In a recent blog post by Sachal Afraz which he titled “The trouble with academia: Write to impress or write to express?” he questions the academic paradigm. He notes how “We are teaching university students that the language they use must consist of ‘impressive’ vocabulary and sentences must have academic syntax. The result is a fake, pretentious manner of prose that the author constructs to appease teachers and hit the word-limit while sounding ‘academic’. “ His discussion reminds me of our class discussion of “standard English” and my own experience in academia. I remember my college freshman year when I had to write my first English paper, I would often use the thesaurus in order to replace words I thought to be “high school” words with bigger words that I thought to be “college” words. This created more stress for me and restricted me from expressing my true thoughts.
Afraz also notes that “Compulsive use of difficult vocabulary is compared to the young actor who overacts just to show off his entire range of expressions.” There have been many academic articles that I have read through the years that used complex and difficult “standard English.” Thinking back, it feels as though their purpose was more to impress than express, as Afraz notes.
Afraz also points to a TED talk of Sir Ken Robinson where he suggests that the current academic paradigm is outdated. Sir Robinson notes that the current academic system is industrially based and that it follows a factory model (ringing bells, separate facilities, specialization, etc). He states that the current academic follow is an economic platform and is not suitable for this age, because the economic future is uncertain. He notes that it used to follow that if you work hard and go to college and graduate, you will get a good job. But this is no longer the case as jobs are no longer guaranteed after college. He suggests that we must focus on divergent thinking, which is kind of like thinking outside the box. He mentions a study where a group of kids were tested on their ability to think divergently. The study first tested them when they were in kindergarten and found that 98% of them would be considered “geniuses” and as they got older, that percentage got lower and lower.
I believe as future educators, we must follow the advice of Sir Robinson and Afraz. When teaching, we must allow and encourage our students to think divergently. When they write, we must deemphasize their need to impress, but allow them to express their own ideas in their own ways.