Inventing the University

Beginnings are scary, and starting back to college (especially as an adult) is perhaps one of the most intimidating experiences I have faced to date. Getting back in to gear and knocking the dust off of our scholarly brains is a daunting task. I can recall the anxiety while writing my first Blackboard discussion posts and whether or not I will “sound intelligent” ( or even relevant) to my colleagues, but most importantly the professor (after all THEY would be the one’s grading my work). As Bartholomae suggests however:

” When Students are writing for a teacher, writing becomes more problematic than it is for the students who are describing baseball to a Martian” (David Bartholomae, Inventing the University, p. 10).

How true that statement is! What tremendous expectations we are placing upon ourselves when attempting to write solely to appease the professor. A funny example of just the opposite of this comes to mind. Poor little Ralphie  (of the 24 hour Christmas Day marathon “A  Christmas Story”) even has anxiety about his dreaded theme paper. The poor child writes from the heart about wanting nothing but a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He envisions Mrs. Shields elation when she gets to Ralphie’s theme paper and gives it an A+++++++ and says his paper is “poetry, sheer poetry”. A few days later when Ralphie actually gets his paper back, he receives a C+ and his dreams are deflated when his teacher remarks ” you’ll shoot your eye out” in response to his dream of having that new BB gun. Even the movies taught us to write how our teachers/professors want us to write. It just seems more logical to try to impress our audience and picture them nodding their heads in agreement as they read our works, than shaking their heads in disgust that our opinions do not align with theirs.

After reading Bartholomae’s theory on writing, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  All my life I have been guilty of writing for my audience, not to my audience, focusing on how my audience thinks I should write and less on allowing my personality and voice to shine through my works. I have simply been spitting out facts, not writing from experience. I have used the thesaurus for even the most miniscule of words to appear “more intelligent”. I have lost sleep over grammar and sentence structure rather than tone and feeling in my papers. Bartholomae encourages us as students to forget everything we have had drilled into our heads about writing and simply

“extend themselves into the commonplaces, set phrases, rituals, gestures, habits of mind, tricks of persuasion, obligatory conclusions and necessary connections that determine the “what might be said” and constitute knowledge within the various branches of our academic community” (David Bartholomae, Inventing the University, p. 11).

In other words, simply write from experience and let your voice be heard throughout your writing. This approach is not only easier to read, and flows much better, but shows our understanding of what we are writing about, not just spitting out the facts as I mentioned earlier. When we write from experience instead of attempting to “sound intelligent” the grammatical and structural components of the paper also fall into place.

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” Journal of Basic Writing (2986): 4-19. Web.