Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaching as Unteaching

The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 4th, 2014



Is it just first-year composition instructors who have to spend half the semester correcting all the misconceptions students develop in high school? Or do faculty members in other disciplines encounter this problem, too?
For example, in the state where I live, the high-school language-arts curriculum requires that students begin each essay with a “thesis statement” that consists of four distinct elements: the thesis (or main idea) itself, plus three supporting points—all in the same sentence! The result, even when executed reasonably well, usually sounds something like this: “Smoking should be banned on all college campuses because it is unhealthy for individuals, creates an unhealthy and uncomfortable environment for all students, and produces large amounts of litter.”
Where to begin cataloging the problems with that unfortunate construction? Let’s start with the fact that not all topics lend themselves to such overt thesis statements, nor do all main ideas have exactly three supporting points. But even if you wanted your students to produce a traditional five-paragraph theme, with a clearly identifiable thesis and three distinguishable points, that is is no way to go about it. Cramming all those elements together into a single sentence detracts from both thesis and support. It also produces an unnecessarily long and ungainly sentence with no clear focus. 


Is it just first-year composition instructors who have to spend half the semester correcting all the misconceptions students develop in high school? Or do faculty members in other disciplines encounter this problem, too?
For example, in the state where I live, the high-school language-arts curriculum requires that students begin each essay with a “thesis statement” that consists of four distinct elements: the thesis (or main idea) itself, plus three supporting points—all in the same sentence! The result, even when executed reasonably well, usually sounds something like this: “Smoking should be banned on all college campuses because it is unhealthy for individuals, creates an unhealthy and uncomfortable environment for all students, and produces large amounts of litter.”
Where to begin cataloging the problems with that unfortunate construction? Let’s start with the fact that not all topics lend themselves to such overt thesis statements, nor do all main ideas have exactly three supporting points. But even if you wanted your students to produce a traditional five-paragraph theme, with a clearly identifiable thesis and three distinguishable points, that is is no way to go about it. Cramming all those elements together into a single sentence detracts from both thesis and support. It also produces an unnecessarily long and ungainly sentence with no clear focus.
- See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/787-teaching-as-unteaching#sthash.tR4V0umH.dpuf

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