Writing Across the World’s Waters
October 3, 2015
By: Virge Buck
Few universities in the United States today will take a conscious stance in favor of monoculture. Most modern American colleges recognize that nothing exemplifies the human race’s variety like real life. Only the most out-of-touch persons would attempt to enforce homogeneity on collegians—or so we would like to think. Though we who work in the University Writing Center may pride ourselves on our necessary respect for diversity, we must prevent ourselves from falling into the very trap we think we can easily avoid. Instead, we must examine and reappraise our attitudes towards “foreign accents” in academic papers.
Those who set and perpetuate the standards for collegiate writing in the United States may have their reasons for establishing those rules, but those principles of what constitutes “good” writing do not have a universal hold. In Latin American countries, for example, essayists traditionally begin with several leading paragraphs, get to the thesis statement, and devote some time to it before spiraling away from it and then returning to the aforementioned subject at the end. This method stands in stark contrast to their northerly neighbors’ practice of getting to the thesis statement immediately and then developing it in a linear manner.
These differences have significance to us at the UWC. Unofficially, we aim to “create better writers, not simply better writing,” which necessitates broadening our focus beyond sentence-level errors and focusing on larger concerns such as organization, voice, and the all-important matter of following the exact specifications of the assignment. However, many clients, especially those who speak English as a second or third language, rightly ask to have their mechanics evaluated as well. Part of creating more successful writers lies in helping clients develop stronger English proficiency. A student who attends a university in the United States will have an infinitely better chance of living an independent life if she knows how to speak, read, and write English fluently.
When we look at the writing of ESL students and English language learners, we must help them strengthen their English skills. In turn, we must discover what the clients have to teach us about our perceptions of writing. Do these clients’ essays strike as different in any substantial way, and how do they make us reconsider our own unquestioned tenets about essay-writing? To encourage diversity, colleges should allow more variety in the work almost all students are assigned.
Photograph: Unknown photographer. USA. Atlantic ocean. Digital image. MyWorldShots. MyWorldShots, 22 April 2013. Web. 28 September 2015.