Placement Assignment

Spring 2016

“‘What’s the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?’”

Frank Bruni poses this opening question in his New York Times “Op-Ed” piece, “College’s Priceless Value: Higher Education, Liberal Arts and Shakespeare.” Bruni goes on to recount a pivotal moment in his own educational career that continues to shape him and how he experiences the world. Perhaps most interesting about Bruni’s reflection here is that the transformational moment he describes was unexpected, not necessarily related to his ultimate career. Instead, he found himself learning the most lasting lesson where he would not have looked for it (in a few lines from Shakespeare, delivered by a great teacher).

Bruni’s piece opens questions for all of us about the value and purpose of education, and challenges us to think about those lessons we have learned perhaps most deeply and unexpectedly. Consider the following lines from James Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers” (1963):

The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.

For this assignment, taking into consideration both Bruni’s piece and Baldwin’s words above, construct a response to the opening question, “What is the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?” You are encouraged to think broadly about what it means to be “educated” and to explore where the deepest learning has happened for you. You may think beyond the walls of school or you may recount a school-based experience (as Bruni does). Either way, consider the ways in which both Baldwin and Bruni’s words relate to, contradict, or help you to better understand your own experiences.

Essays should:

  1. Be 2-3 pages in length, typed and double-spaced.
  2. Include your name and NetID at the top right corner of the page.
  3. Build an argument that demonstrates the relationship between your personal experience and the two authors cited in the assignment (Bruni and Baldwin).
  4. You may use the pronoun “I” in your essay.

Submission Process

  1. FERPA laws prevent us from talking to parents. Incoming first-year students with questions about this assignment or the placement process need to write to us directly at
  2. We expect this to be original work and discourage students from seeking extensive outside help. The goals of the placement assessment are to match students with the writing course that will best serve their needs and support their success in college.
  3. Once you have enrolled at Montclair State University, you can upload your essay to our Canvas site here.