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UPPER EDUCATION MYOPIA
The Concord Review
12 July 2012
Not long ago, an associate professor of Creative Writing (the most popular subject in which is now not Ozymandias or Dover Beach or Westminster Bridge, but “ME”)...at an Upper Education institution west of the Mississippi wrote an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, bemoaning the incompetence and/or indifference of her Upper peers in evaluating, correcting or coaching the academic writing of their students:
“...And since there's little room in most graduate curricula to focus on writing, many future faculty members simply never learn. The truth is, everyone thinks whoever went before him or her was responsible for the job of teaching writing: College instructors believe students learned the mechanics in high school; graduate advisers assume their students learned as undergraduates what they needed to know about style and argumentation.
By the time people become professors, they have no one to turn to for help with their writing. Some hope or pray that editors will save them; sometimes that happens. But most acquisitions editors don't have the time or energy to do line-editing, and they assume that the copy editors will clean up the prose...And so, bad prose gets published and bad models proliferate....
...What, then, to make of the political scientist who didn't think he had the expertise to comment on his students' writing? I believe he's shirking an important aspect of his job...If professors don't tell students that the writing matters, who will? If professors don't know what good writing looks like, who does?”
I followed up this welcome interest in academic writing at the Upper Education level by sending her information about The Concord Review, which, for 25 years has been working to encourage, distribute and, with the National Writing Board, to assess, serious academic expository writing by high school students around the world (Lower Education Level).
The replies I got from the Upper Education personage were:
“I got a whole bunch of messages that I don't think were meant for me. You might check your computer for viruses.”
When I sent more information, she replied that she had seen material about these efforts when she was in Admissions at an Upper Education place in the Southeast but:
“What made a big impression on me is that there was (as I recall) a submissions fee. At Duke, I saw a lot of ‘honors’ that came with a price tag. That troubles me.”
So, of course, she never inquired further. (And yes, Duke has an application fee...)
Now, so as not to charge all Upper Education people with having the same dim or poor vision about writing at the Lower Education Level, here is a letter I got from a physicist at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study...
INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED STUDY
Einstein Drive, Princeton, New Jersey 08540
22 June 2000
Mr. Will Fitzhugh, President
National Writing Board
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
I recently came across The Concord Review, and I would like to express my appreciation for your leadership role and your continuous dedication to this endeavor. Not only am I impressed with the high quality of the history articles that appear in the Review, but I am also impressed with the very idea of a publication which provides a forum for the academic work of high school students in history.
As a physicist, I am accustomed to the many initiatives, such as math competitions and physics olympiads, instituted to recognize and promote interest and talent in the sciences among high school students. However, I have always felt that there was no equivalent mechanism to encourage and nurture students in the humanities, and to recognize their accomplishments. The Concord Review strikes me as a simple yet brilliant idea to help fill that gap, and as a very effective way to promote high standards and excellence in the humanities.
Chiara R. Nappi