I have a question that some of you might like to ponder: among the people who lived in the twentieth century, who (barring political and religious figures) will people in another hundred years remember from the twentieth century? Whose discoveries or ideas or work is sufficiently important to represent the twentieth century and affect the twenty-first? Or, perhaps, whose work that we now consider important is not likely to stand the test of time? This may be a negative effect, as well.
This may be one of my pedagogical ideas that is not likely to work – which is, unfortunately, true of many. However, most of us find people interesting and I would like some of my students to get a sense of the difference an idea or theory or invention can make. The paper is supposed to be argumentative and it certainly shouldn’t be mainly biographical, let alone hagiographic. So, I’m asking you all for suggestions. Or, perhaps, you would like to express doubts that I will be able to prevent such essays from wandering off into he’s a nice guy or he’s a rotten guy. Further description of the course is below the fold if you are interested in the context.
This was inspired by my sense that I don’t know much about Borlaug and it wouldn’t hurt and I could learn from papers; also, some of my students might be interested in the accomplishments of someone they might conceivably see.
I’m getting my syllabus for freshman comp & rhetoric together. The class reflects what has gone wrong with university educations in the last thirty or so years. It is the first semester class at our institution, which is strongly linked with the flagship research universities for the state, who use us as a strainer for the students who just didn’t do well enough to get in but might well have the stuff. Therefore, this class is one that meets that first semester requirement for all the other institutions in the state and therefore follows a pretty basic set of requirements. These are that we need to grade 5000 words of each student’s writing, we need to teach them to do research in the library and to master the MLA formatting of documentation, we need to constantly be on guard for plagiarism. Since the course is in argumentation, we need to spend several classes on fallacies and the form of deduction and induction. We used to have an interesting reader which included classic texts, but apparently not enough of us were assigning works from it to justify its inclusion. (I used plenty, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t short library time, MLA formatting time, etc. by doing so.)
Needless to say, when I was a freshman such courses were taught differently and, I think, in a better way. As at most open admissions colleges – especially ones with such a tight connection with a larger university – our students vary widely in ability. We get older than average returnees of high caliber and we get co-enrolled students of high caliber. Sometimes we get students that just didn’t test well or didn’t apply to another school soon enough. Of course, we also see vocational students who have to take a couple of academic courses to get their certificates and we get students who want to stay on their parents’ insurance, who want to hang out in the local bars, or who haven’t the vaguest idea what they are doing here. We also have students who are gaming the system and getting paid to attend classes they don’t intend to attend.
So, we have a wide discrepancy in skill levels; students who are widely acknowledged to have read little in high school are offered few challenging and well-written works to examine; papers are all designed to be graded in terms of grammar, organization, and argumentation as well as honesty, research, and formatting. Students coming from a good high school (and coming within the last five years) may well be acquainted with most of this and the course can act as a review; for those student, while it may not enrich their understanding by exposing them to exceptional writing, it can act as a review. Needless to say, students at other skill levels (due to time out, due to lousy high schools, or due to just a general lack of interest) are not likely to master all these skills in one semester. A very large percentage of students at the flagship schools place out of this class. The schools have chosen to teach few sections of it and to encourage as many students as possible to take the classes with us, since they are expensive classes for a research university to teach. (Their budgets are derived in part from the student/teacher ratio – obviously comp courses like this can not be taught, as say history is, in lecture rooms of 400 – 500. Their budgets also reward them more for upper division courses; obviously this is not one.)