toasted-lemming wrote:I agree that most intelligent people could write a decent paper, but whether they could write a decent, original paper which makes links to the most relevant texts to the argument being made is open to question, and surely this is what English is about - learning what's been said, learning what approaches can and have been taken, and developing your own approaches and a wide enough background of contexts to make a secure argument?
Yes, yes, yes!
As a former English major, I have often been astounded by the way many people write papers. I've seen the freshmen in their comp classes, fresh out of high school where BS would get them an A, and they couldn't write a decent paper. Some of it was their lack of research standards (I would be glad if some of them used Wikipedia without plagiarizing from it), some of it was their repeated logical fallacies, and the rest was poor grammar, formatting, or reliance on spell checks. Oh, and the BS, glisteningly fresh and ripe on the page.
Sometimes English majors can make it through their course requirements even though they have fuzzy thesis statements and a predilection toward bullshit, but those students most often don't become graduate students due to a combination of their grades (usually a consistent B average), their recommendations (professors do generally distinguish between the great student, the good student, and the ones that, well, passed), and their writing sample (they get to witness their efforts firsthand).
I've read humanities papers from my friends in math. They write decent papers, but there's a stiffness; I can generally tell they don't write many papers, and certainly not many in that field. They're formulaic without being formal, orgulous without being organic, and though the ideas are fine, they aren't finely made. They haven't learned those things toasted lemming talks about, as well as the persnickety prescriptions each field has, the ones professors always have to explain for people before they write. Which is fine, because it's not their field.
To those who claim bullshit works, with some people it does. Sometimes, you might bullshit and unknowingly stumble on a correct interpretation. But I'm willing to bet that most people see through it, and the reason they don't call it out is because, in high school in particular, they're happy if you can write and argue at all, and leave the intellectual honesty and seriousness to you, a trust that you betray for such finicky reasons as "Anyone can do it.Why try?" That's funny though, because you are not doing it.
(Edit: Oh, and my area of study is a particularly tough cookie for a lot of students. Middle English, anyone? Or how about Old English? It takes lots of patience and rigor to read and translate that writing correctly. Lots of students don't even have the patience to read through Paradise Lost or Pride and Prejudice, so how do they react to an untranslated Le Morte Darthur or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?)