How a new Autocorrect program could hijack your soul

by David Alm September 10, 2014

Dennis Paoli, the coordinator of the Reading & Writing Center at Hunter College in New York City, has a short but very effective definition of writing: Writing is thinking and vice versa. In other words, to write clearly you also need to think clearly, and clear thinking is often achieved through writing. I’ve participated in numerous workshops over the […]

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Tough love: Johns Hopkins proposes a bold new plan

by David Alm December 20, 2013

Tom Waits once said, “It’s not that the world is over-populated; it’s just that everyone wants to live in the same places.” He wasn’t wrong, but his logic was specious. There’s a reason that millions of people crowd into Mumbai, New York, and Beijing: opportunity, or the lack of opportunity in the places they left. […]

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The partial victory of Gen. Petraeus’s $199,999 pay cut

by David Alm July 19, 2013

It’s said that the politics in academia are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low. But sometimes, the stakes are very, very high. To wit: When the New York Times reported in April that the former CIA director, David Petraeus, had been hired by CUNY to teach a single course in the university’s […]

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To write well, first tune out the clatter — if you can

by David Alm April 30, 2013

What’s the difference between good writing and everything else? At the risk of sounding pedantic, I’ll offer this: specificity. You have to know what you’re writing and why. This doesn’t mean you have to know the exact form your writing will take before you lay down the first sentence, but at the very least, you […]

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What Is a Thesis? (a.k.a. La Thèse)

by David Alm March 3, 2013

Credit for this video goes to Brandon Hopkins, who teaches English at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. Hopkins, who conceived, wrote, and stars in this gem, graduated from the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, where he wrote an award-winning thesis that contained both a claim AND substantial reasons for making […]

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One adjunct’s rant, but not mine

by David Alm February 5, 2013

Every few months, someone posts a rant online detailing his or her outrage over the plight of adjunct academics. They can be compelling, but just as often, they’re not. They may even do harm. To wit: the latest such rant to land at my digital doorstep was this one about Karen Gregory, an adjunct instructor […]

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Philip Roth retires from fiction

by David Alm November 11, 2012

Last year, Philip Roth said he was done reading fiction. Now he says he’s done writing it, too. Roth’s literary output could be compared to Woody Allen’s with film. Since he published his first collection of short stories, in 1959, he has written 27 novels and two books of non-fiction, as well as several essays. […]

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The endless, perplexing, and ultimately essential question of whether writing can be taught

by David Alm October 8, 2012

In this month’s Atlantic, Peg Tyre writes about a school on Staten Island that has “revolutionized” writing pedagogy: by going back to basics. Judith Hochman, who originally developed the very old-fashioned approach to writing pedagogy that New Dorp High School is now using, told Tyre that “kids need a formula, at least at first, because what […]

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Romney, from a teacher’s perspective

by Annie Murphy June 9, 2012

Here is an example of something I do in my classroom, room 209, when conflict arises, which it inevitably does when almost thirty teenagers remain in a room with four walls, one of which is less than functional as a wall, for ninety minute periods. This is the scenario: A student thinks that she should […]

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What does a writing teacher look like?

by David Alm February 10, 2012

When I was in high school, the only two writing teachers I had were guys who taught so they could coach sports. Nothing against athletics, but these guys were dimwits. Their hearts were clearly in the gymnasium, not the classroom or at an austere table someplace with a small desk lamp, polishing prose and contemplating […]

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A student’s death, mediated

by David Alm November 15, 2011

On Friday, I woke up early, around 5:15 a.m. and checked my email. There, amid the junk mail, was a subject line that left me stunned. It informed me that a student I’d had for two courses at Hunter College, in 2007 and 2008, had been killed. Walking down a road on Long Island last […]

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Follow my lessons, not my footsteps

by David Alm November 2, 2011

Last week I received an email from a former student asking for a letter of recommendation for graduate school, and I had no problem saying yes. He had taken three courses with me in three years, and been one of the best students I’ve had in my eight years of teaching. He is a gifted […]

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Who should run our schools?

by David Alm April 13, 2011

In New York City, where I live, the public school system has long been a logistical quagmire. It’s the largest in the country, attempting to educate 1.1 million kids at 1,700 different schools with an $80 billion budget. (All facts are from the Department of Education’s website.) It also has a pretty high dropout rate: […]

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Can you teach thoughtful writing?

by David Alm February 14, 2011

I’ve been teaching writing for about eight years now. I’ve taught rhetoric, freshman composition, magazine writing, newspaper reporting, and cultural criticism. Here’s the thing: I’ve never taken a writing course, or at least not since high school, when I took only what was required to graduate. In college and grad school, I studied literature, art […]

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