The way we teach writing and expect that knowledge to be able to be transferred from one class to the next is simply a false assumption. Most class systems are designed to develop skills on top of more skills, building a sort of tree of skills and techniques. This sort of methodology works well with mathematics and sciences, as mathematics and sciences are built off the concept of developing themselves further off from prior knowledge. However, that can only go so far with literature as it’s a much more abstract subject. Sure, the school system will teach you to write a paragraph before writing an essay, but the contents of those paragraphs and essays will rarely ever be the same. In a far different but similar manner, writing a persuasive essay on what makes a quote from one of the Rocky movies is extremely different from a persuasive essay on the theory of birds evolving from dinosaurs. This raises the question of why English as a subject is taught in a manner that uses prerequisites when the prerequisites are loosely connected more times than not. Literature by nature is something that can take on various forms according to the person/people writing it as well as the purpose it’s being written for.
To begin, it’s worth taking a moment to emphasize that the way writing is taught in each class is different, but in general, well done. Each class may have different things it needs to accomplish, but they all can be done in very effective ways, especially at the college level. However, this is exactly where the problem lies. There is a plethora of differences in teaching methods, objectives, and purposes for the assignments in the different writing classes at a single level of college. These differences can legitimately determine if someone will struggle with the class or not at times. To further this example, it’s not an uncommon thing for students in college to struggle with a first-level writing course, but then exceed expectations without difficulty in the second-level course. Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut Ellen C. Carillo provides a similar example, stating, “Anecdotally, writing instructors see this all the time: students entering a second-semester writing course as if they had no previous college-level writing course.” Given these differences, it can be quite difficult to gauge if a student is ready for a higher-level course if they’ve only taken one prerequisite class.
Another perspective on the differences between writings comes in the form of the reason for the writing. Using prior examples, a teacher can assign a persuasive essay to a whole class. They will likely get as many topics as there are students if it isn’t a prompt for the essay. This is all because people simply have different knowledge than others, so they’ll use that knowledge to convey different messages. Some people can explain why a certain type of music is more interesting than others, or why they believe in a certain way of thinking. These differences in knowledge and purpose simply make it harder to transfer things from one to another. In short, why would someone mention how fast the speed of light is when talking about how to better understand different languages? The simple answer is that they wouldn’t because that’s not useful information for that conversation, or looking at it in terms of writing, for that piece of literature. They’d only add to the conversation what they see as relevant and worth applying.
In general, it’s a very good thing there are so many different courses and ways to write found within those courses. The variety of styles ranging from informative essays to rhetoric analysis is some of the most valuable things to making well-rounded writers. However, making a linear structure to what’s taught at what times doesn’t help as much when it comes to this sort of topic. The knowledge gained in one class is usually only applicable to that one class, or at best, the specific kind of assignment. This, however, doesn’t make the class bad for the students, as they are given opportunities to learn about new aspects of literature and apply them to their own perspectives and style. Writers being able to write in the styles and assignments that a person is best equipped and comfortable with writing in will often bring about the best pieces possible from them.