Although I enjoyed this Tuesday’s panel discussion of the relevance of college writing beyond academia, I believe that it did not yield fruitful debate, possibly because it was addressing the wrong question. I think the conversation would have benefited from the insight of author William Deresiewicz, who argued in his essay featured in The American Scholar: “The true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.” (Though his piece is now a few summers old, it is no less pertinent.)
The talk was designed to address careers specifically. However, I assume few members of the audience have chosen Pomona College for vocational training. I trust that college writing will benefit me and my peers professionally—in the way that I believe my liberal arts education will prepare me to wear many hats after I graduate, I hope that college writing will ready me to hold many pens. In the meantime, it seems to me that college writing relates more to development of intellectual identity than to format, mechanics or style. My education in college writing has taken more the form of discourse than instruction—it is the process of inheriting a voice from my community.
Panelist Mathiew Specktor jokingly asked the moderator to expand on the word “useful” in the question of college writing’s future application. Although he posed this question rhetorically, I believe an attempt to answer it would have offered a more relevant discussion. My answer, and what I assume would be Deresiewicz’s answer, is that writing is the expression and packaging of thought, and its cognates—listening, speaking, examining—have relevance every minute of every day. I believe that college writing, the development of character and not just career, will help me experience and reflect on the “real world” once I enter it.
The process of college writing is, in many ways, a luxury. Like the rest of our liberal learning, it will not all be directly applicable to our future fields. That said, college writing is a pursuit all liberal arts students have selected, and we should trust that this discourse will benefit us as people, if not also as professionals.