THE LOOMING DISASTER IN TEACHING LANGUAGE
TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENTS, ESPECIALLY TECHNICAL WRITING, ARE THE LAST THING A UNIVERSITY SHOULD CUT
UNIVERSITIES ARE TERMINATING THE WRONG LANGUAGE INSTRUCTORS
THOSE THAT TEACH THE PRECISE, CLEAR UNAMBIGUOUS ENGLISH WE NEED TODAY, ARE BEING TERMINATED, INSTEAD OF THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR TODAY’S MORASS OF IMPRECISION IN COMMUNICATION
ADVANCED STUDENTS ENTERING TECHNICAL WRITING CLASSES HAVE FIRST TO BE TAUGHT HOW TO WRITE CLEAR UNAMBIGUOUS ENGLISH BEFORE THEY CAN START REAL TECHNICAL WRITING
By Mark B Anstendig
In today’s modern world, especially with its present economic and green crises, technological studies can well be seen as the most important subjects of institutions of learning. With the current budget crises, they would seem to be the last departments our universities should cut.
Technology rules our modern lives. The present world crisis has made it clear that almost all technology has to be radically changed. Completely new technologies are necessary and old technologies have to be radically revamped if the world is both to solve the present economic crisis and survive the even worse green crisis/meltdown that could end the world and life as we know it, if not end life on this world completely.
The world has become smaller, in that communication around the world has become instant and omnipresent. The great problem of society has always been unambiguous precise communication that is hard to misunderstand. But now, the modern technology-impelled age has magnified that need. The big problem of our technology-impelled age is to achieve completely unambiguous clarity of communication not only in social intercourse, but also in instructions, manuals, technical concepts, descriptions of products, etc. This primary need of our modern world of universal communication, is not only in the technology of our age, but in politics and all forms of modern communication and media. Since the world began, we have lived in a world of imprecision in the expression and description of everything that makes up human communication, with often disastrous results on all levels, personal and public. In the beginning of civilization, an emphasis on creativity and the finer aspects of life, placed an emphasis on the teaching of creative, elegant, language of originality, which, unfortunately, also brings with it the possibilities of lack of precision, lack of emotional detachment, and lack of absolutely clear unambiguous communication of content. But the modern world with its emphasis on and need of precise technology and its amazing ease of communication of all kinds has changed the basic needs of society. Now, at this crucial point in our new, modern world, the bottom line is an overwhelming primary need for absolute unambiguous clarity of meaning, logical organization of textual content, and the subjugation of all expressive emotional content to detached, unemotional, precision of description, with none of the implied interpretive freedom for the reader of creative writing. In fact, The Anstendig Institute’s paper “Teaching Exact English/or/All Beginning Required English Should Be Taught on the Model of Technical Writing” explains and proves why the writing of English as it is taught in technical writing classes should be the first, required English classes in all English-speaking universities, and why typical creative writing English classes, with their implied subjectivity and lack of precision of meaning and content, should be elective classes.
In what seems a trend in institutions of higher learning, due to perceived budget shortfalls, the University of California is making the mistake of cutting their most important English teaching programs for our modern era, their Technical Communication program. There is no shortage anywhere of teachers of the old, wrong methods of beginning and basic English/language skills. But teachers like those in technical writing programs are few and far between. If they go, not only will there be a drastic hole in the much needed teaching of precise communication, there will be no one around to show the other English/language departments how their beginning English should be organized and their students first taught impersonal, non-emotional, precise English before progressing on to freer, more creative English.
This is a crucial mistake that shows that the academic world does not understand the needs of the modern age while clinging to wrong ideas of the past. The reason these creative writing methods of teaching English were wrong even in the past is that, as our mentioned paper points out, one cannot really be sure of what one creatively writes until one has mastered the non-creative, impersonal, precise expression presently cultivated in technical writing, but by no means intrinsic solely to technical writing.
The proof that the usual methods of teaching beginning and required English are wrong lies in the technical writing classes themselves:
Essentially, all that the various types of technical writing classes should teach is the formal needs of writing for technology, i.e., organizing and creating extremely clear and precise technical proposals, reports, manuals, technical descriptions of machines for workers to follow in assembling them, etc. The detached, purely objective, unemotional clarity of the English with which these are written should already have been learned in required English classes before the students enter the technical writing classes.
But, in reality, technical-writing classes have first to begin with teaching the students simply how to write precise, non-ambiguous English before they can even begin teaching the real technical writing subjects, for which the classes are meant!
In other words, current methods of teaching have failed the students and they first have to learn to detach themselves emotionally from their writing and write clear, unambiguous language before they can begin writing about technical things.
Presently, the kind of language skills being taught as the mainstay of language teaching are abundant, in no danger, and in no need of being furthered in order to address and solve the crises and problems of the current world. The world currently needs the kind of precise language skills taught by teachers of technical writing. Ironically, those skills are also especially needed by those creatively writing English and other languages. Because, obviously, until one can write with the clarity and precision of meaning necessary for and taught in technical writing classes, one can never be sure the readers will understand the exact meaning and intention of what they are trying creatively to convey in their writing.
The reality of the modern world is that every day numerous computer programs, or telephone sets, or TVs, or TV reception packages, medicinal drugs and much more are introduced with poor textual explanations; bad, poorly organized manuals, if there even are any manuals; disorganized, hard to follow setup texts; patent texts; and much more. The reality of the day is that important texts pervade almost everything we do or have to deal with. And we all know and have experienced that many, if not most are not clear enough or helpful enough. We not only need more clarity in product texts, more clearly written instructions and descriptions, but also more precision of meaning in all our communications. And much more technology and even easier, faster, more universal communication is still coming. The clear, unambiguous language taught by the teachers of technical writing, that can describe things exactly in clearly organized manner is a rarity. Their methods and means should be communicated to other language departments and used to change the teaching of language in general, especially beginning language classes, where such basic techniques should be learned and mastered. The new, modern world will only become worse and much more frustrating if the teaching and teachers of technical writing are terminated. As we all realize as we struggle to understand the various types of texts associated with all types and stages of technology, all technical writing is an essential part of technology and not and accessory that can be used or dropped at will. Institutions of higher learning must also realize that, or the world will soon find itself in even graver trouble. In fact, in view of today’s needs to revamp and change much of the whole technological world, the last thing a university should cut is any part of their technology departments.