Letter: Writing at Pomona: A Response to John Holler

Dear Editor,

As a Writing Fellow, I feel it is my duty to let other students know when their arguments simply are not up to snuff. In that vein, I would like to provide a response to the arguments of one John Holler regarding the state of the Writing Program at Pomona College. John, you requested a critic, so here is my non-anonymous peer review of your work.

At the sentence level, your article is well phrased, if overly pretentious, but your arguments suffer from some serious logical flaws. It makes sense to address each of these in turn:

Peer Review: Any critique of an individual’s arguments, written or otherwise communicated, constitutes peer review. It is a chance to offer our peers an opinion on whether their arguments hold together and to bring out counter-arguments that have not been effectively addressed. Peer review is a service that we as scholars are obligated to provide. John, you said, “Without the protection of anonymity, peer reviews are non-confrontational and non-substantive.” Confrontation does not bring substance, nor does substance require confrontation. While it may be frightening to provide a peer with critical feedback, one must realize that in the real world (careers, academic, or otherwise) our critiques are not anonymous.

If students cannot effectively critique peers here, where little is on the line, then how can they hope to do so when evaluating a co-worker’s proposal or challenging another scholar? We cannot hope to effect positive change if we cannot provide constructive criticism, as without input from the best and brightest, both business and academic endeavors are destined to fail.

The ID1 Program: You are correct, although overly dramatic, in stating that ID1 faculty face many challenges: “Adequately addressing both idiosyncratic topics and how to write in the same introductory class is a Sisyphean task.” As a two-time ID1 intern, I can attest to the difficulties involved in actively teaching college-level writing within the context of a larger course. I wonder, though, about your meaning; you imply that it is just too difficult to address a unique topic while simultaneously introducing college-level writing. Are you hoping for a “standardized” ID1 course or some “standard” set of papers?

I was hoping to have left high school behind when I came to Pomona: God forbid that an elite liberal arts college challenge its faculty and students. Far from being broken, I see the ID1 program as working to better integrate itself with the other aspects of writing at Pomona. For example, the continuing expansion of the ID1 intern program allows professors to work with Writing Center-trained students to provide a greater diversity of feedback or even help address particular writing strategies and issues.

The Writing Center: You are also correct in stating that our mission is to produce better writers rather than better papers. Had you ever actually been to the Writing Center, you might not have said that “the mission…resorts to lofty rhetoric” or implied that Fellows do not critique. I speak for all Fellows when I say that no student can come into the Center without receiving constructive critique. Pay special heed to my use of the word “constructive”, as no writer can improve from a lot of red pen and verbal castration. I should note that any student who feels she has not received adequate critique is more than welcome to let the Fellow know that she can handle it.

Also, it is true that we do not offer hours spanning from midnight to 6AM, your alleged peak writing time for Pomona students. Consider if we did hold such sessions: All the late-night paper writers that I know do not desire human contact during their caffeine-driven typing frenzy, and so would be unlikely to traipse over to the Center to meet with a Fellow. Further, we aim to produce better writers…and good writers know to leave time for revision.

Next time, I suggest you bring your concerns to those of us on the inside, as I can assure you that those problems that do exist are being worked on. If, for any reason, you again “question the consistency or clarity of your papers,” you know where to find me.

Erik Lykken PO ‘09

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