I had started a blog about the Shipka article that I was somewhat ambivalent about, but after I read David Bartholomae’s article “Inventing the University”, I was more interested in getting those thoughts down on the page. Throughout his article I found myself both agreeing with and fighting against his assertions. I found myself re-reading the article, wondering if I misunderstood sections, or his main point. There were many ideas that he posed that forced me to stop and think about my own writing as well as the writing of the 130p students. Much of the writing I am doing about this very article is muddy, because I am struggling to make sense of his ideas and put my thoughts down in an cogent manner.
After reading many of the English 130 personal essays and keyword assignment, it is a daunting task not to gravitate towards essays that have a clarity of thought and are error free. As a reader, this makes the comprehension and analysis process easy. The “white shoes” essay is relatively simple and easy to read, and for any reader it takes very little time to unpack. While I was reading the “clay model” essay I found myself stumbling over words and sentences, struggling to keep up with the “muddied” writing, as Bartholomae put it. Many of our students in English 130 can write a relatively error free essay, with clarity of thought, and ideas that are easy to unpack, much like the “white shoes” essay. Where the struggles occur is exactly where Bartholomae indicates, “they have to learn to write what I would write, or to offer up some approximation of that discourse” (Bartholomae 29). This has occurred most recently in the 30 workshop when a student wanted to question the validity and functionality of a game model. He felt that he had no authority to write in such a way, to make suggestions about how a game should be formatted, especially when the person he was writing to was the same person he was questioning.
This is an interesting dynamic in an English classroom, not only are you, as a professor, presenting material that you feel passionate about or feel contributes to the learning/writing process, but you are also the recipient of these finished texts. In the end the student is both inventing the university while they are reading the texts as well as while they are writing them. Many of the moves that students make in a classroom depend highly on their grade. I have seen students erase a particularly “muddy” or an unnatural section of writing because the grammar, syntax or other sentence level error is holding them up. That sentence is often replaced with a simpler one, that is located in more familiar territory.
At the end of the day when it comes time to put words on paper, many students, such as myself, believe that in order to write with authority, you must also write with clarity. These two aspects of your writing must coexist seamlessly, because a muddily written essay seems to detract from any authority that the author has taken up. Bartholomae challenges these notions of clarity for clarity’s sake, especially when the that clarity inhibits a student from engaging in an appropriated academic discourse. This is, by far, one of the most thought provoking ideas that he has presented, yet I don’t know where to go from here.