I was arguably a better writer after four years of high school than I am now, after four years of some of the most expensive post-secondary education that money can buy. I don’t mean that I’ve forgotten how to use the language — that would be hard since I’m fluent in only one despite having completed Penn’s foreign language requirement. It’s just that what was laudable for a high schooler is mediocre for an undergrad. Stagnation in this skill may impact my professional development, and it’s worrying to neglect what is for many a “raisen detter.”
I could blame myself for this shortcoming, but I feel like the University should bear basically all of the blame. One semester of writing seminar is nowhere near enough to elevate all students to the standard of university writing. Of course, it’s very important for all students to learn to think about word economy, and I really do believe I’ve absolutely mastered all of that part of the Penn’s writing curriculum. However, my critical writing remains weak. It’s plain to see that mandatory writing education at Penn barely broaches the esprit vivant that is the proficient command of language.
Other experts agree: Modest instruction yields modest results. The writing improvements seen in STEM freshmen taking a single writing seminar are small and mostly gone by the time they graduate. A longitudinal study indicates that, of 2300 students at 24 universities, one-third of all students show minimal improvement in writing and critical thinking skills by graduation. College students, including those at Ivy League universities, are also showing a decreased appreciation for the humanities over time. Today, record-high numbers of students support the opinion that the humanities “are not at all important” to them. This is an unacceptable trend.
While I appreciate the efforts of Valerie Ross and the Critical Writing Program, especially the recent updates to the writing seminar, I believe they are insufficient to meet the needs of most students. I propose a new system of mandatory writing initiatives: four semesters of progressive linguistic study that will revive students’ passion for literature and improve their writing. To make room, the current scheme of arbitrary sector and foundational requirements should be replaced with a new one.
The seminars will focus on the fact that good writing is learned by example. Students should be exposed to the clever construction of words, their myriad arrangements and the theory that molds their organization from examples in published prose. They need to hone their argumentative acumen for longer than one semester, such that they will develop into reasonable and discerning adults. Moreover, they need exposure to the effusive passion of professors who have decided to pursue the subject as a lifelong vocation.
These seminars are necessary to combat the dangerous transactional attitude that continues to proliferate on campus. A growing population of students believes they are here for the name of the university on their resume. They pursue a passionless travail hoping that compensation in monies and status will satisfy them in their adult lives. Ultimately they are deluding themselves. Professional status does not make up for an internal abyss of meaning. These young adults are not developing into the balanced, conscientious people the founders of universities envisioned.
Steeping their supple minds in the ardor of academics is necessary to stop the propagation of watered-down lives. This is because passion always precedes oceanic accomplishment, and to filter the former is to scatter the latter. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” The University must take a stand for its founding principles.
In the time before this policy is implemented, I’ve been doing my part to live passionately. That’s why I’ve been reading The Daily Pennsylvanian opinion pieces for years: to fill myself with righteous indignation. I particularly relish the ludicrous claims and outrageous changes the contributors hope to enact in under a thousand word. If collecting fodder from the daily paper and later engaging in online arguments at the DP isn’t living life to the fullest, I don’t know what is.
HARRISON GLICKLICH is a College junior from Millburn, N.J., studying biochemistry. His email address is hgli@sas. upenn.edu “Good Luck” usually appearseveryotherMonday.
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