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I don’t know many people who enjoy composition classes. Don’t get me wrong — a lot of fun stuff happens in composition classes and many people enjoy a good deal of it. But overall, most students and teachers I’ve talked to about it think composition classes are too much work with too little reward.

Right now, we usually teach composition by having our students write a lot of papers and correcting a lot of mistakes. We impart a few guiding principles along the way, but the bulk of the education lies where the ink (jet or red) hits the page. The continual trial-and-error tires everyone involved.

What if we taught it like a science class? Teach all the fancy jargon and what it means. Teach students terms like clause, predicate, parallelism, post hoc ergo propter hoc, hypophora, and anacoluthon. Teach diagramming of sentences. Teach various forms of rhetorical structure. Don’t make your students write a single page of essay. Let the grade depend on wholly multiple-choice exams that can be graded by machine.

I sort of suspect that if a composition class were done like that with the rigor of a typical science class, students would come away from it with writing at least as improved as it would be by a more traditional composition course. If they also had to read a lot of well-written prose, then I’m certain they’d come out of the course with writing as good as or better than the writing of typical graduates of English 101.

What do you think? Would you prefer a class like that as a student? Are you a teacher who would prefer not having to grade all those papers? Do you think a class like that could never teach students how to write properly? Do you not really care about what I’ve said but think the picture at the top of the page is pretty?

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