US vs. Everyone Else: Where Do We Fall?

This week’s articles have given me a lot to think on, specifically about how America’s way of teaching writing relates to that of other countries.  I have long been aware that our system is considerably different from that of others (I have a few British friends who are completely boggled by our setup), but I’ve never really stopped to think whether our system is different for the better or not.

The Russell and Foster article really made me realize that it is a pretty great thing that America teaches writing as a topic.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but students are exposed to many different types of writing and can probably see connections across disciplines that students raised in other countries cannot.  I feel lucky for growing up with that system.

However, Li’s article made me think about the problem of teaching to an exam.  Li mentions how students there were first trying desperately to pass the Imperial Civil Service Exam, and then, when that one went out of vogue, teachers began teaching students how to pass the university entrance exam.  I feel that problem is extremely relevant in American schools.  We teach students to write, sure, but generally we try to teach them to write so they will pass essay exams.  Or, worse and far more likely, we push writing to the side entirely to ensure that the students pass the endless and rigorous STAR testing of the No Child Left Behind act.  Similarly, the Chinese students complained about the rigidity of high school writing, and how that high school writing didn’t really prepare them for the university level–to me, this is a fairly prominent problem here, too.  Plenty of extremely smart students (like formerly AP level) do not pass the writing entrance exam at CSUS and end up in ENGL 1000, being forced to do mandatory tutoring weekly.  I used to tutor students who experienced this, and it really made me realize how poorly high schools were preparing students for university expectations–these were smart kids who easily could have passed had they really known what the colleges were looking for.

I guess my main thought having read and digested these readings is that I now have a certain appreciation for the fact that my country has allowed me prolonged education in writing and more time picking a concentration, but I can still see things that our country really needs to work on (specifically, teaching to a test and a stark difference between high school and college level writing expectations, which needs to be bridged and explained to transitioning students).

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