Wow. Ignore the interwebs for a week or so and they blow up with a new issue. Who'd have thought it?
Recently, Rebecca Schuman (you know, she of the declaration that tenured academics have "blood on their hands") wrote a piece for Slate that said if students hate writing essays and teachers hate reading them, why don't we stop assigning them? Readers were shocked, shocked! to hear this and inundated poor Professor Schuman with hate mail and her superiors with demands that she be fired.
Profhacker published an open letter defending the Slate piece as an issue of "academic freedom," which may be a bit of a stretch, and condemning the uncivil tone of the attackers, which is a very real problem and no stretch at all.
But let's review:
First of all, internets: get a grip.
Come on. It's Slate, where all headlines end in a question mark and "We are clickbait. Snark is good." is on the masthead. Slate lives to be provocative, not informative. That's why it exists. Why are you surprised that a provocative piece appears there?
Facts aren't important over at Slate, any more than they are on other entertainment sites (on one of which I read something about "Alexander Hamilton and his daughter Theodosia," never mind that the writer meant Aaron Burr, because hey, it was a long time ago and there was a duel and they're both dead, right?). So Professor Schuman judged the audience and wrote a snarky essay that would gain a lot of notoriety. That is Slate success, so why pick on her for judging the audience correctly?
Second, so what if she stirs up the conversation by being provocative, at Slate, ChronicleVitae, and pankisseskafka, her blog? Does that mean the conversation isn't worth having? The fact that talking about writing essays gets started by real (or satirically expressed) outrage doesn't make it invalid. And again: Slate. You notice that Slate didn't publish her carefully reasoned explanation of what she actually does, and why? No click bait here, so let's move along.
Third, the "no essay" idea isn't even new. Cathy Davidson has been pioneering this approach for a long time, and so have a lot of other people. We can argue about ways of writing until the cows come home, and maybe learn something from the discussion, even if what we learn is the inspired lunacy of some approaches. No one's forcing you to adopt The One Best Way (yet). That's the time to begin the more reasoned conversation.
So let's take a break from the outrage and realize that this is what passes for literate entertainment and discourse on the interwebs--and that the best way not to get upset by it is not to engage it if it upsets you.