Monday, January 28, 2008

Adventures in TAing, case 2 (in a ? case series)

Case 2: Students' reactions run the gamut from bemusement to total disbelief when I tell them that first-person pronouns are perfectly acceptable in their written work - and not only that, but that I expect to be able to 'hear' the voice of a human being in their writing, rather than some approximation of a robot aimed at spitting out objective proofs. When I posed the question of voice to about 35 students in a class last week, a whole two thought that 'I' statements were valid in scholarly writing - and both were quick to slap on restrictions. One student asked me if it wasn't better to use indirect statements like "One can argue that...", though this strikes me as the worst way to feign an authoritative voice - not only is "one" clearly a poorly disguised "I", but the sentence is passive and sounds entirely uncertain of what it's about to claim. Can one argue or is one arguing? And who talks like that, anyway?

(For the longest time, I suspected that this was a failing of Ontario high schools. While, personally, I can recall learning the 'persuasive essay' form in high school, this was in Grade 13, which has since been abolished. But now that I have 3rd and 4th year students in my English tutorials, who have spent years writing papers in whatever disciplinary-specific fashion they've been taught - this is a class for English minors - it would seem that the high school system can't be entirely to blame.)


unpack said...

oh man. i always get resistance on this issue too. last year i got so angry because they thought i was teaching the "first person narrative" because i was being all "feministy" (a student actually said that)... and that knowledge should be in an objective tone. meh.

Omar Karindu said...

I get it constantly as well; it seems to me to be an artifact both of misguided writing pedagogy prior to college and the prevalence of the "objective" style in most of the "serious" nonfiction writing students are likely to have encountered outside college (i.e. newspaper articles, textbooks, popular science articles).