writing skills Re: [Beowulf] Re: about clusters in high schools

Andrew Piskorski atp at piskorski.com
Mon Jan 30 13:10:39 PST 2006

On Mon, Jan 30, 2006 at 07:26:05AM -0800, Jim Lux wrote:
> At 10:26 PM 1/29/2006, Andrew Piskorski wrote:

> >> I'd be happy if engineering students all learned english grammar and
> >> spelling and could write an effective 2 page essay.
> >
> >Except that's not properly part of an engineering education at all, it
> >is a PRE-REQUISITE for an engineering education (or for any university
> >level education at all for that matter).  If an engineering program
> >must teach how to write an effective two page essay, it's engaging in
> >remedial education because grades 1 to 12 have completely dropped the
> >ball.
> Not necessarily.  A decent liberal arts basis in K-12 might give you the 
> ability string together sentences and paragraphs for a couple pages (and 
> most high school graduates CAN actually do this reasonably well).  It's 
> that this skill needs regular practice, and it needs refinement for the 
> engineering idiom.  What we are NOT talking about here is cranking out 

True, not necessarily, but in practice, I think you would find it to
usually be the case.  Reading and writing clearly and competently
requires practice and often instruction, but it is not an advanced
skill.  I am told that large numbers of ordinary Civil War enlisted
soldiers with 5th grade educations did it regularly in their letters
home.  Surely, in a more rational world, it would be reasonable to
hold our college freshman to a standard at least as high?

> "journal paper"-like things, which a number of college programs do just 
> fine with.  It's the 2-3 page memo cranked out in a couple hours 
> describing: here's the problem, here's what were doing, and here's why we 
> think it's a decent idea.  Summarization and distillation is the key.  I 

A good point.  Were I an (idealistic) professor of engineering (or a
mere teaching assistant, for that matter), I would require regular
written email summaries of engineering problems, and I would critique

> >These are all tasks that someone with programming skills is much
> >better equipped to attack than someone without.
> Sure, but maybe that's peculiar to the particular job.. and for that job, 
> programming skills are needed.  On the other hand, another engineer might 
> be designing piping to bring the process chemistry in and out, and for that 
> engineer, programming skills might not be necessary.  And yet another 
> engineer might be liason to the marketing folks, and for that role, 
> teaching skills might be most useful.

All of which is also true of calculus, differential equations,
chemistry, and basic Newtonian physics, only more so.

I was required to learn differential equations for my degree, which I
do not regret in the slightest.  Yet I'd wager that the number of
engineers who have never once used differential equations on the job,
yet who have found programming useful, is somewhat higher than the
reverse scenario.  Does this mean that Diff. Eq. should be removed
from the engineering curriculum?  Of course not.

(I DO regret that in my case Diff. Eq. was taught in the Math
department, by a poor teacher; math was taught much better by our
Engineering and Physical Chemistry profs.  But that's a different

Andrew Piskorski <atp at piskorski.com>

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