This is a summary of report by Lara Smith-Sitton of Kennesaw State University and Shannan Rivera of Georgia Highlands College, titled “Why Writing Matters: Helping Students Rethink the Value of English and Writing Studies” and published on Double Helix: A Journal of Critical Thinking in 2018. This writing is to complete my review assignment of Academic Writing Course.
There have been a decline in pursuit of English undergraduate degrees since 2009 as addressed in A Changing Major: The Report of the 2016–17 ADE Ad Hoc Committee on the English Major and at the same time, multiple researches have reported the efforts of English departments to change this phenomenon (Cartwright, Chinn, Stanley, Laurence, & Stewart, 2018). The value of English studies seemed to be questioned by the college students nowadays, which prompted another questions to Smith-Sitton and Rivera: What can they possibly do to make students rethink the value of English or writing studies degree? What kind of pedagogical approach that can succesfully attract students to discuss why writing matters?
After gathering data from various other researches, they came up with premises: 1) Employers care about what you can write and not what your degree is; 2) An English program teaches how to write. Therefore, they concluded that students should pursue an English degree to be more appealing to employers. However, this approach does not seem to be appealing to students as the decline in English degree enrollment continue. At the same time, communication studies experience a remarkable eight percent growth, with the possible assumption that students surmise that a communications degree is more applicable to a professional setting and teaches more practical skills than traditional English degree that is considered as more vague.
As the research continue, Smith-Sitton and Rivera began to reflected on their own experiences and question themselves what actually brought them to English studies? What arguments, evidence, or knowledge that give them motivation to take English degree? Was it presented persuasively or any other technique? And turns out, they found the answer to be nothing related with data or simple argument, but insetad personal understanding of what they wanted for themselves academically and professionally is what actually drove them to choose English studies.
Using autoethnographic approach, Rivera realised that people always seemed to automatically assume that she would teach every time she said she wanted to study English. She also recognised that she would always be pointed towards teaching when she expressed her interest in English major, despite it never even been her plan. Rivera reflected through her own experience that people neglected the value of writing skills and thus, unable to show strong writing abilities when they apply for professional position. It is the same with Smith-Sitton, who climbed up her way to advanced positions in professional work through her skilled oral and written communication ability in a multinational public corporations. There, she began to realise that other professionals, which are mostly well-educated and brightly smart graduate of high-ranking business schools actually fail to meet expectation in the areas of written and oral communication. This situation left her and her administrative support to rework, redevelop, and rewrite the material submitted. All of those without the advantages of graduate school and only depended on mostly English majors.
Through this autoethnographic narratives, Smith-Sitton and Rivera came up with the conclusion that it was not any information shared about careers and professional opportunities that actually attracted them into English majors, but confidence in their talents, skills, and passions that filled their minds to make that decision to study English. Their persistence in pursuing a degree programs that they believed as important and valuable is what took them into English and writing studies, despite cultural and societal critics that told them about the lack of employment opportunities for their degrees that they will have to face in the future.
With that, their research has shifted from trying to deliver persuasive data to create spaces where they can learn about professional interest and perceptions of writing, reading, and analysis skills of students to help their professional and personal lives.