Joanne Jacobs passes on a Jay Matthews article about kids not ready for college writing because they have never written long papers.
Now, when nearly every student is expected to go to college, they spend more time writing personal essays in journals than they learning how to research and write a college-level paper.
I think part of the reason may lie in the detail-oriented, bite-sized education our State DOE is pushing. Standards list the many things those English faculty should be doing. There is emphasis on touching every kind of writing instead of trying to master any one long-form type. We have "writing across the curriculum" which strives to get every teacher writing in their curricular area.
Calvin has a piece of it, too. Some teachers are too full of themselves to do something as pedestrian as a research paper. I won't even discuss the puerile drivel of a book report.
What of the rest of the building? What of Literacy across the Curriculum?
Math teachers (Hi!) try to avoid set pieces and stick to paragraph-sized explanations. If you push us (and many principals do), we'll do the useless 1-page biography of a math person. Since we're not comfortable grading such, the students aren't pushing their envelope and it's a useless exercise. I try to do 30-word abstracts of Scientific American articles - that's tough - but it's not research. I don't have time to divert them from parabolas to writing papers. Besides, I want them to write Math, not words.
History teachers are doing 1- to 2-page factual "research papers" at the longest. Answer this question or explain that, but not much more. Science teachers are doing lab reports, lazy science teachers have them fill out pre-printed ones.The music teacher has them writing, too ... on staff paper.
Because the non-fiction is being done elsewhere, I think the English teachers are pushing short essays and creative writing. If they go anywhere else, it's journalism.
Is this wrong? I don't think so. We're being increasingly held to these standards that do not address long-form writing. No one should be surprised that English teachers are ignoring it.
I think the only way to really bring out the research paper is to put it alongside senior English ... and call it "Research Seminar" or something.
My thought today, mirroring the school's thinking then, is that the process can't be relegated to a single week of an otherwise busy English class. There is too much to be done for it to be anything less than the sole point of 3 months of class. Notes, research, outlines, drafts, false starts and restarts, time management.
In the incarnation of twenty years ago, the teacher had a list of topics from which to choose, already had a (minimal) list of books that would be appropriate, and basically knew the topics well enough to recognize cheating and/or plagiarism. She didn't just drop them in the deep end and cackle evilly, she had the time and the resources to work through the whole process. Even the ESL kids here on I20 visas, the remedial kids who read very slowly, and the the lazy kids, all had enough teacher time to do it right.
Added from my later comment:
You can call it an English elective. One research paper is not enough for a whole credit so make part of the class into SAT or PSAT prep (or NECAP or whatever) focusing on vocabulary and basic grammar and sentence formation because you know they probably still don't have that quite right. (Read Embedded content and the Foreign Language Paradox for more on grammar.)
Spend time with the computers and formatting and MLA and footnoting and all the stuff.
Then patiently start the process of research and reading and library search and proper Internet research. This will take a month in itself. Outlines, note-taking using Keynote or something similar, such as, *gasp* note-cards.
Diagrams and images and photoshop. Spend a few days with the AP stylebook and reading "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." Can they make proper footnotes in their Word Processor of Choice? Bibliography? Pull-out quotes? Binding allowances? Hell, you can even get the damn thing published and sold through Amazon.com or Lulu with a print-to-order option if the student really wanted to shine.
Open your imagination - what would you do if you had a group of kids whose sole focus was on writing a long-form research paper without ANY references to standards, no limitations or requirements to teach "The Lottery" and no literature to read because that's happening somewhere else?
What if your graduation requirements included "Four years of English" and "Senior Research Paper"?
Stop drooling. You can thank me later.