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.

Research Notes

Ok, I'm going to start by listing research sources here.  Most of these are not internet resources, but I think tonight I'll do a little internet searching.  I know the history of personal writing in education begins with Bishop Richard Whatley in about 1922 (published about 1838) in Elements of Rhetoric when he describes why he assigned to his students "My Summer Vacation" as a way of battling the vacuous declamations teachers were receiving on abstract subjects like the following: Virtue, Duty, Honor, Responsibility, Betrayal, Violence, Warfare, and so on.  There was of course an interesting social class conflict behind the issue of what kind of topics to assign to students (a social class issue that I will argue still operates today).  I can compress this issue of topic/social class structure by claiming (with some evidence) that the dominant topics and genres are those of the middle-middle class and upper-middle class and in general conflict with the ethos of lower middle class, working class, and poverty class students.  Most people don't want to discuss these class/education issues, to begin with, one only has to read that absolutely astonishing article by Lynn Bloom (I'll see whether I can re-capture the rest of this).

Thanks, Macia, for your post below--I'm always ready go collaborate on a book :).
I posted a rant on my blog concerning my student's comment.

"Keeping our students off-balace"

In short, I'm aiming in a slightly different direction, Marcia.  Rather than comfort our students on writing as a struggle, I'm aiming at writing as pleasure.  What we need to examine, from my perspective, if the fallacy of writing as struggle.  I know we can make it fun, as singing can be fun, as dancing can be fun, as just moving around and being alive can be fun.  I think we can interrogate an educational process that has too easily gotten hung up on rigor (mortis).
Irvin Peckham
Professor of Writing
Louisiana State University

On Oct 12, 2013, at 11:00 AM, Marcia Ribble <marciaribble@HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

Irv, congrats on your personal writing project.  For a bib you could start with Janet Emig's book
on the writing processes of 12th graders, and focus on her chapter talking about those writers
who are well known and who talk about their own writing processes.  She discounted their personal
experiences because she was looking for commonalities, not unique characteristics and experiences.
After that you could jump to all the many books by professional writers on writing.  They often do comment
opon just the exact difficulties your student talks about below.  Although the field of English does value
writers of books that are famous, they do not value teaching creative writing, and certainly, as your student
notes, there is little support for students who want to grow up to be writers of anything except literary
criticism.   Families often see writing fiction and poetry and autobiography as a frivolous waste of time and
energy compared with "studying for a job making good money."  Stephen King's book on writing is a good
source for students who have problems with spelling etc., but who long to be a writer. Their teachers
have equated being a good writer with perfection in spelling syntax, etc. and ignore completely the
fact that most of our greatest writers have editors; like Twain and Livy and his Atlantic Monthly pal.  It's
not just coincidence that so many highly esteemed writers have dropped out of college, eg., Nikki Giovani
dropped out of Columbia.  Poet Diane Wakoski teaches at Michigan State but argues that poets and other
writers are ruined by going to college.  Students need to read folks like Anne Sexton's life in letters, and
anything else by writers who talk about writing as struggle, about writers' block, about writing as anguish, and
challenge, who are honest about the manuscripts lost like A Moveable Feast details.  Your student may feel
comforted if she knows that many if not most writers share her feelings and concerns.  Joyce' book about himself
as a young writer from the ghetto can be helpful too.  

Hey, Irv, maybe we ought to put together a book about writing anxiety?


Note to Becky WPA-L
Hi, Becky
The usual apologies for a non-reply.
So thanks for your note--and I'm interested in what you're doing.  I particularly respond to your For me . . . sentences.  What a wonderful objective.  I think those of us who love writing and want to pass that love on (and have not been beguiled by the academic pose [forgive me for putting it that way] should band together.  Actually, we should form a SIG--or is there one already?  I simply love reading what my students write.  I don't need to read novels.  I'm not quite as organized about this as you are.  I simply have students write about interesting topics (and that I know I would like to write about, too) and then we read and respond to each other, pretty much as if we were talking to each other.  Like I ask them to write about some changes they are going through (I'm going through a big one--my wife of 41 years having died two years ago).  Let me attach a few autobiographies my students just wrote (what's interesting here: we don't workshop these at all).

Irvin Peckham
Professor of Rhetoric & Composition
Louisiana State University

Hi Irv,

I didn’t want to clog up the WPA list, but I did want to say how much I have been appreciating your posts on this subject – and now your blog. You’ve hit on so many ideas that resonate with me, and done so much more eloquently than I could. Like you, I wish as a field we could get over being so suspicious of pleasure, of fun, of being called soft and easy, and just work to help students write in ways that motivate them, and that bring them pleasure.

You’ve said all that better that I will. So, I’ll just leave it at “thanks.”


Bronwyn T. Williams
Professor of English
Director, University Writing Center
University of Louisville

On Sep 24, 2013, at 4:28 AM, Becky Jackson <> wrote:

Thanks, Irv, for your eloquent post about the value of personal writing in the classroom. I'm currently teaching a course called "Narrative as Knowledge" (upper-level undergraduate) that examines personal knowledge as a legitimate form of knowing (we are reading Bruner, Spigelman, and Robert Nash, for example) and asks students to experiment with personal experience pieces that move outward and engage voices in the conversation about literacy, learning, and education (we have also read Villanueva's Bootstraps and critical literacy narratives written by students in previous courses).
I've arrived, over many years, at the same place you have. For me, teaching writing these days is mostly about creating conditions that encourage students to enjoy and use writing in their lives.
Thanks again for your post. 


Rebecca Jackson, PhD
Associate Professor
Director, MA major in Rhetoric and Composition
Department of English
Texas State University-San Marcos
San Marcos, TX 78666
Posts on WPA-l

I'm not sure about how age-appropriate the stuff they put upon me in my high school years was.  It was wearying to the max.  The reading itself was okay, but the teaching of it was off-putting, to say it the least.  I was a life-long reader and was big on the written word (why else become an English major?), but my teachers always seemed drained and put-upon and distracted.  After I taught public school for 7 years, I figured out why. 

Teaching is an exquisite adventure.  Only a few realize it as such.  The call for "excellence in education" is absurd.  Excellence is always that, excellence, the achievement of the very few.  But we can do better in our general instruction if we teach young people to learn how to learn.  How to let their curiosity become an activity.  I am now teaching freshmen once again after 12 years, and loving it.  When Orwell talked about "hope being with the proletariat," I see hope being with the freshmen.

Fred K.

On Sep 25, 2013, at 12:52 PM, David Schwalm <> wrote:

> I was put off by poetry in jr. high and high school mainly because the poetry we read was not really age appropriate. We had no idea what it was about, and, when the teacher "told" us what it was really about (usually  death, love, loss etc.) we could never connect the text we were reading with the official interpretation.  So we just said, "whatever," and moved along. Us meat and potato boys from the Midwest was pretty literal minded.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Writing Program Administration [] On Behalf Of Nelms, Jerry
> Sent: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 10:26 AM
> Subject: Re: Personal Writing
> From my experience of talking with students in my courses over the years, I found that most undergrad and grad students not only don't want to write poetry, they don't want to read poetry.  Even after all these years, I'm still shocked and amazed that prospective English teachers at the high school and college levels would dislike poetry.
> Jerry
> Gerald Nelms
> Academic Director of Developmental Writing University College Wright State University
> ________________________________________
> From: Writing Program Administration [] on behalf of Rebecca Powell [rapowell@NMSU.EDU]
> Sent: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 11:17 AM
> To:
> Subject: Personal Writing
> On the notion of what kinds of writing students' value, in research I am currently conducting with twelfth graders, students say they value pieces of writing that teachers have praised. On a side note, they hate writing poetry, or at least 200 of them hate poetry.
> This is initial data, and I still have a lot of work in front of me.
> Best,
> Rebecca Powell
> ________________________________________
> From: Writing Program Administration <> on behalf of Beth Daniell <bdaniell@KENNESAW.EDU>
> Sent: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:38 PM
> Subject: Re: WPA-L Digest - 23 Sep 2013 to 24 Sep 2013 - Special issue (#2013-379)
> All and Irv,
> As Irv says, I may have over spoken. There's no one on this list who shouldn't use something you call "personal writing." Part of the problem for me is I don't know what you mean by that. It's a squishy term.
> It is my sincere belief that people who do not know how to teach writing will teach anything else--because teaching writing is hard. They'll teach literature, film, grammar (or what they call grammar), document design, the New Yorker style essay, etc. None of these is bad in itself, but I've seen too many courses become something besides a writing course. Sometimes people have students write only what happened to them and how they feel about it--which a lot of us see as a starting point for writing that moves beyond self and feelings.
> I have seen bad teachers interfere in students' lives in extremely unprofessioinal ways  because they focused on confessional writing. Which is probably the term I should use. Some of these teachers were TAs; others were not.
> But the best writing always comes out of a person's concerns, experiences, life. See the research Nancy Sommers did at Harvard. See the students in Herrington and Curtis in Persons in Progress.
> In our second course, most teachers use Ballenger's The Curious Researcher. This book focuses on inquiry. Most of our teachers use a variety of ways to get students to a topic they care about and can ask questions about. For the last three years we've had an essay contest with two sections, creative non-fiction and academic. All the academic winners  have been papers that came out of the students' own experiences. At the ceremony in the spring we ask the winners to read a small excerpt and tell the audience how they came to write the paper. Hearing those students talk about their work and where it came from is the best hour of my life every year. These papers sometimes begin with a narrative or a description that might be called personal, but not always, but in these paper they go further: the students rely on sources in order to make their arguments.
> To see inquiry fueled by felt need or the cognitive dissonance some of our students experience when they see the world as it is is to see real integrated learning, not academic writing in order to learn the forms.
> This is why the distinction personal and academic bothers me.
> I do think Rich is correct that students usually value their self-sponsored writing and not what they do for school.    Beth
> Beth Daniell, Ph.D.
> Professor of English
> Director of General Education in English
> Director of Writing Across the Curriculum College of Humanities and Social Sciences
> Kennesaw State University
> 1000 Chastain Road #2701
> 155 D English Building 27
> Kennesaw, GA 30144
> 770-423-6935 (Office)
> 770-423-6297 (Department)
> 770-423-6524 (FAX)

“The process of discovering new goals in life is in many respects similar to that by which an artist goes about creating an original work of art. Whereas a conventional artist starts painting a canvas knowing what she wants to paint, and holds to her original intention until the work is finished, an original artist with equal technical training commences with a deeply felt but undefined goal in mind, keeps modifying the picture in response to the unexpected colors and shapes emerging on the canvas, and ends up with a finished work that probably will not resemble anything she started out with. If the artist is responsive to her inner feelings, knows what she likes and does not like, and pays attention to what is happening on the canvas, a good painting is bound to emerge. On the other hand, if she holds on to a preconceived notion of what the painting should look like, without responding to the possibilities suggested by the forms developing before her, the painting is likely to be trite.”

Excerpt From: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Flow.” iBooks.

1 comment:

  1. Becky,

    During a fascinating discussion this date 3/21/14 about writing assessment, Maja Wilson posted a comment that got me thinking about assessment validity and how we as teachers can really know how our comments affect students. Then I read a post by Irv during the same thread. Irv's post sent me here--to your compelling post:

    "I've arrived, over many years, at the same place you have. For me, teaching writing these days is mostly about creating conditions that encourage students to enjoy and use writing in their lives."

    And it got me thinking about common sense. My own especially. Your two sentences made me think about those times that I have witnessed students using writing in their lives and enjoying it--and why they were not more frequent.

    In 30 years of teaching in colleges and universities, elementary and secondary schools, prisons, and alternative/experimental schools--the times I have seen students grow as writers were those times when they were immersed in the conditions you described. And I began to think about assessment again. Not the kind of assessment that excites people who see assessment as a way to compress the vast complexity into slices of a certain type of knowing that will fit a way of looking at things that comforts those who do not possess the "negative capability" to see beyond the horizon of what turns the construct of reliability from the useful tool it could be to one that coerces teachers to view assessment, standardization, reliability, and truth as synonyms.

    But in light of your words, I think common sense can tell me something wonderful about the assessment of student writing in the form of a question. What form does the improvement of student writing take when it is viewed through concepts like happiness, fun, engagement, and exciting conversations that occur when our students enjoy writing and using it authentically in their lives.

    Thank you.

    Dan Sharkovitz