Bibliographic citation has apparently eclipsed perfect grammar and the five-paragraph theme as the preoccupation of persnickety professors.
What a colossal waste. Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers.
I will never think teaching MLA citation is a waste of time. I don’t make it 50% of the paper by any means, but it’s an important task to get them to think critically about the text they are looking at. Some kids have no idea what type of source they are looking at; they just assume “it’s a website.”
But is a newspaper or magazine article? A blog post? An online encyclopedia? Teaching MLA citation is a step in getting them to look at the parts that make a source; then they can decide if it’s credible.
All my love for MLA.
One of the key concepts I teach in my class is citation - when to cite, how to cite, why to cite. I spend weeks teaching students how to cite different types of sources while they learn how to locate relevant information in said sources. As is noted above, if you learn how to cite, you learn how to think about the different parts of a source, to contemplate the name of the author, the date of publication, etc. It requires you to note things that undergraduates are otherwise inclined to ignore. Moreover, citation is a gesture of respect and a tangible link in the chain of research. I tell my students that citing things shows where they live, what they know, and that they, in fact, have done the legwork to earn the right to speak on a given topic.
Unfortunately, citation is not the “preoccupation of persnickety professors” (nice alliteration, though). Most professors pay only cursory attention to the issue, allowing students to commit academic misconduct and perform lazy, indifferent research. The reasons for this are varied, but the two most prominent, I think, are that professors simply lack time to focus on such things and that professors themselves often do not know how to cite correctly or conduct proper research.