English Comp

For reasons I’ve tried to understand, my kid brother got a copy of Intercollegite Review. No, I still haven’t figured that out.

But I started thumbing through it and found this collection of observations about public education by R. V. Young,

Continuing decline in the performance of school children on standardized test, along with an accumulation of anecdotal evidence, has routinely led to another round of spending, managing, and theorizing with equally disastrous results. Then the process is repeated yet again. By now it ought to be clear that we are dealing not with the failure of an educational system but rather with fraud on a grand scale. We cannot “reform” our system of education because it is not at all a system of education in the original, root sense but instead a curious and uneven amalgam of job training, indoctrination, and custodial care.

The complete collapse of pretensions of our academic establishment–the revelation of its utter inadequacy to attain the goal that it professes and the sordidness of what it substitutes–is epitomized in the fate of what used to be both the most modest and the most necessary part of the university curriculum: freshman composition. When I first became part of an English department faculty in the early 1970s, Freshman “comp,” as it was called, was the dreaded task of assistant professors and a few adjuncts (we had only a handful then). It was an extremely laborious enterprise, involving numerous conferences with individual students and the grading of twelve to fourteen sets of papers for each section on the course. it was also a reminder of the astonishing failure of the public school system: young men and women already enrolled in a university ought not to require a yearlong course in order to learn how to write their native tongue in a literate fashion.

The rest of the essay goes on to describe what English comp looks like in the hands of postmodern values, whose idea of tolerance is getting everyone to agree.

Young, R.V., Liberal Learning Confronts the Composition Despots. The Intercollegiate Review Spring 2011. p 4

David Knopp

David Knopp