Nearly all of this advice is also highly appropriate to college bound high school students. Stanley Fish, Garry Wills, and James McGregor Burns all make the point that college students should do everything they can to learn to write effectively. Simple yes, but essential. Harold Bloom suggests students get lost in books, and I love another of Wills recommendations: “Seek out the most intellectually adventurous of your fellow students.” Martha Nussbaum writes with moral passion that “Courses in the humanities… often seem impractical, but they are vital, because they stretch your imagination and challenge your mind to become more responsive, more critical, bigger.”
But my favorite advice comes from someone who is a longtime favorite of mine, Gerald Graff. He argues here for argument, and our students, collegiate and secondary, would do well to consider the importance of learning what it is to recognize and enter into argument. Graff believes that there is particular culture of academic discourse and debate, and too many young people find themselves foreigners in this culture; our schools though can make a huge difference by helping students understand the implicit rules of scholarly argument, and can equip them with the tools to effectively participate. From Graff:
Successful academics of all fields and intellectual persuasions make some key moves that you can emulate:
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.
2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.
4. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.
It’s too often a secret that only a minority of high achievers figure out, but the better you get at entering the conversation by summarizing it and putting in your own oar, the more you’ll get out of your college education.