Category Archives: Writing


Assignment: Research Your Adjunct Teachers

In the Fall 2013 term, having graduated from Warren Wilson College with an M.F.A. in poetry—a terminal degree, of course—I found myself teaching composition courses as an adjunct for the eighth consecutive semester. This semester, however, was different from the others not only in the workload but also in the commute: I worked on two campuses in two states, with 30 miles of freeway, part of it under construction, between them. On top of that, I taught five courses.

The first institution I taught…


Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Notes?

In a class this past December, after I wrote some directions on the board for students about their final examination, one young woman quickly snapped a picture of the board using her smartphone.

It wasn’t the first time a student had taken a picture instead of taking notes, nor was she the only student in that class who was using this photographic note-taking method. But perhaps because she was sitting in the front row, or perhaps because her phone flashed, she drew my attention.

When I looked i…


Remembering Seamus Heaney

In recent years, Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel laureate who died on Friday in Dublin, was perhaps best known to the broad academic public as the translator of a hugely successful version of Beowulf, making it freshly accessible even as he unapologetically added his Northern Irish inflections to its retelling. Earlier, Heaney was famous for his iconic poem “Digging,” in which he set forth his own separation from, but continuity with, his rural ancestors in County Derry:

The cold smell o…


Choosing Real-World Impact Over Impact Factor

My annual report for the 2012-13 academic year stares at me from an undisturbed corner of my desk. I’m tempted not to fill it out.

It’s not that I’ve spent the past year in blissful inactivity. It’s just that what I’ve produced has no place on this form. To list my activities, they must be camouflaged and then smuggled into the shady category of “additional publications.” Even there, they would be considered dubious.

For the past 12 months I’ve moved from writing articles for refereed journals t…


What’s at Stake With Grade Inflation?

Truth, we’re told, is the first casualty of war. But as I hunker in my office bunker, the dull thud of history term papers landing on my desk, columns of sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden students trudging past the door, I’m convinced that truth is also the first casualty of undergraduate paper writing. It is not only the historical truths trampled in the mangled and muddied papers written by my students. More insidiously, a deeper truth also suffers. Only tatters remain of the contract, implici…


The Good Fortune of the Ivy League Reject

In the uproar that followed Suzy Lee Weiss’s “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” one assumption was left untouched: that Weiss, like any student, would be better off at an Ivy League college than at one of the Big Ten universities she now plans to attend.

As someone who split her undergraduate career between a large public university and an Ivy, I’d like to suggest something different: Weiss (who, full disclosure, is the sister of a friend) is lucky to have gotten those rejections.

I, like…


Teaching Writing Through Personal Reflection: Bad Idea

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 Englis…