Discipline Matters

Why would one want to write a blog about writing? I’m just getting started. I barely know how WordPress works but I know something about student writing.  I wanted a place to write about writing and not use an academic voice.  Sometimes academics are too in love with the academic voice when so much more could be said if you could really get down and dirty and colloquial.

I’ve been teaching post-secondary education for over 14 years at the college level. I’m not in a university but I’m close to one, and I’ve worked with those students too. I taught writing to first year nursing students for 10 years until I finally wised up and realized you can’t do any writing yourself if all you are doing is reading other people’s (bad) writing. That’s a fine recipe for burnout, right there. So now I mentor teachers to create academic writing assignments and grade papers.

I’ll be honest. It’s easier mentoring students to write.

My discipline is nursing but I didn’t start there. I got an English lit degree first. And a minor in history. So when I ended up a nursing student after writing for those disciplines, I instantly noticed something was off.  In English lit the obsession is with grammar and language and thematic analysis of literature and proving “stuff” like Hal really did love Falstaff.  In history it’s research and interpretation and argument, and in later years, I’ve learned there is not much about history that is the truth. In nursing it was about…….  I didn’t know. All I knew is that how I wrote for English and History didn’t seem to make sense. Nursing seemed to be about facts and data and research with the occasional reflection built in.

Fast forward about 20 odd years and I’m maybe now making sense of it.  But what I can tell you is that nursing is one of the few disciplines that has an unhappy relationship with the need to write.  We don’t just accept that writing is essential to our well being and professional growth. The nursing literature, believe it or not, talks about it all the time, both overtly and between the lines. Most other disciplines just accept that writing in a Baccalaureate program is a fact of life. Nursing hasn’t accepted that yet. Students don’t think it has anything to do with clinical practice. I taught a course that used to be called “Scholarly Writing and Documentation” and after the first year, the “and Documentation” portion had to be dropped from the course title.

“There is nothing about charting in this course,” the course evaluations said. Oh boy.  I failed.

The public seems to think that all nurses do is hold hands so essay writing would baffle them.  Some instructors don’t think writing is important either. Well, they’ll say in meetings it is important, but assign them to grade papers and watch a riot break out. So sometimes the message is, writing is important as long as it is someone else’s problem.

Well at my institution, writing has been my problem for over 10 years. And I’m here to tell you what I’ve found out.

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