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Yes! Another paper: Rethinking writing in college

<k Disclaimer: I firmly believe that a liberal arts education is something that can have an impact on anyone and everyone.

I have this theory about games.  I think the reason we play games is because of a single primary action that defines that game.  Our enjoyment of that action largely determines our enjoyment of the game.  In soccer it’s kicking, in Ultimate it’s throwing, in poker it’s revealing your hand, and in Super Mario it’s making little Mario jump.

For college, writing is in some ways the Super Mario jump.  It’s the one thing we do over.

And over.

And over.

It’s the one thing we produce at all levels in all departments over and over as the primary method of moving our education forward. 

And, if there’s anything I’ve learned from game design, it’s that if you’re asking your players to do something over and over, it better be FUN. Huge, all-caps, bold, italicized, blinking letters, FUN.

But the attitude towards writing is often rather tangential to what happens at college.  It is the product, not the process, it’s something we bang out at four in the morning when we’ve exhausted all other possible excuses.  And I think that’s a bit of a problem.

Now I’m not trying to say that everyone hates writing.  Far from it.  I think it’s something many of us enjoy, but the connection is often between writing and grade, not writing and education.  We write to get a grade, not to learn. 
In short, as long as writing is a representation of what we know, it will always be a byproduct and a leftover.  The creation of an essay shouldn’t just be about reproducing what we know, it should be about actively constructing our knowledge. I don’t think this fact is emphasized enough.

For example, the Writing Portfolio, one of the signature elements of a Carleton education, is one of the most resented tasks of Sophomore year; a task that is generally followed by great relief.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t the point of this process be to get students so excited about writing that they want to do it for fun?
Maybe this is my personal experience, but no professor or administrator has explained to me why they, you know, enjoy writing.  It would seem like in order to be involved in academia this would be something you really enjoy, but this enjoyment isn’t something that’s articulated.  Maybe instead of trying to prove to students why writing is useful, important, and/or necessary, we should focus on making it fun.

Perhaps I’m just crazy and this is an absolutely ridiculous goal, but it’s not like college doesn’t teach us to enjoy other activities that we first found questionable.  That’s the whole point of becoming a major, to learn to enjoy the process of working in that field, not just why it’s useful.  Shouldn’t every class at Carleton be about teaching the methodology of how writing is enjoyable?

If we fail to make writing its own intrinsically motivating activity, if we fail to make writing not a representation of education but an action that has significant intrinsic meaning, have we really done our job as an educational institution?

If writing is fun, and intrinsically motivating, it might not change the fact that we do it at four in the morning the night before, but it would change how we approach it and how we respond when challenged.

It wasn’t until the end of Sophomore year after I was done complaining about the Writing Portfolio that I realized I actually enjoyed writing.  And while you might quickly point out that the Writing Portfolio probably helped nudge that realization along (which I will begrudgingly admit), I will say that at no point did I ever want to do the Writing Portfolio of my own accord.  And I think it’s a huge issue that this lack of motivation is a common perspective.

Writing should be like making Mario jump in Super Mario, throwing a frisbee in Ultimate, or laying out a brilliant hand of cards in Poker.  We know we won’t win all the time, but we still do it because it’s fun.

What if we came to school because we got the chance to write over and over again? 

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