Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Reply to More Ignorance

I am a member of a university writing committee charged to investigate the state of writing at Drexel and what we can do to improve student writing.  One member of the committee send around a link to Natalie Wexler's Op-Ed in the Washington Post: Why Americans Can't Write.  I sent to our committee the following response:

Broken Words. Model holding broken typewriterFor my response, please see my blog link to another uninformed opinion of the same ilk. Apologies, if my post offends anyone:

Personal Writing in the Classroom: Bad Ideas about Writing

As I note in this post (and as did the Zeff article we cited in our report), this kind of uninformed opinion, while popular, is nothing new (I'm inclined to link it to Trump's rants about what's wrong with America--and I know how to fix it; just trust me).  It seems slightly naive to look for educated opinions on a subject from someone who has zero credentials in the field. Natalie Wexler has been a volunteer tutor in DC schools. This does not make her an expert in the field of writing. I would hate to have a physicist take my opinion (although I happen to like physics) on what should be taught in physics classes and how it should be taught. As scholars who presumably respect research and scholarship, we should perhaps respect people who actually have expertise in a particular field.

As did Zeff, I historicized this common complaint about students writing. If anyone has the time, look on the right side of my blog for examples of how "kids can't write" (Student essays: our first year at Drexel).

Basically, Wexler is full of bad advice, much of it derived from David Coleman's tunnel vision and his influence on  Common Core. Coleman is one more person who knows next to nothing about teaching writing; yet he is in charge of the Common Core standards--of writing, in particular. He, like Wexler, has a vested interest.  See Diane Ravitch (who finally started investigating rather then repeating the what's-wrong-with-the-
students-these-days line)--her post on Coleman.
I'm just pointing out:  if we want to know something about a particular field, we should probably not rely on op-eds written by people who know next to nothing about that field, no matter how much they say what we want them to say.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm going to try to connect three things: this beautiful day in New Jersey,  Pope Francis, and writing as pleasure.

I have just finished reading my new students' responses to my initial inventory of their writing experiences. A few things are clear: for most of them, school writing has been a pain in the derriere. They don't like to do it. They write about how they don't like reading a text and having to analyze it. Boring (to write and to read). They don't like writing for the teacher, having to guess at what he or she wants, for a grade.  Somewhat surprising is how they mostly know that there is school writing (i call this fake writing) and non-school writing (real writing). They like to do the latter. Many of them persist in writing poems, stories, blogs, in spite of teacher's attempts to promote writing as hard work, as pain.

Here's my dream (unreal, I know): we could revolutionize writing instruction--get over this hard work, rigor ethos--mostly imposed on us from an external ideology; that we could make our writing classes fun, that we could self-correct writing activities that would entail avoidance rather than embrasure, that we as teachers could seriously reflect on how we got into this writing as pain ethos. I know that's asking a bit much, but . . .

Where does this lovely day and Pope Francis fit in? I don't really know, but I have a feeling about it. Something about communicating, being with others through writing rather than performing for our own materialist accumulation (like GPAs, metaphors for money).

It should perhaps go without saying that there is a link between writing and learning for pleasure. I know there are some people who think we need to know how to suffer, how to defer pleasure. Please.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Having Fun

Galen asked me about writing as fun. I know that in this blog I’ve been advocating writing as fun and challenging writing as hard work. Rather than advocate my writing-as-fun position (which to me seems like a no-brainer), I wonder about the writing as hard-work. Like where do writing teachers get into this???

Bad writing tasks—the kinds most students don’t enjoy writing and responses to which the teachers don’t enjoy reading (much less, grading), tasks that come from the teacher thinking he or she needs to teach certain skills--like how to argue, how to analyze, how to document, disregarding that in most real-world writing, writers don’t add Works Cited. 

What do we get from all this writing as hard-work rhetoric? Why can’t we promote writing as play? I would love to hear what others think about this. I think the answer(s) are complicated and that they involve more than just teaching. Bowles and Gintis, Bourdieu, Appleby and many others have made clear that the educational industry has in part (if not, in whole) the function of reproducing social class relationships. So how do hard-work theories of composition play into this?

Friday, September 11, 2015


I had a conversation with a well-known rhetoric and composition scholar a few days ago. My friend made two claims common among writing teachers: teachers know what’s good for students and writing teachers have to teach first-year students how to cope with writing situations they will later face--that’s what’s good for them.
These are only two of the many reasons that even highly respected rhetoric and composition scholars articulate in their promotions of what they imagine as central academic genres—argument, analysis, and other forms of “evidence-based” writing. They imagine they “know” the writing world that lies before the students, how rigorous the demands of that world are, and that they the teachers need to hold to high standards in order to prepare their students for that world. Some of these tough-love rhetoricians have fantasized that our students in their post-collegial lives would have to write research papers.
We know the classed, raced, and gendered arguments against encouraging pleasure writing in our required/first-year writing classes—and the reasons for which writing teachers frequently capitulate to the hard-nosed rhetoric of theorists who imagine their responsibility is to teach students how to read, think, analyze, and argue, even though they suspect that by creating uncomfortable writing experiences in their classes, they may be teaching their students the wrong thing about writing.
I have been working on an article about social class and assessment, which led me to think about four universes of writing. “Sat” refers to the SAT and ACT writing tests—and by extension, to all models of timed, five-paragraph writing—and perhaps by further extension, five-paragraph thinking, one leading to the other.
When we employ the “we-know-what’s-good-for-them," argument, we should perhaps remember our predecessors, who also knew what was good for them—and think of our descendants, who may wonder how we thought what we thought.