Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing in the Real World: Proposing a New Class

I have a lot of respect for the curriculum at my school; it’s varied, the professors are generally good, and the offered topics are pretty darn interesting. But there’s a hole in the middle of most COW students’ educations in the current class list. If I were on whatever board decides to institute x new class in a given year at the College of Wooster (where I live, breathe and work entirely too much), I would fill this need.

The class: English 101: Writing in the Real World. Full class, half-credit class, quarter-credit or occasional workshop, whatever. Wooster could use this.

We’ve got non-fictional writing and British Literature and Shakespeare and Faulkner and Intro to Fictional Writing and Violent Modernism and the American Novel and a dozen other English courses, but for some reason we don’t have this one very basic one.

It’s not like this is without precedent. Wooster has a Math 110: Math in the Real World, because you probably aren’t going to use sine waves and trigonometric parabolic hoopla once you leave college, unless you enter a fairly specialized set of jobs. You’re going to be balancing your bank statement and taking out a mortgage and calculating how hard the power company screwed you over this month. It’s a little island of pragmatism in the college curriculum, an acknowledgement that part of the mission of this school is to prepare students for something beyond academia.

So why not have a real-world writing class? The amount of things you’ll need training or instruction in how to write is pretty much infinite. Cover letters, résumés, reports for your boss, applications for grants, research for whatever job, grad school applications, summaries, abstracts, even blog posts. Knowing how to write, say, a good cover letter could get you a job. Knowing how to write the summaries and do the research your boss wants could help you keep it.*

And it’s not like English majors are exempt from this need. In two years studying English here, I’ve learned how to write a short story. I’ve learned to analyze film. I can edit anything. I can write creative nonfiction, a newspaper article, a research paper, a historical analysis, any kind of persuasive essay you might want. And when I went and interned with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce last semester, a.k.a. the closest I’ve ever been to a nine-to-five office job, almost none of that applied. Sure, I had a general writing background to draw on, but knowing how to write summaries and consolidate reports would’ve been nice before I had to do it as a job.

There are drawbacks. Simulated grad school applications and the like would be a dull topic. The professor would have to be careful not to dumb the class down too far, or make it too hard for the majority. It wouldn’t count as a writing credit, else it’d be flooded with non-literary types eager to take their one “W” class and be done with the whole discipline. And the professor would have to be versatile enough to handle all the different assignments.

The College may be best served by making this a quarter- or half-credit class, or even a workshop that meets a half-dozen or so times in a semester. I know the Career Center provides many of these services to individual students, but I don’t think that they have the resources to serve all of the people on campus who would benefit from this class. This would be a good resource for teaching large numbers of Woosterites the writing skills that we’ll actually need out there in the world.

And helping us not get killed by leopards.
*I know that the I.S.’s take care of your research skills, but what they are not is concise. Bosses like to be presented with reports distilled from data; nice, concise summaries of a given set of information. It makes their lives easier. I’m not sure I.S. provides that, exactly.

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