I never met David Bartholomae, the longtime University of Pittsburgh professor of English who passed away on April 4 at the age of 75, but he changed the trajectory of my life. Bartholomae is a legendary figure in composition studies, most known for his essay “ Inventing the University ,” in which he argues that a fundamental purpose of a university education is to make the academic more familiar to students through the process of “building bridges” between the student and the institution. The title refers to the idea that each time a student writes for an academic audience, they are constructing some version of what they think such an audience should like to hear. Over time, and with practice, the student becomes a more confident and secure member of this community. It must be one of the most read essays in the history of undergraduate studies. But it was a different Bartholomae essay that made such a significant impact on me, “ Teaching Basic Writing: an Alternative to Basic Skills .” I read this in a period when I was at my most dissatisfied with how I was teaching writing, having reached the limits of a rather prescriptive approach to instruction where I tried to coach students through each step of a particular academic genre bit by bit, in the theory that if they could produce a successful end product, […]
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