Righting the wrong

The Core’s writing seminars should provide more rigorous training

By Maroon Editorial Board

There is perhaps no skill more central to success in college than the ability to write well. Students in the humanities and social sciences are evaluated almost exclusively on their written work, and there are countless other situations that require students in all disciplines to express their ideas in a clear and compelling fashion: applying for scholarships and jobs, creating fliers and other materials for RSOs, or petitioning a stickler professor for an eleventh-hour extension.

We’d expect, then, that the attention given by the Core to the development of writing skills would be commensurate with the importance of writing well, but that isn’t the case—not by a long shot. For College students, the only mandatory writing training occurs in the Humanities Writing Seminars, the small sections conducted by the writing intern assigned to each Hum class.

These seminars consist of three brief sessions during fall quarter and an unspecified number—generally even lower than three—of meetings in subsequent quarters. No quality grade is given. Regardless of the writing chops you bring to the College, you can easily finish off your formal writing training in less than five hours.

What’s worse, students from the same Hum section are usually lumped into the same seminar, without concern for their levels of preparation; a published writer might be sitting at the same discussion table as someone who’s never heard of a thesis statement. The group sessions are, accordingly, aimed at the lowest common denominator, and any one-on-one meetings are so brief as to hardly make a difference.

The result is that the College’s writing requirement, which is fulfilled by the seminars, is no more than a formality for most students: show up, go through the motions, get the “P” on your transcript. And it’s not that we students are short on room for improvement; in fact, the brevity and ease of the requirement help ensure our writing skills have ample space to grow.

The possible improvements to the seminars are so numerous, that it’s hard to say where to begin. Students could be grouped not by their Hum section but by their writing ability—we have placement tests for many other subjects—so that all students stand a chance of benefiting from the seminars. There could be more than three meetings during fall quarter, and there could be a minimum number of sessions in winter and spring quarters as well.

Assignments and participation in the seminars could be graded, or make up a substantial portion of the Hum grade, so that students have reason to work. Hum professors could supplement the seminars by paying greater attention to writing skills during regular class time. Sosc classes, which are no less writing- intensive than Hum, could also include a writing development component.

No part of an education at the U of C should be perfunctory, and certainly not the part where you learn to write well, but as it stands, that’s exactly the word we’d use to describe the Humanities Writing Seminars. Design a more thorough and effective means of teaching us to express ourselves, and maybe we’ll be able to think of a better word.

—The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.