From the Editors
Last year, a senior in one of our courses came up at the end of semester to say she thought the introductory writing courses must rate as "one of MIT's best-kept secrets," adding her regrets that she hadn't taken one sooner. Her reasoning? Maybe not what you'd expect. No, it wasn't that she'd learned so many things about writing which she knew would have been useful throughout her MIT career, though we hope she'd agree with that, too. What she said instead was, "You meet the most interesting people in MIT's introductory writing courses!" And now, she said, she'd just met seventeen or so of them, and she regretted she was on her way out. Well, the fact is we often find ourselves saying something similar about our students—how interesting they tend to be and how interesting they make our classes.
So, what is it that makes our students so interesting? We think that, at least partially, it's because they approach things from so many different and unusual angles—hence the name we've given our online magazine. As we hope you'll find, their interests are surprisingly varied and always strongly their own. You can be sure that when one of these writers looks at something from an intriguing angle, it's because he or she actually sees things that way. Taken singularly—and maybe even more in relation with each other—the work of these writers engages.
For instance, early on you'll find one writer helpfully instructing you on "How to Lose Your Religion" with a sense of irony and existential malaise reminiscent of Camus. And then, right after, you can follow the passionate outpouring of a writer describing how he "Never Could Have Made It" through his first semester at MIT without the sustenance of gospel music—in an essay rich with the imagery and cadences of traditional religious oratory. How far apart, really, can you get? And yet in the rangy spirit of MIT, both perspectives could happily co-exist in the same class.
Or what about the last essay in "Writing from Experience" and the first one in "Writing about Contemporary Issues"? Here, both writers are clearly intent on exploring the values that inform vegetarianism—but they do so through such different modes of inquiry that their essays bridge genres. The first writer tussles with his own quandaries about vegetarianism through a chronicle of personal anecdote and self-reflection; the second approaches the issue with a much cooler and more analytic eye, providing historical background and medical information, and weighing the pro's and con's as if for readers who might be considering becoming vegetarians themselves.
Even among the seemingly straightforward essays about contemporary issues and those on science and technology, our students effectively project their individual voices and sensibilities—their particular ways of seeing and describing the world. In "Squeeze Chairs," for example, the writer makes good use of his own experience with Asperger's syndrome to explain and critique the work of an MIT professor who is designing a chair intended to offer a comforting physical sensation to those who are autistic. And in "The Science of Juggling," the writer draws on his considerable experience as a juggler to explain the ways juggling can serve as an effective portal to many concepts in physics and math. No less in the essays on highly technical topics, our writers demonstrate a wide range of interests and approaches. A thoughtful critique of a recent exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science prompts us to consider what makes for effective science education, while a review of battery technology explores the possibilities and constraints of lithium-ion batteries for fully electric vehicles.
So, we do hope this first issue of Angles will help undo that "best-kept secret" pointed out by our departing senior—by making public some of the most interesting writing submitted by some of those "most interesting people" in the introductory writing classes of 2007-8.
Karen Boiko, PhD
Instructor, First-Year Writing
Instructor, First-Year Writing