Archive for May, 2016

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

There is a specter haunting the world of academia, and college professors are wailing with fear and frustration. Every few months, the opinion pages of such diverse publications as The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoan this specter.  50 year old college professors fill the pages of these prestigious productions with 6a6151155fbde50cec7b9616661c1448d3374fa7op-eds categorically stating that today’s ‘college students can’t write.’  If you don’t believe me, the weblink attached takes you to 78 million screeds lamenting the lost art of the sentence, the paragraph and the essay. Peruse your pick, and fear for the future.

Personally, I find such concerns to be generally overstated and misplaced. I read thousands of student journals and papers every year, and I have seen very little decline in the standard and quality of student work.(In fact, it has generally been the opposite) Some students are good writers, some are not so good writers. Some are good because they try hard at it, edit furiously and understand how to analyze ideas. For those who are not so good, I find it often comes down to simple laziness.  A proofreading here and there never hurt anyone, but there are some students who can’t take the time.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means they have no problem turning in mediocre work. That is their prerogative.

Most concerns about the lost art of writing feel there is more to this issue than just laziness. However, these concerns are often based upon misguided notions. For one thing, there seems to be a belief that college students in the past wrote Dickensian prose and essays that would put Virginia Woolf to shame. This is ludicrous.  The conservative linguist John McWhorter illustrated this in his intriguing 2013 TED talk ‘Txting is Killing Language. JK!!’ About halfway through his 13 minute lecture, McWhorter illustrated that our concern about the lost art of writing is by no means novel.  In 6 quick examples, McWhorter quotes professors and educators from the past 2000 years that sound incredibly like the Cassandras of today. See the queued up clip below:

So it seems that  professors have  always complained about their younger charges’ writing skills. As McWhorter displays, this has much to do with the simple fact that language and linguistics change over time.  But, I think there is something more to it. It’s difficult for humans to believe that what they know now, they have not always known. Ask a professor or teacher about their undergrad writing skills. I guarantee most believe their writing ability at 19 compares favorably to their abilities today. After all, if you are a good writer at 40, you must have been a good writer at 19….right?

Just recently, I was reminded of the much messier reality. When I think back on my undergrad writings it is with rose-tinted glasses.  I mean, I got a bunch of A’s on my college papers after-all!  So, imagine how flummoxed I was the other day when I stumbled upon on old box of 20 year old papers I had written as a junior in college.  Woah!  Pretty ugly!  The work was not terrible by any means, but it was not quite as magical as I recalled. In fact, most of the writing looks pretty similar to what my own students produce today.  To be honest, many of the papers I grade are much better than what I did 20 years ago.  There is no shame in this.  As a 20 year old college student,  I was a different person than my present day self. In college I was just starting to develop many skills in life. Writing was just one of those skills.  The college students that I see today are in the same boat.  They’re 20 years old, and still learning.  It is ridiculously inane to profess an absolutist belief about their abilities at this point in their life.  To say they ‘can’t write’ is at best a misplaced prejudice. At worst it is a sign of outrageous egotism.  Unfortunately, those 78 million Google hits fall under both categories.

My suggestion to the writers and readers of that litany of op-eds?  Before getting too concerned about the end of writing as we know it, look back at your own work from college. You may be in for a surprise.

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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This Tuesday’s Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation day offered an awesome opportunity to ponder the power of tremendous teachers everywhere.

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How cute is this?

As a teacher, I have the good fortune of working with extraordinary teachers. My colleagues in The College of Liberal Arts at Robert Morris continuously inspire me and my teaching practice. My fellow teachers are exciting, creative, funny, and smart. Naturally, all of the regular Turtle bloggers top my list of coworkers whose contribution I hold in high esteem (MSJ, Paul, JJS, Dr. Stern, Mick, Ellen). Many more colleagues in the College of Business, Health, and Design impress me with their ability to encourage and empower their students every day.

My past teaching life in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere in Illinois was equally enhanced with wonderful educators who helped form my curriculum and understanding, many of these past coworkers remain among my most trusted friends.

My personal experience with teachers has been rich and varied. Most of my closest friends currently are or have been teachers (too many to list; we teachers stick together!).  Over the years we discussed, at length, the countless joys and frequent frustrations teachers endure.  Ultimately, teachers are my tribe.

Thinking back on my most memorable teachers calls to mind not precise details, (who taught me fractions? I have no idea). Instead, the larger lessons emerge, and with them the recognition of the ways they suffuse all that I am and do. To honor the teachers who shaped my life, I contemplate and celebrate the knowledge they so generously shared with me.

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Mrs. Debbie Bernauer was an incredibly kind and supportive third grade teacher. The woman went so far as to attend one of my softball games. This compassionate commitment is typical of the best elementary school teachers who devote a marvelous amount of their time, talent, and energy to the children they teach with boundless love.

In Middle School, Mr. Johnson taught the behaviors of critical thinking and the importance of the preparation a good education can provide. A history and government teacher, his favorite phrase was “There’s nothing constant except change.” This sort of philosophical wordplay stayed with me across the years. His side job as a farmer no doubt helped underscore his tendency to address the cruel realities each life was bound to encounter.

Many of my teachers at Brecksville-Broadview Heights high school are still vivid in my memory: how extraordinary!bee

My long-suffering Math teacher, Mr. Sycz, worked tirelessly to help us grapple with geometry, algebra, and calculus, which resulted in a much easier encounter with college math requirements.

My choir teacher, Mr. Valley, was a fixture throughout all four years. Choir class concluded my day, and I still highly recommend singing every afternoon. His enthusiasm for music and the program resulted in the growth and development of remarkable range of musical opportunities. He expanded the choir, band, orchestra, and song & dance team, the delightful “Music in Motion” in his time, long before Pitch Perfect made singing cool.

Mr. Chordas’ intense approach to education was endlessly inspiring. A brilliant history teacher, he also taught a psychology elective senior year that offered an intriguing peek into the life of the mind.  The biggest impact on my learning was a result of his model of excellence, curiosity, and openness.

Mrs. Ford was the woman who helped me love language and literature. She planted the seed for my future in teaching. In her class, we read widely, the classics: Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare; moderns and contemporaries: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Alice Walker. Conversations of the texts, followed by writing copious journal entries molded my thinking and my life. I’ve kept a journal ever since her class.

In college, I learned from many different teachers, all of whom knew a great deal, but I did not make the effort to develop a meaningful relationship with most of my professors, the exceptions being Kathy Fagan and Christopher Highley. No doubt the sheer size of The Ohio State University makes creating a personal connection more difficult. I regret not having sought ought my professors for advice and guidance.

In graduate school, the bond between professor and student evolves. The exchange of information tends toward a cooperative learning of equals working side by side. At Cleveland State University, I had the benefit of an extraordinary English Department filled with professors who were thoughtful teachers and accomplished writers: Dr.  Neal Chandler, Dr. Leonard Trawick, Dr. Daniel Melnick, Dr. Rachel Carson, Sheila Schwartz, and the brilliant Dan Chaon.  At Kent State for MLIS, my thesis advisor and favorite professor, Dr. Jason Holmes, guided my every step, a kindness for which I shall be forever grateful.

Teachers create an incredibly positive impact on the individual and the world; I remain humbly in their debt and happily among their ranks.

Cue Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”