Many years back when I attended college the first time I enrolled in a small junior college originally founded by The Nuns of Saint Basil. While they do not teach, at least not any more, the nuns can be found running the library and dealing with a large portion of administrative duties. The semester and a half that I spent there was … interesting.
I was recently thinking about one, of at least a dozen, papers I wrote on Vietnam. Everything we wrote in that class had something to do with Vietnam. To this day I have no idea what the obsession was with the English, Philosophy, and Religion Departments with Vietnam. They all got together and decided that all the classes should be themed to one another where things would connect, and hopefully make more sense. The idea was to tie everything together in some kind of coherency. Meanwhile we suffered. English class revolved around the movie and book, Born on the 4th of July by Ron Kovick. We read other books and watched other movies, but all but one of our papers was on Ron Kovick. That particular paper had us interviewing someone that had served in Vietnam and write about them.
I interviewed my uncle for the paper. Like every other paper I wrote for that class I received a C. Looking back on that class, I realize we were never taught to write. Everyone was turning in the same kind of papers they wrote in high school when we were expected to provide college level papers, but we were never taught how to do them. On my transcript the class is listed as “Writing Workshop”. I guess that’s accurate. I wrote things. All those things were about Vietnam and Ron Kovick. They probably weren’t good things. They were just things. I did not walk out of that class knowing how to write any better than I did going into it.
I wrote but didn’t learn. That defeats the purpose of college, to learn. We weren’t given anything to learn. The message was learning about Vietnam through media was the important thing, more important than learning how to write a paper properly.
Returning to college, this time a four year teaching university, in my first semester there I have learned how to write a proper thesis statement, how to narrow down topics, how to organize my material, and how not to ramble. One of my professors even worked very hard to keep me out of the research rabbit hole I fall down and then proceed to squeeze everything I learned into an 8 page paper, despite having enough material for 10 different 8 page papers.
I don’t think I learned anything useful during that first college English class. Actually, I don’t think I learned anything other than how overrated Born on the 4th of July is. For a writing class I learned nothing about writing. I was not told what I was doing wrong, or even what I was doing right. I was just told that my work didn’t measure up despite not having any kind of grading rubric. I don’t think I even had a syllabus for any of my classes. You can’t meet expectations if you don’t know what they are.
I picked the junior college I attended based on how close it was to where I lived, since I was commuting. I did very little research into it. I picked the college that i am attending now based on how close it was to where I lived because I am community. I can’t say that I did any more research into the university than I did the junior college. I got lucky though. It’s a good school with good professors. I also walked out of my writing class with an A-, and more importantly, the knowledge of how to actually write a paper properly.