Inventing the University

Many beginner or introductory writers are strangers to academic discourse; they do not have the understanding of the principles and logic needed to devise scholarly compositions. Thus, throughout various universities, students are assembling and mimicking the discourses taught by knowledgeable educators, ultimately trying to successfully write for a variety of diverse audiences (Bartholomae 61).
Students intuitively understand that they need to reproduce a similar composition in order to gain acceptance in the academic community and to succeed in their coursework. Unfortunately, he or she does not have the knowledge necessary to complete the assignments. David Bartholomae defines “Inventing the University” as writing processes that college students must undertake each time they create a new composition. He has described the essential reason for making the comprehension of academic discourse the primary component of any first-year writing class.
In his essay, Bartholomae offers insights that could aid college composition teachers in understanding the difficulty beginner students without prior exposure to academic discourse may encounter when trying to write university level writing coursework. Essentially, students must learn to abandon their old discourse communities, use authoritative roles in their papers and use a special vocabulary to become great scholars.

David Bartholomae is a leading Professor at the University of Pittsburgh; he is a revolutionary scholar and expert of composition studies. Bartholomae has challenged his profession to observe more intensely, and think more self-critically about what happens when people write and read. His vision of literacy is comprehensive and rational; he has transformed the way teachers think about students which has caused many universities and colleges to modify practices that have needed improvement for a long time.
His primary research interests are in composition, literacy, pedagogy; his work engages learning in language and in American literature and studies. His thoughts and visions are based on Aristotelian philosophy. Students have entered many discourse communities throughout their lives that have shaped their writing styles and language patterns. Basic writers’ problems when entering college is they “face a clash, not of dialects but of discourse forms” (Bizzel 295).
There are many students from different countries and social classes that come to universities with different abilities to deal with academic discourse. In order for students to effectively reproduce compositions, they need to abandon their previous discourse communities with the help and knowledge of professors. According to Bartholomae’s paradigm, educators are empowered with the responsibility of introducing students to a set of codes and conventions that will allow beginning writers to enter into a new and allegedly empowering, discourse community (67).
An important task of an educator is to “pry loose” the scholar from their previous discourse community to which he or she had been a part of prior to entering the university (Bartholomae 83). Bartholomae describes these communities as structured by the “naive” codes of “everyday’ life,” and he asserts that we must replace them with “the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community” (79, 60).
Contrastingly, Harris argues that the role as teachers should not be “to initiate our students into the values and practices of some new community, but to offer them a chance to reflect critically on those discourses – of home, school, work, the media and the like – to which they already belong” (19). As a fourth year university student, I have taken many literature classes, and by observing many struggling students, I believe that Bartholomae’s arguments are accurate. Students need to conform to the universities’ discourse community to properly compose writing assignments and be proven successful in the course.
Many students are penalized for not appropriating a privileged discourse. First year writers have difficulty adopting an authoritative voice in their writing assignments. Writing with authority isn’t a matter of correct grammar; it is a prose that displays enough skill and professionalism that it convinces the reader that the author has a purpose to his or her writing. It is important for authors to be comfortable with the audience and to ensure that readers’ expectations are met.
Bartholomae explains “To speak with authority [students] have to speak not only in another’s voice but through another’s code; and they not only have to do this, they have to speak in the voice and through the codes of those of us with power and wisdom… ” (78). Writers only gain authority when their arguments can be related to those of other critics (Gaipa 419). A student’s argument can be cogent and engaging, but it will lack authority “until its author clarifies [his or her] contribution to a larger critical community” (419).
Despite having four years experience in academic writing, establishing authority and creating a purpose for various audiences continues to be an exceptionally complex task to achieve. Many hours are spent revising and modifying compositions to generate an academic essay that reaches the professor’s expectations. Most native-speakers of the English language come to a University or College with a vocabulary of approximately twenty thousand words. Generally, students will be taught more than one thousand new words every year from academic writing.
Undergraduate’s discover that creating academic composition requires the use of “professional language” and a “specialized” vocabulary (Graff and Birkenstein 116,119) However, students should not use complex wording in there essays unless the terminology is clear and completely understood. Essays require “correct and complete understanding of the meaning of their vocabulary in order for the reader to process their intellectual substance” (Stotsky 318) Writers need to learn that “what they say (the code) is more important than what they meant(the intention)”(Bartholomae 77).
I think students underestimate the importance of language used within a composition. Many words are overused by scholars or too difficult for readers to comprehend. To conclude, in order to gain familiarity with scholarly discourse, imitation is essential for the beginner and basic writers. Students continuously struggle with establishing an authoritative voice and satisfying syntactical standards to the teachers’ expectations, therefore continuous practice is necessary.
It is to the students benefit to abandon their prior discourse community and engage in the university’s academia. Ultimately, to become successful authors, students must follow a teacher’s examples and examine their preferable writing styles and techniques. Bibliography Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University”. Writing on the Margins: Essays on Composition and Teaching. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. Print. Bizzel, Patricia. “What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College? ” College Composition and Communication 37, 1986. 294-301. Web. Nov 30. 2009.
Gaipa, Mark. ”Breaking into the Conversation: How Students Can Acquire Authority for Their Writing” Pedagogy 4, 2004. 419-437. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. Graff, G and Birkenstein, C. They Say I say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York, NY: W. W,Norton & Company, 2006. Print. Harris, Joseph. “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing” College Composition and Communications 40, 1989. 11-22. Web. 25 Nov. 2009. Stotsky, Sandra. “The Vocabulary of Essay Writing: Can It Be Taught? ” College Composition and Communication 32, 1981. 317-326. Web. 27 Nov. 2009.

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