This will be my 25th year of teaching English
219. During that time, there have been significant changes at
Rutgers, particularly with regard to admissions standards and,
in my own department, the
Students have been telling me for some time
that it would be helpful to say something on this page about
expectations. Recent experience suggests that they have a point.
Herewith, then, a list of some items they mentioned:
Starting on the first day
In recent semesters, I've encountered students
who assumed that they could join the class at the second meeting,
or sometimes even -- having already missed three or four graded
assignments -- at the start of the second or third week,
and still receive a passing grade.
That's wrong. I expect students who are intellectually
serious about the course to be at the first meeting.
The first graded assignment is then due at
the beginning of the second class.That particular assignment
establishes the structure for everything we do later on.
Work outside of class
are based primarily on a series of pensum exercises -- exercises
in "close reading" -- involving syntactic analysis
and regular work based on the Oxford English Dictionary.
An exercise is due at the beginning of every class.
I'm told that these exercises typically demand
2-3 hours of work outside of class for every assigned reading.
Experience shows that they also demand consistency: a few pensa
done hastily or perfunctorily point toward a course grade of
C or lower.
The work in the course demands a fairly high
level of reading comprehension. Typically, those who do the best
work have read at least 200-300 books before coming to college.
I don't regard SAT scores as saying anything
conclusive about reading comprehension, but they do give an approximate
measure of developed verbal ability. An SAT verbal of 570 probably
marks the lower limit for doing well on the pensum exercises
in the course.
Writing, spelling, punctuation
I expect college-level writing on all work,
including pensa. If you have trouble remembering the difference
between its and it's (for instance), or the differences
in meaning signaled by the spellings their, they're,
and there, or if in general you have trouble using commas
and apostrophes, you will find this English 219 unsuited to your
Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, always
taught his course at 6:00 a.m., assuming that students willing
to get up at that hour must have a genuine interest in learning.I
always schedule a 219 that meets on Fridays for similar reasons.
Knowing the aversion of many Rutgers
students to taking Friday classes, I've assumed that only the
intellectually serious will enroll in my section.
In recent years, however, that policy has
backfired. Due to a combination of budget cuts and swollen undergraduate
enrollments, Friday classes are now increasingly flooded by hordes
of last-minute students shut out of other courses. Some, as I
mentioned above, have wandered into my classroom as late as the
third week of the semester.
If you are a "time slot" student
-- that is, if you merely need a generic English course or a
section of 219 to fulfill a requirement -- you will find this
course unsuited to your needs.
"But I never saw your course description!"
I'm aware that there's a Catch-22 here --
namely, that students more interested in "credit hours"
than in the actual content of their courses often don't bother
to read course descriptions like this one.
I don't see any way around this, alas. It's
sort of like the old joke: "If you fail to receive this
letter, please notify us immediately." But such students
put me in mind of Julia Child's rejoinder to the nouvelle
cuisine chefs who never put heavy cream in their sauces:
"Tant pis pour eux."
As for those of you who have read this page
and, having understood its point, wish to enroll in the course,
I look forward to seeing you on the first day.