Friday, November 19, 2010

Writing for the Social Sciences

I have been reading complaints by law and economics professors about students' inability to write. They are right, of course, to complain, because schools have for the most part abandoned everything necessary to teach students how to write. Students don't have to learn grammar or logic. The only thing they have to learn is how to "express themselves," for which no judgement can be made. In college they get "rhetoric", but it is a pale version of Aristotle's ideal (it more resembles what Plato complained about).

So what to do? I suggested that if the social sciences (broadly defined) wanted to teach their students how to write, they needed to have their own writing classes. No doubt this would cause s turf war with the English department, but one has to decide if the battle is worth it. While I would most certainly love to work and teach in an English department, I would also like to say that if anyone is bold enough to have a writing professor in, say, their economics department, I would be more than happy to teach such a set of classes -- especially if I could design the class and set up the requirements. First, the department would have to require my class for this to work at all. Second, I would require grammar and logic as prerequesites. If poetry writing classes all taught formalist poetry, I would even require that (being, in my opinion, the best way to introduce structural rhetoric -- the rest of rhetoric I would introduce in my class). In my writing class I would discuss both reading strategies (hermeneutics) and department-level vocabulary, discussing the ambuguities in the terminology used. Much can be made of the fact that many of the words used by economists can also be used in ethics and in psychology, for example.

These are a few ideas. If anyone wanted to set up such a class within their department, I would love to jump on board and really create a writing program that works.
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