Dinty Moore Essay

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1. New York City, December 2002: Union laborers with sledgehammers are ripping out wallboard in the hotel room just above us. My colleague Kate and I are in the midtown Hilton, attempting to ignore the noise, trying hard to remain focused on the schedule of hopeful candidates interviewing for a faculty opening in rhetoric and composition. We used to call it first-year writing, but renovations have occurred there as well. 2. I am keeping this essay brief on purpose. Feel free to skim. 3. One by one, the fresh-faced applicants in their post modern eyewear enter the hotel room, take the chair, and explain the various ways they teach what we once called “freshman English.” Each of these applicants—they are bright, from good schools, with impressive depths of knowledge—outlines one or more of the innovative new assignments they give their students in first-year writing classes. One favors a service learning project where students work in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Another hands her students disposable cameras so they “can learn to construct an argument out of the pictures they take.” A third sends her students to welfare offices, to “examine the discourse” of filling out forms. 4. Writing skills are always a problem in college, but the truth is, many college students no longer know how to read, either. It is true on my campus, and from what I can gather, on many other college campuses. They understand words, sentences—they are not illiterate—but they don’t get the point anymore. They don’t see the reason for reading. 5. For nearly as long as the book has existed, pessimists have been predicting its death. This time they may be right. Over the last five or so years, consumer spending on books rose 16%, but unit sales dropped. In other words, despite healthy spending levels, fewer books are being purchased.

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