Excerpts from “College Advice, From People Who Have Been There Awhile,” Week in Review, New York Times (September 6, 2009):
Stanley Fish (teaching since 1962): I would advise students to take a composition course even if they have tested out of it. I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write and an equal number had never been asked to. They managed to get through high-school without learning how to write a clean English sentence, and if you can’t do that you can’t do anything.
I give this advice with some trepidation because too many writing courses today teach everything but the craft of writing and are instead the vehicles of the instructor’s social and political obsessions. In the face of what I consider a dereliction of pedagogical duty, I can say only, “Buyer beware.” If your writing instructor isn’t teaching writing, get out of that class and find someone who is.
Martha Nussbaum (teaching since 1975): It’s easy to think that college classes are mainly about preparing you for a job. But remember: this may be the one time in your life when you have a chance to think about the whole of your life, not just your job. Courses in the humanities, in particular, often seem impractical, but they are vital, because they stretch your imagination and challenge your mind to become more responsive, more critical, bigger. You need resources to prevent your mind from becoming narrower and more routinized in later life. This is your chance to get them.
Garry Wills (teaching since 1962): Read, read, read. Students ask me how to become a writer, and I ask them who is their favorite author. If they have none, they have no love of words.