It’s been a tough three months. I had been away from full-time teaching for a few years, and away from eighteen-year-olds for longer. From 1995 to 2005, I taught four, sometimes five, sections of Freshman Comp each semester. I read roughly 8,000 essays during that decade—200,000 pages, 50,000,000 words. After all that, I took a little time off to do some writing of my own. But when my book was finished, the department chair ordered me back to the front line.
And Freshman Comp is the front line. All incoming college students take it, and their numbers are on the rise. Consequently, we are legion as well, we writing teachers, we circlers of the comma splice, we well-intentioned, underpaid masses. Despite what you may have heard, we are not covert operatives, Maoist holdovers who have infiltrated the ranks of higher education. While I do have major concerns about the predatory nature of corporate capitalism, as I imagine many of us do by now, my motives, like those of my colleagues, are mostly pure. Our goals can be simply stated if not easily achieved. Namely, we want to teach your children to think for themselves and to communicate those thoughts through effective use of language. Of course, unless you are a Dadaist poet, you have to write about something. But after reading thousands of essays (a noun I much prefer to “arguments”) about abortion, gun control, and gay rights—all important issues—I decided that, on my return to Freshman Comp, I would ask my freshmen to essay (a verb I prefer to “argue”) on a topic they all presumably knew something about: high school. I began with a simple prompt for the first essay: evaluate the education you received over the last four years.