Faculty on Writing

Professor: Dr. Jon Saari                                                      
Interviewed By: Craig Steenstra
Department: History                                                        
Date: September 22, 2003

I discovered many things about Dr. Saari during our interview. He is a full professor of History and has been teaching for 32 years. He teaches The Third World, The History of China, Finnish History, and Historiography here at Northern, and he implements writing in all of his classes. Writing is such a high priority for Dr. Saari that it is almost the exclusive way in which he assesses student learning. He utilizes essay exams and papers in ascertaining student’s comprehension of course material. One of the things he said about writing was that “it is a more complicated and sophisticated level of responding. It is more involved and students attain a more synthetic, comprehensive understanding of the content being studied.” Dr. Saari sees writing as a rich vein of exchanged between student and teacher as it allows for multiple considerations, synthesis of ideas, and multiple levels of thought. He believes that requiring students to write is the best way to help them learn, and the diversity of people’s lives and interests that is reflected in student papers makes it more enjoyable for him.

When looking at student papers, Dr. Saari looks for a personal edge. He wants students to have something to say. Proficiency in language and content are also two aspects that he looks closely at in the writing he receives. He prefers precise communication and simplified expression, and he does not appreciate rambling of lofty language in the student work he reads. As far as student writing is concerned, Dr. Saari said he sees a wide range of writing ability. The two problems he encounters most are syntax and mechanics mistakes. He does not give A’s if a paper has those problems in it. Unity and structure are also aspects that he sees as problematic in student writing, and he makes sure that his own writing is well structured and unified

Dr. Saari writes extensively. He has published two books: Legacies of Childhood, a book on the life of Chinese children, and Black Ties and Miner’s Boots: Inventing Finnish-American Philanthropy. He also writes articles, ecological pieces, memos, reports and evaluations. He feels very comfortable with his writing ability. He is aware of the different styles that are required for different types of writing, and he noted that one has to be conscious of the audience and content of the form of writing that is being done in order for it to be effective.

The depth of insight that can be achieved in writing is a main factor in his promotion of writing. Yes, he thinks that writing is a crucial mode of communication that people will always use, and writing skills can continuously improve over time. That is why he encourages students to visit the Writing Center. He has known of the Writing Center since its conception, and he wants students to get help with their writing in anyway possible. Thus, he promotes the Writing Center as a means of receiving assistance at any stage of the writing process. Dr. Saari knows views the Writing Center as a helpful way for students to become better writers. The only suggestion he had  for the center is to keep the word out so students know where they can get help.