Letter to Works In Progress

Evergreen Colleagues, and members of our wider community who are connected in a multitude of ways to the Evergreen Community, we have a problem.

Last week a student came to me. She wanted some help on an op-ed article she was writing. Because I have always seen her as bright, articulate and capable, I was eager to read her draft. The tone of her paper, about an arbitrary government imposed curfew that was negatively impacting her community, jolted me. It was very aggressive, filled with MF descriptives, multiple vindictives and wide flung accusations. When I asked her about the tone, she told me she was speaking in “her voice”. My response was “to whom”?

This encounter turned into a powerful teachable moment and the impetus for this letter. Writing is more than voice. Voice may get you in the door, maybe, for an interview. But having something to say and saying it coherently will get you the job.

An analysis of Evergreen’s Transcripted Academic Statements last January revealed that voice is the dominant accomplishment of Evergreen graduates but that ideas, organization and sentence fluency are less evident. This analysis might suggest why only 46% of The Evergreen State College students earn more than similarly aged HS graduates, six years after enrolling. (This figure is based on the assumption that high school graduates between the ages of 25-34 earn an average of $25,000 per year, and comes from the Department of Education website, College Scorecard.)

As I started to reflect on this issue of rewarding voice, at times, over content, I thought of another Evergreen incident in which two students disrupted a campus event to protest issues of campus safety. When given the opportunity to speak, they did not deliver an analysis, nor an action plan. No, they spoke boldly about their frustration. Some applauded them for speaking their voice and then the next day they were co-opted, because they carried no long term action agenda. There was no teachable moment.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not blaming either student. I am blaming us as teachers. I am blaming the institution that thinks declining enrollment and retention is a marketing problem instead of a curricular and pedagogical one. I am blaming those that rest on the laurels of past innovations in curriculum structure and student evaluation and act, seemingly, without regard to evidenced-based knowledge of best practices and data on student needs.

What I am asking is for us to is “step up”, “recognize real’ and “and in the mean time, do no harm.”

If, as educators, we are going to be true to our mission to support and train thinkers, creators, social justice/liberating thought workers, and employed persons, we need to promote both expressive and communication skills. It is criminal not to teach our students to be masters of liberation rhetoric, logic and persuasion; creators of integrative synthesis; and producers of equity and inclusive excellence. Students pay tuition and eternally repay student loans. They need to get something for their money. The world is waiting for their life experiences, their contextual insights and perceptions. We need to be sure they are prepared.

 

Dr. W. Joye Hardiman is an Emeritus Faculty at The Evergreen State College