AAR #1 & #2 – Inventing the University

In order for me to provide a clear introspection on how “I” am figuring out how to be a student, I need to take a hard look at “me.” I am a 38-year-old husband, father of two small boys, ultramarathon runner, and have a management position in an Information Technology Department for a local government. I do not need to “figure out” how to be student; I already know everything I need to know already… right?

So, when reading Bartholomae’ s essay, I found myself, at times, identifying with the university (professors, faculty, etc..) more so than with Bartholomae. I could understand where the university may take umbrage with Bartholomae’s insistence that the university needs to change the way it teaches and reads novice writer’s prose; much in the same that I feel like I have nothing else I need to learn. This is a university after all, right? We are here to ensure that students papers are structured properly, follow MLA guidelines, and use correct grammar and punctuation.

However, as I read on, and was presented with the examples provided, I began to understand where Bartholomae basing his arguments. I was able to do this by taking a hard look at my re-entry into higher education over the past few years. I started back to school at 35-years-old. I went to J Sargent Reynolds CC for 2-1/2 years and completed my Associate’s Degree there. Throughout my time at JSRCC, I may have been asked to write 12-15 essays or reviews of varying length. In hindsight, I believe that nearly half of the assignable grades for those essays, based on the rubrics, were based on basic grammatical items (punctuation, sentence structure, etc..). Taking a harder look at this reveals that roughly 50% of my actual grade for those assignments were actually content based. Inevitably, this turned me and my writing into a very robotic-like practice. “Did I have topic sentences? – Check!” “Did I have thesis statement defined? – Check!” “Did I provide a clear and concise conclusion in the final paragraph of the paper? – Check!” However, not once can I recall proofreading a paper for actual content; it was truly all about the structure.

It is based in this idea that I believe that 25 years later, Bartholomae is still “spot on” with his critique of the teachings of writing by universities and the guidelines upon which student’s writing is judged. Bartholomae wants the university to look harder at what the writer is saying, not relying as much on the manner or the structure in which the material was delivered. Bartholomae believes that the structure and delivery mechanisms can be taught in time. However, if the writer is unable to write from a position of authority or full understanding of a subject, the structure and delivery is almost irrelevant, because the piece is presented in a manner in which the reader does not believe the authority of the writer. In Bartholomae’s estimation the authority or “role of privilege” from which the writer is presenting the material is the true marker upon which the material can be judged initially. Without a sense of a “role of privilege” from the writer, the piece loses its authority with the reader. It is this very basic core of Bartholomae’s essay that I believe is still as apropos today as it was 25 years ago.