many of the same problem that full-time employees are facing. Second, it suggests that there is one true world that only real adults (i.e. just about everyone but students and people who live with their moms’ basements) can inhabit. The result is an illogical and demeaning polarization constructed between students and the rest of society. However, Macrorie argues that students do live in a real world and have real experiences. He writes, “The university need not devise ways of engaging students in the problems of this world. They live in it” (101). Since we actually do live in and experience the real world, I think we need to write like it. For me, writing that is alive is writing that has a reason to exist beyond fulfilling the requirements on a syllabus. It is writing that says something about the world and has a purpose within it.

Macrorie gives his readers a few valuable recommendations about how students can connect their writing to the world around them; the essential ingredients are focus, discipline, and planning combined with a freedom which allows each student to find what matters for him or her and incorporate it into a composition (179). I think problems naturally emerge when professors try to tell their students what should matter instead of allowing them to find what matters to them. Who among us wants to write about a subject that seems uninteresting using a textbook format that leaves no margin for creation or experimentation? Luckily, I feel that many members of Montana State’s English faculty have already realized that good writing comes from students who are allowed to integrate their worldly interests into their creations. The freedom for each writer to pursue what matters to him or her is, I think, the most essential element of the Third Way of teaching so ardently admired by Macrorie.

Universities also have the potential to encourage students to expand upon their previous experiences through coursework that requires primary research and internships that incorporate the interests of students. Macrorie describes such experiences as journeys (170). If good writing comes from experience, a journey of experience would almost certainly be a boon for writers who hope to make new connections and broaden the scope of their writing. I think this is probably one of the reasons why internships are mandatory for writing majors at Montana State.

I am not suggesting that experience programs always come without a price for students, nor do I maintain that such programs are always fun. Going alone to a place you have never been before to beg for an interview from someone you have never met so that you have background information for a journalism course paper that only twenty people will read is about as fun as wisdom teeth removal. The rather significant downside of internships is that many student interns are unpaid, which means that some students who can hardly afford to buy groceries and have significant debt from loans often do the same work as paid employees without financial compensation. These indignities, however, may not be too great of a price to pay to add to the treasure trove of experience that so often characterizes the way a person writes. My writing and thinking expand as my experiences do. It is a form of learning that will not and cannot end.

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One thought on “Education and Experience

  1. Carla Hutson says:

    That is a part of Macrorie that I was also happy to see. I think undergrads get the short end of the stick on this one–we are at the bottom of the pecking order, and a lot of our work does go unrecognized because we don’t have the education thought needed for us to succeed/understand in our tiny little undergrad brains. There is a (I would say old) philosophy that still says we are only good enough for classroom work at this point.

    When I was a freshman and still in the sciences, I literally fell into an undergrad research opportunity. I was looking for a part-time job and ended up doing research in embryonic biology for one of the labs here on campus. The professor that supervised me saw something–god knows what–but took a chance and brought me into the team. I got a crash course in what I was studying–learning senior-level biology out of class when I was technically taking 100-level basic biology.

    To date, the two years I did research is still one of the best experiences I have had thus far. I designed my own project, carried it out, presented my findings at five different conferences, one at the national level. Okay, so my work wasn’t groundbreaking by any means, but I still feel like I contributed to that lab, even as a freshman.

    I think we have a lot to offer, even as far down in the education scheme as we are. And I do see that changing–we are required as a part of the writing degree to go out and do an internship. I hope the shift continues–it’s not always fun, but hands-on experience I think is just as important as what we do in the classroom.

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