RE: The Real Offense

Subject: RE: The Real Offense
From: kimber_miller -at- acs-inc -dot- com
To: <jason-deal -at- vertel -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 2000 15:43:03 -0600

-----Original Message-----
From: Jason Deal <jason-deal -at- vertel -dot- com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2000 11:23 AM

So the rest of you out there, especially the current students/recent grads,
did you learn anything, and I mean anything at all, relevant to technical
writing from the academic portion of college (I do not mean to infer that
the interpersonal skills one learns in college are unimportant)? Am I just
caught in an unfriendly system, or does academia's adherence to method over
results actually hurt us all?

[Kimber remarked:] Hold on. You expected a university to teach you a trade?
That's what --trade school-- does. That's what apprenticeships do. That's what
internships are supposed to do. That's what entry-level jobs are supposed to do.

Let's think a moment about the original purposes of colleges and universities.
These institutions were a "higher" level of education. In the olden days,
college/university students were there to be introduced to a "higher" (more
conceptual) way of thinking. (as compared to the drills they learned in
elementary and secondary school) This higher thinking /learning was to prepare
them for the gentlemanly world of business as it was practiced 250+ years ago.
Trade schools and trade apprenticeships existed to teach specific job skills.

People knew people and were hired into a business (brick mason, bakery or bank)
in an "entry level" position and were taught the business by their higher-ups.
Junior workers were expected to know how to behave and how to treat people, do
mathematics, read, and write--if they were in a "profession" and not a "trade."
They were NOT expected to come out of university and begin putting 100% of their
effort into increasing the Gross Domestic Product. That expectation is
relatively recent.

We expect high school and college grads to be "able to do something" at 100%,
the day after graduation. They're supposed to have learned that at school. But
that sort of school is a Trade School, a trade apprenticeship, or internship.
Conferring a degree used to indicate only that an individual completed a course
of study, not learned a trade.

Forests have been destroyed and recycled to tout theory on the state of the
higher educational system in the US. Our definitions and expectations as a
society are changing, and I think this thread is an excellent example of the
discussion that's out there. It became too "blue collar" to attend trade schools
for one to be entirely proud of that kind of education. Now, we expect a course
of study at university to confer on students a trade. Colleges and universities
haven't changed enough--yet--to do that adequately, although the evolution has
begun. They remain institutions of theory and practice with some training
trickling in.

We have got to keep this in mind when we deal with people fresh to the
profession, fresh from school. They know how to think; that's what they paid
for. But we shouldn't assume that they know how the business world operates if
they haven't had any business world experience via internship or classes that
actually trained them in business practices.

Of *course* new writers are going to diddle with fonts and guides and templates
and methodology and such--it's what they're comfortable with. We all do what's
most comfortable. For those of us with years or decades of business world
experience, we can cite many examples of people who are TOO comfortable in their
respective ruts.

I think the "real offence" is the students' expectation that the college is a
trade school. I think that training in how to think, the opportunity to
practice self-discipline, government, social skills, and independence in a
somewhat controlled environment is practice for life. But freshmen aren't told
this is practice. They have the expectation that they can "do" in their chosen
profession from day one.

Lawyers have this same complaint about new lawyers. Civil Engineers have the
same complaint about their newbies, also. I'm lucky enough to know people of
these professions and have had this exact discussion with them. For goodness'
sake, my RABBI reports the same issue.

Trade schools don't teach you to think, but the skills necessary to do a certain
set of tasks. Really good craftspeople have developed their innate skills at
problem solving and used their talent to dig genius out of the mine.
Universities were created to give students opportunities to think in different
ways, according to different theories, in an expanded mental universe. Now, we
expect the university to be a "trade college" and combine the two purposes.
They're not there yet. Headed there, but haven't arrived. Adjust your
expectations and be patient. Your grandkids will attend such "trade colleges",
most likely.

There. I'm done.

Thanks for hanging in this far.


"...indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of
doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable."
--George Eliot
Kimber Miller
kimber_miller -at- acs-inc -dot- com
Affiliated Computer Services
Dallas, Texas


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