I just finished grading a set of researched position/argument essays. One student argued that parents should be required to be licensed to be parents. She makes a good point about the lack of emphasis on parental education (compared to all the emphasis we put on things like birthing classes and breastfeeding classes). However, she included details like requiring people to have at least an Associate Degree and a minimum income of $50,000. She also argued that when people have children without a license, the children should be taken by the government. The problem with all this is that there wasn’t a sufficient evidence or explanation of her plans. For instance, why $50,000? Where did that number come from? And what would the government do with all the orphans?
I think this came as a surprise to me especially because she is a conscientious student who has been producing good writing throughout the semester.
I jokingly (but not really) commented that her essay scares me. Under her plan, most teachers (with their BA or even MA degrees) would be not qualify to be parents.
Clearly, this is not just a matter of writing. Of course, this student could improve on how to write an argument, how to present arguments in a way that presents a viable (not to mention reasonable) position on an issue. The problem here is with critical thinking. Hopefully, through their college education, they learn to think critically – this includes writing about or presenting their argument effectively. Critical thinking skills – which of course is a buzz concept in education today – is something that only a well-rounded educational experience can teach. It’s not just about open-mindedness nor is it about becoming liberal in their thinking. It’s about knowing their position, considering the opposition, refuting or responding to that opposition, gathering evidence and materials for support, and – of course – presenting all of this with clarity.
A writing class, therefore, is so important in setting the expectations for the kind of critical thinking that a student should be practicing and mastering. So, when we ask students to write… we’re not asking them just to write. We’re asking them to think (and write).