New Academic Year

Many readers of NursingWriting (but not all by any means) are associated with academic institutions, where we are engaged in the beginning of a new academic year.

Sunday’s New York Times included advice to new college students from respected professors. Excerpts here:

I would advise students to take a composition course even if they have tested out of it. I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write and an equal number had never been asked to. They managed to get through high-school without learning how to write a clean English sentence, and if you can’t do that you can’t do anything. I give this advice with some trepidation because too many writing courses today teach everything but the craft of writing and are instead the vehicles of the instructor’s social and political obsessions. In the face of what I consider a dereliction of pedagogical duty, I can say only, “Buyer beware.” If your writing instructor isn’t teaching writing, get out of that class and find someone who is. –Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University and a contributing columnist to The Times, who has been teaching since 1962.

What the most successful college students do, in my experience, is cut through the clutter of jargons, methods and ideological differences to locate the common practices of argument and analysis hidden behind it all. Contrary to the cliché that no “one size fits all” educational recipe is possible, successful academics of all fields and intellectual persuasions make some key moves that you can emulate. –Gerald Graff, the past president of the Modern Language Association and a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been teaching since 1963.

Whatever our current travails, we now have a literate president capable of coherent discourse, but too many other politicians are devoid of syntax and appear to have read nothing. Aggressive ignorance in aspirants to high office is another dismal consequence of the waning of authentic education. –Harold Bloom, a professor of English at Yale and the author of the forthcoming “Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence,” has been teaching since 1955.

Learn to write well. Most incoming college students, even the bright ones, do not do it and it hampers them in courses and in later life. Read what you write to a friend, and ask the friend to read it back to you. Lack of clarity, coherence or shape will leap out at you. . . Read, read, read. Students ask me how to become a writer, and I ask them who is their favorite author. If they have none, they have no love of words. –Garry Wills, a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University, has been teaching since 1962.

I staggered breathlessly out of that classroom and started down the long unpredictable path to becoming a professor of molecular biology at M.I.T. What I have learned is that passion, along with curiosity, drives science. Passion is the mysterious force behind nearly every scientific breakthrough. Perhaps it’s because without it you might never be able to tolerate the huge amount of hard work and frustration that scientific discovery entails. But if you have it, you’re in luck. –Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at M.I.T., has been teaching since 1973.

It’s easy to think that college classes are mainly about preparing you for a job. But remember: this may be the one time in your life when you have a chance to think about the whole of your life, not just your job. Courses in the humanities, in particular, often seem impractical, but they are vital, because they stretch your imagination and challenge your mind to become more responsive, more critical, bigger. You need resources to prevent your mind from becoming narrower and more routinized in later life. This is your chance to get them. –Martha Nussbaum, a professor of philosophy, law and divinity at the University of Chicago, has been teaching since 1975.

Good advice for faculty, too!

You are welcome to leave your own thoughts for new students in the comments section of this blog post.

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