April 10, 2013, 11:17 am
All college teachers know the heartache of students who, for one reason or another, are indisposed to what teachers have to offer, but freshman-composition instructors suffer a special despair. Nineteen-year-olds enter their classroom three months out of high school, and few college tasks irk them more than a five-page paper on a literary work or social topic.
Worse than that, all too many of them don’t have the basic ability to write crisp sentences and coherent paragraphs. They don’t know where commas go, they can’t set the pieces of a periodic sentence into tight relations, they haven’t the vocabulary to say what they want to say, and the well-turned phrase and sparkling metaphor baffle them. Academic prose is a struggle, freshman comp a torture.
Other first-year subjects uncover daunting college unreadiness, of course, but there’s a difference. Students falter in…
February 7, 2013, 11:54 am
A pointed topos has emerged among English educators in the media in the last few years. It concerns a statement uttered by the educator David Coleman at a gathering of many educators in Albany, hosted by David Steiner, then-Education Commissioner of New York State, in April 2011. At the time, Coleman was the lead architect of the Common Core State Standards, the education effort sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers that set out to draft new standards in mathematics and English language arts from kindergarten to 12th grade. The Common Core standards have evolved into the most sweeping reform of public schooling in many decades, a controversial reform with Coleman himself an object of strong feelings on both sides.
Coleman has since become the head of College Board, and the Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states and have the full backing of the Obama…
October 10, 2012, 5:39 pm
When we examine controversial topics and the respective arguments made for each side, sometimes we see one group reaching for support that stretches a point so far that it looks more like desperation than reasoning. The quality of evidence is so flimsy and thin that we don’t wonder whether it’s right or wrong. We ask, “Is this the best you can do?”
A good example is a brief submitted by the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Union for Reformed Judaism, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court case on affirmative action that was argued on Wednesday. The brief defends the university’s policy of considering race as part of its admission process.
This month’s issue of Commentary has a long article by Jeremy Rozansky examining the changing Jewish position on affirmative action, and it cites the brief as a prime…
September 28, 2012, 3:22 pm
Eugene Genovese died Wednesday morning, passing away in his hospital bed at home after a long battle with heart disease. When I sat with him the night before and clasped his hand, he blinked his eyes for a moment, then sank back into darkness. He was ready for months, and he anticipated, with God’s blessing, reunification with his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who died five years ago. (Both of them embraced Roman Catholicism late in life—Betsey’s perceptive account of her conversion can be found in an essay that appeared in First Things in April 2000.)
Genovese will be remembered for two things that don’t often coexist in figures in our time. First, he was a scrupulous, diligent, and discerning scholar; his work on the antebellum South will stand as a monumental corpus for years to come. Second, outside the classroom and the archive, he was a vigorous partisan, sometimes…
September 19, 2012, 11:12 am
Many years ago, in a short piece called “About Shamelessness,” G.K. Chesterton offered an interpretation of sliding social mores and loosening etiquette that is worth assigning to every freshman orientation in the land.
Chesterton’s essay responds generally to a trend that we might date from the 1920s onward, when norms of behavior and decency began to give way to new freedoms in dress, speech, and deportment, the bar of propriety steadily dropping. (Edith Wharton once declared that the manners and expectations of refined behavior collapsed in 1914.)
What bothers Chesterton here isn’t the deterioration itself, but an odd accompaniment to the process: specifically, the pride with which people accept it. His admonition underscores the baselessness of that pride:
Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or …