Pen is mighty, for students of many majors



Whether they write to improve their economy of expression or because they are bored with studying the U.S. economy, many Elis believe writing will be an essential skill no matter what they do in life. And a proposal in the 2003 academic review, which recommended that each member of the Class of 2009 and beyond take two writing-intensive classes, will make writing an prominent part of every undergraduate’s education.

From E&EB majors to EP&E majors, writers and non-writers alike are drawn to writing courses. Writing classes like “Daily Themes” and “Nonfiction Writing: Memory and Childhood” are popular, even with students not majoring in English or literature.

Daily Themes is a narrative prose-writing class requiring daily compositions of about 300 words. Students meet with a writing tutor once a week to discuss their work on subjects as varied as journalistic reportage and jive writing.

Bill Strom ’05 said he applied for Daily Themes to get his writing “back in the groove.” Plus, the course had a mystical element: its reputation is as fabled as John Gaddis’ “The Cold War.”

“It’s the kind of course you really ought to take,” Strom said. “It’s a classic Yale course.”

An Ethics, Politics and Economics and intended music double-major thinking about pursing law or entering the world of academia, Strom said he believes writing is an essential skill for a variety of majors and careers.

Russian and Eastern European studies major Elizabeth Adams ’04 said she does not have professional writing aspirations in the near future — she is headed to music school next year to study violin. Adams said her writing has “tightened up” as a result of the course and has benefited from the narrative approach of Daily Themes.

“Creative writing allows you to push the envelope,” Adams said.

Writing more has helped Adams become a more observant reader, she said, because she can now identify the mechanics of how writing pieces are put together. Still, she said her favorite part of the course is “Deresiewicz’s variety show” — professor William Deresiewicz’s lectures.

Memory and Childhood, a Davenport college seminar that uses personal essay and memoir to explore early childhood, utilizes peer critiques to apply close attention to the craft of writing.

Michelle Lee ’04, an E&EB major, said she applied for Memory and Childhood out of a longing to work with less constricted prose than the science articles to which she was accustomed.

“I missed writing descriptively, about interesting things instead of a research paper that has a rigid structure,” Lee said.

Lee said she believes many people choose to write out of a secret hope that they will find their calling in writing.

“There are a lot of people who still hope they have it in them to be a writer,” Lee said. “Someday I’d like to write.”

Nishant Kumar ’04, a philosophy major headed for law school, said the creative writing he does in Memory and Childhood is a far cry from the technical papers he writes in his major.

“Philosophy writing is almost mathematical, but [the writing in Memory and Childhood] is a lot more personal, moving and poignant,” Kumar said.

For those who find writing courses as daunting as calculus is for others, Yalies get their writing fill through electing to take writing-intensive sections of their classes. In exchange for writing more papers in these sections, students often do not take a midterm.

Greg Aponte ’06, who is in the writing-intensive sections of “The Moral Foundations of Politics,” said his writing aspirations are “doubtful.” He is in the writing-intensive section — which he said is ultimately more work than the regular class — because of the smaller range of grades on papers than he finds on exams.

“It’s easier to get reasonably good grades on papers than it is to get on exams,” Aponte said. “Papers force you to put work into them, whereas often you find yourself walking into a test without having invested the same amount of time.”

Writing-intensive classes will play a more prominent role as the provisions of the 2003 academic review come to fruition in the coming years. Starting with the class of 2009, students will have to take two writing-intensive classes offered in a variety of majors outside the humanities, including those in the natural and physical sciences.

Deresiewicz, who helped develop the Bass Writing program and hire Alfred Guy Jr. to head the new Yale College Center for Writing Instruction, said that writing is “no more important in the humanities that it is in the sciences.”

“Yale students, students everywhere, need to know how to learn to write better,” Deresiewicz said.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead commented on the role of writing in his academic review by saying that students should receive discipline-specific instruction, and not just learn how to write English papers.

“In each of the arts programs, we want to have classes for students who are seriously interested in a subject and seriously good at it, but also classes for students in general to develop an interest in the field,” Brodhead said.

One problem Deresiewicz foresees in implementing more writing-intensive classes is convincing professors, already pressed for time, to incorporate even more writing into their curricula. Guy will have to be diplomatic in advising professors, Deresiewicz said.

“I think it’s going to light a fire under [professors] and convince them that they need to incorporate scores of writing-intensive classes into their courses,” Deresiewicz said.

Likewise, physics professor D. Allan Bromley said he was a staunch supporter of the writing-intensive courses’ making their way into the sciences. Bromley, an English major for his first two years of college, said he asks for written essays in both his intro- and upper-level classes.

“I am absolutely convinced [adding writing to courses] will be absolutely beneficial to the physics and engineering departments,” Bromley said. “Unless you can write a coherent, persuasive document, the decision makers with whom you will inevitably be dealing will not even consider what you have written.”

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