Inventing the University

“Five paragraph essays only!” My teachers had ingrained this into my mind since I was in the seventh grade. It was expected and anything else would be inadequate. This type of rigidness disallowed any type of creativity. You were to follow the rules and that was that.

In “Inventing the University,” by David Bartholomae, he discusses how students initially struggle writing in college. Bartholomae says students have to “appropriate a specialized discourse…as if they were easily and comfortably one with their audience. (4)” Essentially, in order to write well for the academic community, we must feel as though we are part of the academic community.

Students have been “scholars” since they were in kindergarten, so what makes the transition to college writing so exasperating? I would argue it is the way we are taught throughout our childhood. In an ultra-competitive nation, “A’s” are expected. Students are trained not to break the rules; thus, they are taught not to think. The lack of profundity in most High school pieces is a testament to this. In my high school, papers were seen as an ephemeral form of getting a good grade. Seldom did students look forward to writing to display their knowledge or to make an argument on a stance.

Bartholomae also points to students’ inability to connect with the audience as a reason for their struggles. He claims students have “build bridges between his point of view and his reader. (9)” This is indubitably an issue in the American education system. Students often are too worried about pleasing their teacher to write what they actually think. Whether it is because they want a good grade, don’t want to take a controversial stance, or even because of intimidation of the academic community, the true feelings of a student can be unexpressed.

If I were to “invent a university,” I would require all first-year students to take a writing course. In this writing course, they would be taught to forget everything they have been taught about writing. The first semester would be used to allow students to write whatever they please. This would enhance a student’s ability to express ideas fluidly. In the second semester, the class would address how to write in an academic setting. This would give students the confidence needed to contribute to the academic community sufficiently.

“Inventing the University” was written thirty years ago. Nevertheless, the same dilemmas students faced then still ring true today. Writers are often unprepared for college because of the inability to connect with the reader and the lack of proficiency in their writing. This needs to and can be fixed. This can be done through a substantial change in elementary and high school writing, or through an introductory writing course in college.


Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” 1985. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd Ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana: NCTE, 2003. Print.