As the time to choose classes approaches, the topic of the dreaded, first-year required, UWS is becoming at least semi-relevant again. Despite—or perhaps because of—the complaining, annoyance and general disdain expressed by most about the program, I have decided to offer a slightly different perspective. If only for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I believe that at least the concept of UWS is a valiant one, and, with better implementation, the course has quite a bit of potential to greatly assist new students.
The idea behind UWS is plainly that incoming students need help in making the adjustment to college writing. Suffice to say, writing in high school and writing in college are different enough to warrant the help. Many high schools do not prepare students for either the quantity or quality of writing they will be expected to produce at the college level. This is not even mentioning that schools—like the underfunded public school I attended—place a disproportionate focus on preparation for standardized tests, so much that the task of preparing a fully edited, professional essay is never even mentioned. Even for students who do not come from such a background, there is still more than enough evidence in favor of giving students a class specifically designed to help with essay writing, and many of them desperately need it.
I would like to think I am at least a fairly decent writer—I have submitted more than enough articles to The Hoot to a point where, if I was a complete hack, I think someone would have already said something. Part of being a decent writer is being able to recognize not-so-decent writing. From doing exercises such as peer reviewing, I can confidently assert my point that, yes, many students do need help. I also have confidence in this assertion as I am fairly certain none of the authors whose papers I have edited read The Hoot. But even if I am later called out by said authors, my point remains that in my experience, the essays I have read point to a need for basic help in writing at a college level.
I also applaud Brandeis for putting such an emphasis on good writing. Writing is an often underrated skill that achieves far more than the raw ability to put words on a page. It teaches how to critically develop, articulate and present well-thought out arguments. And above all, writing is simply vital to sophisticated communication in any given situation. And of course, being able to adequately express ideas in writing is fun and, in some cases, liberating.
This is not to deny the problems UWS has in practice. Most courses are taught by graduate students, some of whom are woefully inexperienced with teaching by no real fault of their own, and most students are fairly unengaged or uninterested. And, most often, the classes usually require an essay before anything useful can be taught. These are all clear issues that should be addressed in order to create a more successful program. However, I still stand by the idea that the principle behind the courses is both necessary and important.
Ultimately, I assert that UWS is not the perfect answer to the discrepancy in the skill levels taught in high school and what is needed in college. Yet this does not mean that this problem would go better unanswered. UWS is a sound idea and a noble attempt that simply has complications that require more attention. That is where the complaining, annoyance and general dislike should be aimed: the pragmatics and implementation, not the program itself. Above its obvious snags, UWS should be—and occasionally is—considered an honorable and needed program. It just needs to work out a few practicalities.