I Am Jack’s Hopeless Cause




I am an English teacher who loves the art of writing. Despite feeling my abilities are second rate, I understand that I tackle the craft differently than many of my peers. I don’t explain in detail to my students every single thing they should do, nor do I often if ever give them specific word counts, structures to follow, or topics to explore. To me, proficiency in writing comes from exploration. It isn’t enough to read an established piece and study the structure and syntax of it. I want my students creating and critiquing, guiding themselves and each other through the process of creating something noteworthy.

My class, however, is not a writing class, it is an English class. The emphasis is very rarely, if ever on the writing itself, but on the organization and structure of the writing itself. My students are not often enough asked to put themselves into the work, and explore content as part of a larger dialogue and I fear sometimes that, despite my knowledge of the art of writing, I am not adequately preparing them for future writing classes. There is always a chance that those future college classes may not prepare them for the other classes they will have down the line, perpetuating an unfortunate cycle.

I have to ask myself, “what am I preparing my students for,” fairly often. I do not know the course they will take in college. Will they find the rare course that Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle highlight as being the ideal introductory writing course? Most likely not.

According to Wardle and Downs, the goal of a intro to writing studies course should be to improve student’s understanding of writing, rhetoric, language, and literacy, but, from my experience in academia, which were reinforced by Wardle and Downs, these classes tend to lean towards the specifics of academic writing and even more specifically on responding to English literature, limiting the scope and influence of the course can have on the writer’s progression.

Perhaps, this is part of why when reviewing the case studies of Jack and Stephanie in this article, despite my overall love of writing, I find myself relating more to the insecurities of Jack and his limited ability. Jack was not a bad writer, but a writer who lacked confidence to explore writing in the multiple avenues it can be taken. Much like myself, Jack took an extended break from college in order to get experience out of the classroom. Still, writing followed us both.

Jack wrote police reports as part of his job before attending university again, and it was through reexamining this writing that Jack discovered some fallacies in what the writing he performed on his police report did against what it was supposed to do. Ideally, police reports were to just state the unbiased facts, however, after careful examination he found that bias permeated through many of his early reports. While the reports were still being used for their intended purpose, they were not written in the way they were meant to be.

This idea highlights the difficulty of creating a true writing course at the undergraduate level, that is exploratory while also being functional. Jack learned through his time studying the art of writing that he was not bad at it, however he also learned that the work he did for the real world, while incorrect, was also acceptable. If work done in such a way that it does not meet the standards of what it is intended to be used for is still acceptable by those who are supposed to be in control of those standards, than I find it nearly impossible to develop a course for entry level college students looking to understand the scope and real world application of writing, because the real world does not always meet its own standards.


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