Deresiewicz Discusses Educational Merits of Public Writing Style

If you’ve ever shared an interesting article on the The Huffington Post, sat through a TED Talk or gawked at an opinion on Thought Catalog, you’re
participating in one of the fastest growing genres in the world.

This style
of writing is known as ‘public writing,’ a term partially coined by
award-winning essayist, critic and bestselling author William Deresiewicz. Deresiewicz holds the position of
Mary Routt Chair of Writing for Scripps College for the Spring 2015 term. He spoke to an audience in the Hampton Room at Scripps College’s Malott Commons Feb. 3.

In the discussion, Deresiewicz explored the concept of public writing and its value in higher education. Citing examples
from his own and others’ writings, Deresiewicz spoke fluidly about the emerging style of discourse and the effect it leaves on students at private liberal arts
colleges.

This type
of writing is intended to make an impact in public discussion. It is not
standard undergraduate writing, a form of academic writing intended for
specific audiences, nor is it professional or creative writing.

“Public
writing is something that a lot of people do, and not just professional op-ed
writers,” Deresiewicz said. “And yet, very few colleges teach it.”

Deresiewicz talked
about how many students curious to explore creative writing will try their hand at
poetry or playwriting. However, those forms of writing aren’t as useful to students if they do not plan to pursue it in any realm after graduation. Public
writing, on the other hand, is a useful skill to have.

“Colleges
love to talk about leadership—that’s become one of the buzzwords nowadays,”
he said. “Everyone wants to be a leader but no one knows what that means. The
main point is, insofar as you are going to exert leadership, public writing is
one of the ways people do it now.”

Deresiewicz’s
public ideas have not gone without controversy. Many people had polarized
opinions on his essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” which claimed
that prestigious schools encourage classist, isolating and elitist thinking.

Additionally,
his most recent book, Excellent Sheep,
outlines how higher education stifles creative learning and the ways in which liberal
arts colleges are adapting increasingly pragmatic philosophies about teaching.

While reactions
have been mixed, the general consensus is that the current higher education
system requires closer inspection.  

Mariah
Mastrodimos SC ’18 was eager to attend the event.

“In high school, I read his
article [“The Disadvantages of an Elite Education”] in class and found it
really interesting. I love to write, and when I realized that he was here, I
figured I should come see him talk,” Mastrodimos said. 

Deresiewicz concluded
the session by reading four of his published articles, including “A Matter of Taste?,” “Upper
Middle Brow,” “Latter-Day Saint,” and
“Great Expectations.” Each of these pieces discusses the development of contemporary American
culture, from arugula-obsessed foodies to Jay Gatsby to Wes Anderson. He also
opened the floor to questions from the audience, which covered everything
from changing cultural trends to his experience transitioning from professor to
full-time writer.

Deresiewicz
seemed to be satisfied with his experience at Scripps, and said that he has enjoyed his time
teaching the bright students who attend the school. 

“I’ve had a great time here
so far,” he said with a smile. “It’s a very welcoming community.”

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