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John Metz is a man on a mission. He wants to shift paradigms, elevate expectations and metaphorically lift all boats by creating a campus-wide culture of good writing. He envisions an academic atmosphere where every instructor in every department expects and supports excellent writing skills so students learn to communicate effectively, succinctly and meaningfully in every aspect of daily life. To achieve that, instructors should expect students to dig deep, embrace complexity and explore invention.
“In today’s world, people don’t just need to be able to convey what they think or know (or what they think they know), but they need to be able to explore more deeply into the complexity of ideas,” Metz explains.
Having taught college writing for 35 years, Metz is a member of the English department at Kent State University at Geauga and the Regional Academic Center. He has co-written several editions of two college-level writing textbooks, The Composition of Everyday Life and Inventing Arguments. He has also helped to establish The Kent State Geauga and Regional Academic Center Writing Center, which supports any student needing help at any stage in the writing process in any subject. He presented “Creating a Culture of Good Writing” to faculty at their annual meeting to kick off this academic year.
Metz asserts, “Most students can write better than they do, but because writing well is hard work and takes time, students analyze the rhetorical situation, including the audience’s (the professor’s) expectations, and then they decide how well they need to write and how much time they need to spend writing. If professors don’t expect and value good writing, many students will make the strategic decision to not write well.”
In his convocation presentation, Metz framed his objective this way: “At a small campus like Kent State Geauga, we talk about what makes our campus unique. We ask: what is special about it, and why should students choose to attend our campus? One good reason to attend a small campus like ours can be that we have created and maintain a culture of good writing, which would be an important educational quality of our campus. Of course, to claim this, we have to create it, and then maintain it… We want [students] to not just write well for a grade because writing is part of the grade. Instead, we want good writing to be an attitude and behavior that is expected. It’s part of the culture.”
This argument illustrates Metz’s approach to writing. He calls himself a rhetorical pedagog —someone who teaches and studies rhetoric. He explains, “This is the way you communicate an idea; it’s the way you persuade people to think and act differently (and the way they persuade you); and it’s the way you, inside your own head, think things through and come to think what you do about things. So, in teaching writing classes, I see myself as teaching rhetoric.”
If professors show students that they value and expect good writing, a campus can create a culture of good writing. Standard expectations in every class should be for students to write complete, well-crafted sentences; to write concisely, eliminating all unnecessary words; to develop ideas by making and supporting claims, and to edit and proofread their own work, checking for complete sentences, correct spelling and punctuation.
But it’s not all about mechanics. At the heart of Metz’ approach is the concept of invention: exploring, discovering, and developing ideas. “It is complicating your thinking; it is exploring into the complexity of an idea” in order to discover or create even more ideas… “Language is where ideas come from; writing/language is how you ask questions and invent; and it’s how you take notes, plan, organize, reflect, and so on.”
Invention then is a life-giving process. Metz is convinced that effective communication is a vibrant process that can unlock fuller potential in every student. Rhetoric is the force behind that process. Metz says it is vital to every college major, every career/job, and all aspects of life.
“My main goals have been to help students become more independent and self-sufficient learners, to help students think more critically, and to help students develop rhetorical and intellectual agility,” Metz concludes. “Professors in non-writing classes can help students develop as writers by requiring them, encouraging them, and reminding them to write well.”
It’s all part of creating a culture of good writing.