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One Response to the Crisis Discussed in Writing in the Classroom
One Response to the Crisis Discussed in Writing in the Classroom
One Response to the Crisis Discussed in Writing in the Classroom
by Prof. Bruce Gans
Wright College
Chicago, Illinois

A Frank Discussion of the Problem

Arguably the single central course offered in American community colleges is the standard composition course, which at Wright Community College is called English 101. This course is universally required. This is because the purpose of the standard composition course is to discharge a community college’s central responsibility: to educate and train students to be literate and to enable students to acquire the minimum levels of writing and reading skills to perform college-level work. Unlike other required courses at community colleges, it has no substitute and the standard composition class is impossible to place out of. So acute is the crisis in literacy in the United States that every student enrolling at Wright and other community colleges for the first time is required to take a writing placement test, and the highest placement a student can aspire to is English 101; the student must get a grade of C or better for this course to count for graduation. Shakespeare himself would be required to enroll in it were he to return to earth for the sole purpose of entering a community college. To underscore its unique centrality, the standard composition course at Wright and elsewhere is employed as the core benchmark and gatekeeper of academic standards. Students are barred from enrolling in most college-level courses in the City Colleges of Chicago until they can at least qualify for English 101.

As a result, it is self-evident that the literacy of millions of students is influenced by what is - or is not - taught in standard composition courses. Typically, a standard composition course today attempts to achieve its goals by requiring students to write and revise roughly a half dozen or more 350-500 word essays. Each essay typically is designed to provide students with practice in applying the best-known modes of expository organization-comparison and contrast, personal narrative, classification and division, process, and so on. In order to help students generate topics for essays, develop a thesis, recognize and reproduce strategies for organizing and presenting ideas, and begin to cultivate an appreciation for good writing, the standard composition course requires students to study and discuss various readings in a textbook.

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