Many first years walk into college thinking they’re hot stuff with a pen. Writing the Essay, the bane of the freshmen existence, serves as a rude awakening. That’s exactly what expository writing programs should do, and they’re necessary to help break the mold of the five-paragraph essay drilled into the high school brain. But the class causes frustrations, not only because of its difficulty. Too many find it nebulous and rigid. Writing the Essay needs some revisions on its structure.
Because there are so many classes and so many professors teaching them, the program’s curriculum is scattershot. The website is a good example of the vague set of course guidelines which allow for personalization by each professor. There is a vague set of rules while the professor guides the rest of the course. The site advertises the broad batch of writers that make up the faculty: poets, journalists and scholars in the social sciences are just a few. When you have to decide among a melting pot of career writers, the chances of meshing well with the one you choose is tough. That’s not to say students don’t find satisfying teachers — many do. But if the class centers around the professor’s style, then students have to be properly informed on his or her subject area. Albert, NYU’s course-finding platform which is also begging for an update, should be consistent and clear about the professor that corresponds to each class. Even displaying a small blurb about the teacher’s experience would be a step in the right direction.
The Writing the Essay courses vary as wildly as the sources you’re asked to place “in conversation” with one another. Tisch, Steinhardt and Tandon students all have specialized courses for their specific majors. This idea works in theory: We should be strengthening the tenets of our majors and eventual careers, right? But the assumption that we write and think in the specialized manner our major implies is misguided. Writing is as ubiquitous as language and should not be organized into cookie-cutter classifications.
At the very least, freshmen should be given options and the freedom to decide what class will best fit their writing style. A science-driven curriculum may help the arts student tired of murky lectures on poets and paintings, while the engineering student may be more geared toward creative thinking than the filmmaker. Writing the Essay is crucial to strengthening critical thinking and analysis, but too many students are understandably frustrated and others are being left behind. NYU needs to reckon with its flagship course and deepen its positive impact.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition.
Email Louis Rodriguez at [email protected]