David Bartholomae in his “Inventing the University” discovers the problem of students’ inappropriate academic language. His criticism is reasonable, because he points out some main difficulties of the “basic writers” in the context of educational writing, gives us examples of the students’ essays with the typical mistakes and explains their failures. The main points under discussion are the following: the problem of audience, students’ inability to use neutral language, and the lack of authority in advising the ideas. My task is to comment on these points and prove that the observations are significant.
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The reason for David Bartholomae’s criticism in his “Inventing the University”
The first point is the problem of the basic writers finding a way to impose their ideas upon the audience. Bartholomae says, “Writer who can successfully manipulate an audience… are writers who can both imagine and write from the position of privilege” (277). It is important to know the needs and aims which a reader might have. Sometimes students just try to write from the position of a teacher. But in this case, it is hard to involve the audience in the discussion. To my mind, the purpose of an essay is to report on the point of view of the writer with strong arguments, but not to convince the reader of the writer’s exclusive correctness. The other extreme is that the students are not convincing in their arguments enough to prove their competence in the matter. It is truly a challenge for students to find the right way to engage an audience. The writer should be persuasive, accessible, and able to keep the reader’s attention.
The second point concerns the language style of the writer. David Bartholomae draws our attention to an academic discourse of the basic writers. As we know, the main demand of the research work is the usage of neutral language. A lot of students attempt to express their ideas more impressively by means of vivid words and emphatic statements. This remark is absolutely fair because it doesn’t correspond to the style of the writing and reduces the work in value. The great skill of a writer is the ability to create a comprehensive report, following the academic discourse, by means of logical arguments and coherent thoughts. To my opinion, everyone can find his own manner of writing within the limits of academic discourse.
The necessity to hold the neutral language demand raises the next problem. It is the lack of authority in advising the ideas. There is a problem that students are afraid of making mistakes. That is why they avoid original ideas, complex structures, and make their language meager. Students are accustomed to following the opinion of the community. But Bartholomae anticipates this slip, noting “The university, however, is the place where “common” wisdom is only of negative value; it is something to work against” (283). For me, the real benefit of an idea is its originality. It can be found as a contradiction that Bartholomae permits “write muddier”, but originally (283). The clarity of the language is still important, but the primary reason for the writing is to show the writer’s point of view on the topic.
Thus, the great value of Bartholomae’s remarks is obvious. The source shows students the opportunity how to improve their writing skills and prevents common mistakes, such as the fear of the audience, inability to use neutral language, and the lack of authority in advising the ideas. It is not a detailed manual on writing, but its advices are important for sensible and creative writers. These points should be taken into account in writing the works.
Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” When a Writer Can’t Write: Writer’s Block and other Writing Problems. Ed. Mike Rose. New York: Guilford, 1985. 273-85.