This week we read an interesting collection of articles that posed many questions about writing and how it should be taught in schools. In Vershawn Young’s piece (a rebuttal to Michael Fish’s article) Should Writer’s Use Their Own English? he writes in a more conversational manner to prove several points about writing and how it could be successful outside of the tight box of Standard English. Personally his piece took a little bit of time to adjust to–once I trained myself to picture a person talking to me instead of reading to me I was on the same wavelength with Young. One thing I noticed after reading his piece in its entirety is his ability to really make the words jump off the page or evoke emotion in his readers. I found that his non-traditional or informal use of transitions and commentary found a way to captivate the attention of the reader throughout the piece. I might even dare say that writing in the “traditional” or Standard English manner might not be able to achieve such reactions from the audience. What do you think-can you write the same witty and cunning piece in Standard English as you can in more conversational jargon?
I thought the Newsweek article was very interesting. Although it was written in 1975, it echoes many of the complaints about today’s youth and their literacy abilities. The complaints of then seem to point the blame to the modern technology of their time just like the complaints today blame technology like video games and social media. In 1975 teachers of literacy pointed to Television and the simple literacy found on it as a source for the declining literacy seen in the youth. The article also suggested the only way to better one’s writing was by reading. The “correct” literacy that these professors push towards is standard english and it seems to me that any literacy other than standard english is seen in a negative light.
The fact that the argument is basically the same then as it is today raises some interesting questions. First and foremost, is the literacy rate really declining at the rates suggested in the article? To me if they were actually declining at the rates claimed, then we should be a practically illiterate generation by now. We know that this is not the case though. A more interesting question is why does this argument still exist in today’s society? Is it because the older generation fails to recognize and or adapt to the newer literacies of the younger generations? Or that maybe the standards of literacy have changed through the years?
I knew that I wasn’t going to like Stanley Fish’s article the second he praised Catholic schools. It told me that his arguments were going to be just like most of these schools in style; outdated and full of arrogance. As I read, I felt that my early analysis was pretty accurate.
One of the quotes that really stuck out to me was when he said “You’re not going to be able to change the world if you are not equipped with the tools that speak to its present condition. You don’t strike a blow against a power structure by making yourself vulnerable to its prejudices.” One of the first things that came to my mind when I read that was Sojourner Truth’s speech entitles “Ain’t I a Woman”:
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
I really just love this speech and find it to be one of the most powerful speeches against the intersection of sexism and racism. Yet Sojourner doesn’t use “correct” English. She says “ain’t” repeatedly. However this speech was so popular that people today still know it, because it speaks the truth. Does a grammatical error take away from a logical argument? If you are Fish, it just might.
Can you think of any other examples of ways that people have used “incorrect” English to a political end?
By the end of this post you will see fairly apparently that I really, really, really enjoyed the Fish article. Firstly, Fish makes a number of apt criticisms on the assumptions people make with regards to the way people are taught to write. My favorite was his subtle mockery of the notion that somehow reading the “classics” over and over again would somehow teach people how to write sufficiently well as if by means of osmosis or absorption. I find this to be especially true because I have always considered writing my personal strong suit, but somehow simultaneously always managed to fall asleep in 7th grade Lit classes.
However, I found the strongest point made to be the one regarding whether or not it is “correct” to teach grammar in a universal fashion. Fish acknowledges that while the notion of a fundamentally more correct way of speaking/writing is inherently discriminatory, it does not follow that we should abandon any hope of a universal standard of teaching grammar. He argues that this truth actually makes a strong case for adopting such standards, not a weaker one.
Fish writes: “You’re not going to be able to change the world if you are not equipped with the tools that speak to its present condition. You don’t strike a blow against a power structure by making yourself vulnerable to its prejudices.” Basically, if you want to defeat your enemy, you have to be able to at least communicate in their terms, and principled abstention from the already existing processes won’t do any good for anyone who hopes to reform it.
What do you think? Is the idea of a universal standard of teaching so inherently discriminatory that we should abstain from even propagating it, or do “the ends justify the means” in this sense?
When comparing the two opinion pieces “What Should Colleges Teach?” and “Why Johnny Can’t Write” I was frustrated to see that scholars have been working more fervently on challenging college courses, rather than those in elementary, middle and high school. While educating college students is obviously important, it is my personal belief that college students have had more time to practice reading as well as there writing skills, and change should be occurring at a young age where all are receiving education.
Stanley Fish proposes a series of steps to teach upper level students to write. These include, making sentences out of a random list of words, asking students to turn a three-word sentence into an 100-word sentence, and replacing nonsense words in famous text. Although with each step they were asked to analyze what they accomplished, I wonder if by asking younger students, those who are first learning how to create paragraphs to complete these same exercises one would see success? What methods could we implement to younger students in order to start the process of better writing at the beginning of formal education?
The Stanley Fish article provided an interesting point to me that really actually did not make too much sense considering our past conversations about high school learning and teachers. At the beginning of the article, it stated that middle and high schools were not teaching writing skills in an effective way, which is unfortunate. I found this simple fact even more astounding when I drew back to two weeks ago when we talked about how the SAT Writing section was the second most important indicator for college success. These two facts just do not line up the way that they should. So my question is, how does the SAT Writing section predict college success when Stanley Fish just said that kids are coming into college without knowing how to write? Does this make sense?
Reading “Should Writer’s Use They Own English?” was initially painful for me to read. Being a literature major I write at least one paper a week and my grammar is critiqued with each grade I receive. After going through this process one million times, reading “’clear [they] mind of the orthodoxies that have taken hold in the composition world’” as a quotation that has been corrected to fit the article’s context, with replacing their with they. Clearly this is all intentionally done, and is making a statement, but is the statement accessible to students like us?
Did you read the whole way through without wincing once, or was it just me? And if so why do you think this reaction was elicited? Does Young’s writing support her argument that writers should have more freedom to use their own language?
In his article, Baron argues that the current new technology of computers is parallel to the technology of the pencil at the time when it was new and exciting. Computers have totally changed the way that literacy happens, and they make literacy more accessible for some people and less so for others. Do you think computers and new technology will help increase overall literacy in the world or will they just make a greater divide between “highly literate” people and people with “low” literacy skills?
In Dr. Vee’s article, she makes the argument that computer coding is a type of literacy in and of itself, much like reading or writing literacy. In a broader sense, she defines literacy to be, ” a human facility with a symbolic and infrastructural technology—such as a textual writing system—that can be used for creative, communicative and rhetorical purposes”. By this definition, computer coding is indeed literacy. Personally, I agree with her overall literacy definition as well as her stance on coding literacy.
However, defining literacy in such a way leaves some wiggle-room and ambiguity. By that definition, modes such as music, painting, and even emojis could technically be considered forms of literacy, though each of these has intrinsic differences in complexity and structure. What do you think? At what level of complexity do we draw the line between something being literacy and it being a mere task?
The main focus throughout the article From Pencils to Pixels revolves around Baron’s ideas about the stages of literacy technologies and how they apply to every new product. The article began by discussing the important ways the invention of the computer changed literacy practices and how he personally has become reliant on technology; this is something I think all of us can relate to in some way or another. Baron then summarizes the stages of literacy technology. First, it trialed by a small group of people and will then expand to the general public when it relates to the older, more popular forms of communication. It is not until the technology spreads that it really will become its own. For new technology to become successful, it must be accessible, useful, and trustworthy.
Baron relates this to writing as a technology in and of itself. At first, writing was resisted because it was untrustworthy, but eventually the positive outlooks on writing were seen, and the general public caught on. This cognitive revolution and the invention of the printing press triggered a second cognitive revolution.
With all of this in mind, have you had an experience (let’s say in the past 10 years) where you have tried a new piece of technology and it improved your knowledge/literacy history? Or did this technological advancement do more hindering on your learning? If it’s hindering, do you think its because of the product itself or was it another factor? Do you think this hindrance will increase in the future with the creation of new apps and social media sites (a.k.a. new distractions)?