Friday, March 30, 2007

Taking my inconvenience to make this uncomfortable

In our in-class exercise we reviewed a letter that a student had written to his professor contesting a grade he hadn’t actually even seen at that point. However much it bothers me that the student did not actually know the final outcome of his grade it bothers me more that the student was in an upper-level (post gen-eds) class and still writing like a basic writer. I was very surprised to see that the people who responded to his entry did not comment on the complaint as being a shining example of basic writing, but instead decided to pick up on a few aspects (poor quality, nonetheless) of the letter and ridicule them.

Obviously, this student was writing from a place of anger and frustration and maybe even sent the e-mail to his teacher without ever having done any proof reading. There is really no telling how or when it was that the student concluded it was the appropriate time to send that e-mail to the teacher. In any case, the letter is not something one would expect from a junior or senior and I am left to wonder how it is that this particular writer passed the beginning or introductory writing course(s) and the other courses that may have been heavily steeped in academic writing. Why was he allowed to continue on in his education when he clearly does not have the ability to put into words what it is that he truly means to say?

And so, we come back to Min-Zahn Lu and her article on Shaughnessy in which she argues that writing is a way for people to be able to make the essence of the written words communicable to both the writer and the reader (LE, 59). In the case of the writer above, his true meaning is usurped by the repetition of the phrase “you make me uncomfortable,” and is therefore lost within the babble of cyclical arguments which are not supported by any concrete evidence. What is this student truly trying to say? What exactly makes him uncomfortable? Is it truly his discomfort with the teacher that has caused his grade to be lower that he thinks he deserves?

One of the things that struck me the most is that the student seems to be resisting the changes that come along with academic writing (Lu’s Conflict and Struggle article from a few weeks ago). There seems to be something intrinsic in this student that just will not let him overcome the idea that his writing style was good before his entered college and is still good even after he has disputed his low grades with many teachers (that, have, by the way, been settled to his satisfaction).

Also, this basic writer feels a sense of entitlement. Whereas most of the articles we have read tell us that basic writers are often unsure of their abilities and fear writing. However, this student was so confident in his writing that he is sending a copy of the letter, in which he can not actually express his problem, to the supervisor of his teacher. Perhaps his sense of entitlement comes from his previous success in working the system or maybe he just truly resists the idea that a writer must change and grow in order to become better at the craft.