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January 20, 1984 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1984-01-20
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from Page 1
The ECB was established in the late
'70s to oversee a new set of writing
requirements for all LSA students. Not
only would students be required to take
one term of first-year English,, but in
order to graduate, they would have to
take a 300-, 400-, or 500-level com-
position course to fulfill the
junior/senior writing requirement.
In doing so, the University set a
precedent for major schools across the
country. Upper-level writing
requirements were common for
English majors, but not for chemistry,
physics, sociology and the other liberal
arts ;disciplines. What made the plan
even more unconventional was that the
new writing courses would be taught by
faculty members from different
disciplines - not by the English Depar-
So, six years later, what is the state of
student literacy? Has the ECB made a
significant impact on the quality of
writing in the liberal arts college?
Soon, an LSA-appointed committee
will be asking those questions as ECB
undergoes its first program review.
Jack Meiland, the college's associate
dean for long-range planning, says that
"there is nothing special in the aim or
method of this review. It's the same
standard procedure with other depar-
Meiland ;says the review committee,
which will consist of experts from out-
side the University, will arrive
sometime in April to conduct the review
- almost one year after the first class
required to fulfill ECB obligations
Most professors interviewed for this
story give credit to the ECB for im-
proving writing skills. Although it's dif-
ficult to gauge, they say, the writing
abilities of many students has im-
proved over the past several years.
Nevertheless, not everybody agrees

Echoes Biology Prof. Robert Helling,
who currently is teaching an upper-
level writing course in his department:
"I don't see the atrocious writing that I
used to. That's in part due to the better
quality of students at the University,
although with ECB, the people who
need help are getting help."
Other faculty members aren't certain
whether or not the ECB is responsible
for it, but there has been a real tur-
naround in what was a rapid decline in
student writing abilities.
"I've sat in some freshman-and
sophomore-level classes," says Physics
Prof. Bill Williams. "I'm aware that
there are some students with problems,
but by the time they get to the
junior/senior level. they're writing
well. I don't know what happened. I'm
not sure if it's because of ECB, but
there is improvement."
While some students in majors that
don't require a great deal of writing en-
ter their ECB courses with a good deal
of hesitation, they often complete the
class having enjoyed a refreshing
change of pace.
For Margaret Thompson, a recent
University graduate in cellular and
microbiology, the upper-level writing
course was worthwhile.
"I enjoyed it very much," she says.
"It was a good, rounded course that
demanded a lot of you. After taking the
course, I took an upper-level English
course. I could compete because I had
taken the ECB course."
But the ECB requirements have not
received rave reviews from everyone
on campus. Some juniors and
seniors-in the habit of writing a paper
once and forgetting about it-circum-
vent the practice in most ECB upper-
level courses of writing several drafts
of essays. The theory is that students
will meet with their instructor as the
paper reaches each stage, but many
find the procedure burdensome. ECB
professors often will allow those
students to get by that way if they've
shown an ability to write well.
Other complaints are levelled at
English 125-the first half of ECB
requirement for most LSA students.
Due to the overwhelming demand for
the course, classes are taught almost

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Robinson: Sees more writing on campus

'Student writing has 'probably gotten worse
. . . Many of the students still don't know
how to construct a sentence.' '
-Economics Prof. Ronald Teigen

little change in students today.
"I think technically, writing is im-
proved over the last few years," says
Prof. Robert Berkhofer, the director of
the Program in American Culture.
"But I'm not sure in the area of con-
veying thought it's any better. I just
don't see any improvement in that
respect... There still isn't enough time
being spent getting students to write
long, analytical papers where they
have to use reasoning."
Economics Prof. Ronald Teigen
states flat out that student writing has
"probably gotten worse... Many of the
students still don't know how to con-
struct a sentence."
And John Kingdon, chairman of the
political science department, says
there "probably has been some slip-.
page (in writing skills) over the past 10
to 15 years."
But Kingdon says the ECB is at least
a step in the right direction. "The more
writing the better," he says, "There
should be more than just one upper-
level ECB course. But then ECB
couldn't be expected to solve the
T he college is devoting a lot of time and
money to teaching its students how
to express themselves clearly in
writing. English Prof. Jay Robinson,
who chairs the English Composition
Board, says that some 10 years ago both
students and faculty members were
realizing a deficiency in student writing
skills and the University was receiving
a fair degree of negative feedback from
graduate schools and corporations that
had accepted or employed its graduates
concerning their abilities to com-
It wasn't until January, 1978 that the
LSA faculty accepted the present ECB,
having rejected an earlier plan the year.
before that Robinson says was more

complicated than the present program.
Determining what actually caused
the decline of student writing skills is a
complex matter. Robinson places some
of the blame on what he calls "the
terrific expansion of electronic media,"
which has reduced the amount of
reading children do as they grow up.
Another problem is poor training in
high schools. In part, crowded
classrooms have allowed teachers to
give their students less individual at-
tention, which is especially important
for students with writing troubles, and
even for students who are trying to gain
an added level of proficiency.
Students in both secondary and
higher education also are getting less
practice in writing these days, accor-
ding to Robinson. "When I was an un-
dergraduate back in the early '50s, I
wrote a hell of a lot more than un-
dergrads do today."
Regardless of the impact of the ECB
on University students, the quality of
writing among students entering the
University appears to be much the
same as it was five years ago.
Fran Zorn, who coordinates the
ECB's tutorial program for students
who sh6w writing deficiencies, says the
* percentage of students placing into her
program after taking tests prior to en-
tering the college is about the same
today as when the program first star-
ECB instructors argue that figures
such as those show the continuing need
for the entire program. "If you're
willing to accept the fact that the
University has to graduate good writers,
and there are people who do need help,
you make a case for ECB," said Litsa
Varonis, an ECB lecturer 1981.
"When (writing skills) were a given,
there was no need for ECB-but it's not a
given any more." Varonis said that
many of the students who place into the
tutorial classes-special sections of

John Cougar Mellencamp
By Larry Dean
IN THE never-ending search for
authorial inspiration, I was referred to
this ageless scenario of high school
utopia by a fellow Daily staffer (and
swell fellow): the football victory dan-
ce. Some chintzy rock 'n' roll band is
grinding out second-hand Rolling
Stones and Styx covers and, somehow,
pleasing the crowd, driving them to a
post-pubescent, beer-sodden frenzy.
Suddenly, that big, dumb "jock" with
the "reputation" for being "crazy"'
jumps up on the stage and begins
frenetically jamming along with the
lead guitarist of the band on a
molecularly-unstable air guitar. The
crowd, either super embarrassed or
merely "fired up" by the team's win,
cheers wildly; the Dionysian
celebration continues long into the
dawn-or at least 'til 11 or 12.
Maybe you don't remember things
like that happening at your school. But
like John Mellencamp (nee Cougar), I
went to a public high school in the Mid-
west, that vast, untamed wilderness of
suburbian hope and the tribal dance
was the place to let it all out And that
jock - stereotype that he is - is the
perfect prototype for John Mellencamp.
Shucks, if you just look a little bit
closer at his face, up there on the stage,
you might see that it is John-boy him-
self wielding that oxygen axe, wishing
he could play the real thing, and
vowing, someday, to do it.
So Mellencamp has done it. His hits
range from the lengthy "I Need a
Lover" (also immortalized by Pat
Benatar) to the poety "Jack and
Diane," an anthem for the unsung
young of middle America, sitting at the
Tastee Freeze with their car radios
tuned to the local schmock 'n' droll
station. Admittedly, it hasn't been an
overnight success for Indiana's golden
boy, but he's got security in the (faded
denim) pocket now, and with Uh-huh,
it's sure to stay.
Billy Idol
Rebel Yell
Chrysalis Records
By Don Pappas
ANYONE WHO has come into con
tact with America's newest social
disease, MTV, is most likely familiar
with Billy Idol. In fact, before Idol's
"White Wedding" started getting heavy
airplay on MTV, Idol was just another
bottle-blonde from just another British
punk band, Generation X. But now,
thanks to a couple of hit singles, Billy

"Cool" is the word for this record, for
Mellencamp, wow, for the aura he
emanates. From the front cover pic
showing our hero standing, Hugh Pup-
pied, jeaned, white t-shirted, with a
bored kind of sneer on his face and
those bedroom eyes. From the liner
notes, beginning with the
proclamation This album was writ-
ten, arranged and recorded during a
16 day blow-out at THE -SHACK.
to the special thanks "...To the Rolling
Stones for never takin' the livin' room
off the records when we were kids."
From the first song, "Crumblin'
Down," to the last song, "Golden
Gates." In between, there's about as
much substance as the air guitar
Mellencamp's still fooling around with.
"Crumblin' Down" is one of the
(many) obvious Rolling Bones referen-
ces to be discovered within the grooves
(purely technical term) of Uh-huh.
Some people ai 't no damn good, it
begins, which is about as heavy a
statement as Mellencamp can muster.
However, he manages to eke out a few
more heartfelt hypotheses when he
says, Some people say I'm ob-
noxious and lazy/That I'm
uneducated and my opinion means
nothin '/But I know I'm a real good
dancer (ref., "H. School Victory
Celeb"). The chorus, a refrain of the
title, means nothing the way Mellen-
camp sings it ... it's just a neat hook
with that R&R demolition rhetoric that
makes the song kick in and schtick.
Since "Jack and Diane" promised
and didn't deliver some sort of message
from and to the working class kids it
sought to portray, Mellencamp feels he
has to educate us on some more socially
relevant issues. Thus "Pink Houses,"
about the ideal suburb dwelling struc-
tures. Kind of a metaphor for America,
Home of the free, as the lyrics read:
and in the end, it's the simple man
baby pays for the thrills, the bills,
the pills that kill.
When he tries to give us some good
advice, Mellencamp sounds plain
stupid. The ideas he tosses around in
"Pink Houses," "Golden Gates," and
"Jackie O" (co-written with John
Prine!) are mouth olympics for a
poseur pop star who really doesn't
know any different. Sure, we're all hip
on unemployment, hunger, political
pandering, and authority figures who
don't know their asses from holes in the
ground, but in Mellencamp's world,
they're just the basis for some words
over a cool riff; so any statements he

tries to make come out sounding like
sophomoric gibberish.
Which is why Mellencamp is better
off writing straightforward rock tunes
with little or no pretensions. As much as
I detest the dopy biblical references
and inherent seduction tactics of
"Warmer Place to Sleep," it stands out
as one of the better tracks on Uh-huh.
Beginning with truly clone-like Keith
Richards guitar chording, it rounds out
side one and almost puts Mellencamp
back in the days of yore, when a lover
that won't drive him crazy was all he
Likewise a ball-crushing rocker like
"Play Guitar" brown-noses to the Mar-
shall stack mentalities of the world with
its swaggering kick-assness, but
manages to showcase the finest
(autobiographical?) line on the LP: All
woman around the world want a
phony rock star who plays guitar.
Uh-huh . . . "Serious Business" is
another in a series of Rolling Stones
sound-alikes, with Mellencamp, in a
blatantly Jagger-esque voice, singing,
Take my life/Take my soul/Put me
on the cross for all to see/Put my
name around my neck/Let those

Mellencamp: Straight-ahead rockers and vacc

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the ECB provides a $550,000 (the
program's 1983-84 budget) cure-all for
the writing woes of LSA students. Some
faculty members say that students
were writing badly before and are no
better today. Perhaps, some suggest,
writing skills at the University have
continued to decline along with a trend
common to schools across the country.
And some students, too, find the
program's requirements a waste of
time, criticizing first-year assignments
as dull and simplistic and dodging what
are supposed to be stringent paper
requirements in the upper-level cour-
To the program's critics, Thomas
Dunn, former chairman of the
chemistry department and an original
member' of the ECB's faculty advisory
board, reponds : "There is no doubt in
my mind that the quality of writing has
improved.. .and ECB is responsible for
some of that."

entirely by teaching assistants and
some students find they have to wait
until junior or even senior year to get
Says LSA sophomore Debbie Crocker
of her English 125 experience: "Ac-
tually, I don't think I learned anything
new in there... It was a waste of time."
Crocker, like many of her peers,
found the class periods boring, the
assignments tedious, and the TAs too
Ray Horning, another LSA
sophomore, describes his English 125
class as "a lot of busy work. I had
much of what we went over before I
took the course."
Boredom in a class, however, is not
the most stinging indictment of cour-
sework ever heard at the University.
Even more important criticisms come
from professors who remember what
students were like before the English
Composition Board's creation and see

Idol has almost become a household
name, if not a household joke.
Billy Idol is considered a joke mainly
because his record company,
Chrysalis, is trying to market him as a
popular punk rocker, a rebel without
claws. I mean, how convincing is a
fashionable anarchist, a sociopath who
wants you to buy his album? Idol's new
album, Rebel Yell, complements his
new mainstreamed image. Rebel Yell,
having very little to do with punk rock,
is a state-of-the-art pop album, oc-
casionally exciting, occasionally
The album certainly has its high poin-
ts. "Rebel Yell," a heavy-metal ode to
An oversexed "little angel," features
ten tons of synthesizers and distorted
guitars and yet remains thoroughly
energetic, mainly because of Tommy
Prices's thunderous drumming. Also,
Idol's voice has a sense of urgency and
intensity not often found in today's pop

Billy's vocal delivery in "Daytime
Drama" is equally strong and
moreover reveals the acknowledged in-
fluence of Lou Reed. "Daytime
'Drama" concerns Idol's obsession with
the beautiful star of his daytime drama
whom he sees as his "only hope for a
future," and actually features some of
the album's best lyrics.
Other winners on Rebel Yell are
"Flesh For Fantasy," a surprisingly
funky disco romp, and "Eyes Without A
Face," a slow, melodic song about the
disillusionment of a relationship. In all
these songs the rhythms are
astonishingly interesting. Idol's voice is
superb, the guitarwork is solid and of-
ten creative, and the use of synthesizers
and studio effects is kept in check.
Unfortunately, four gems does not an
album make. "Catch My Fall" and
"(Do Not) Stand In The Shadows"
reflect Billy Idol's tendency to be an-

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10 Weekend/January 20, 1984

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