Review To Leave Expos in Place

In a report to be released this month, leaders of the curricular review are going to recommend expanding student freedom in general education.

One requirement, however, that has boiled students’ blood since 1872 will not disappear in 2004—the Expository Writing requirement. But even Expos may receive a face lift.

The curricular review’s Working Group on Pedagogy, which studied writing at Harvard, also discussed ideas for integrating public speaking instruction into the required first-year course.

In an interview last month, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby discussed the potential for expanding Expos to cover that second fundamental skill.

“We encourage people to speak up in section and in their tutorials and elsewhere, but we don’t teach or evaluate public speaking in quite the same way we do writing,” he says. “I don’t know that this happens freshman or sophomore year, but it might be more ideally situated there in the same way that writing is now situated there, and might be integrated into the writing requirement.”

Professor of Physics John E. Huth, who is chair of the physics department and a member of the Core program’s Subcommittee on Expository Writing, says that public speaking could be better taught across the curriculum and not just in one first-year course.

“We’re recommending that courses develop parallel training in public speaking, oral presentation, and we look at pedagogically imaginative ways for students to develop these skills, like implementing mini-conferences at the end of the courses, staging debates, [and] requiring short polished presentations,” Huth says. “Like the work on writing, we see this as something that can be infused, or injected into courses that are already at Harvard.”

Sosland Director of Expository Writing Nancy Sommers says that Expository Writing 20, the only course required of all first-years, will remain a first-year requirement, and that her interactions with the curricular review have instead been focused on ways to concentrate on writing in other Harvard courses.

“The focus was much less on Expos than on writing at Harvard,” Sommers says. “The existing Expos class is not being questioned.”

Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Julie A. Buckler, a member of the pedagogy working group who has been examining the teaching of writing for the curricular review, said last month that writing instruction needs to be incorporated into classes across the curriculum.

“We are not interested in putting extra requirements for students in place,” Buckler says. “We want to infuse more opportunities to do substantive work on their writing in the existing structure and future structures.”

While students concentrating in the humanities or social sciences often have substantial writing assignments during their sophomore tutorials, people involved with the review of Expos say that science students often end up with less writing experience.

“We’d like to see resources in place for science concentrators and for students who don’t write senior theses to make sure that Expos the freshman year isn’t the last experience they really have to work on their writing,” Buckler says. “The concentrations themselves need to be more conscious in the ways they use writing as part of the instruction they give students.”

While the curricular review is set to promote writing across the curriculum and recommend that public speaking be integrated along with writing instruction, Huth says that the Expos discussions have not been contentious.

“It’s kind of been a no-brainer, and not a politically charged topic,” he says. “No one would really argue with the contention that it’s important that Harvard students get training in writing. That’s been kind of a nice, happy place to be in the curricular review,” he adds.

—Staff writer Joshua D. Gottlieb can be reached at