Writers rather than People

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an entry. End of the semester responsibilities, hiatus between semesters, and then start of the new semester. My English 2000 class will be using blogs again to keep track of issues they are investigating, so I want to keep up with them, writing and thinking about my subject–the use of personal writing for college writing instruction.

Using personal writing in non-required writing courses, like my course in Life Writing, is really a non-issue. But using it in required writing course (a preferred nomenclature for Freshman Writing a.k.a. Firstyear Writing) is more of an issue, one I think can be usefully explored.

As I have written in previous postings, I have been moving away from a pedagogy of cognition to a pedagogy of affect. Rather than train students to write within a family of academic and/or professional genres (cognition), I am focusing on the relationship between the writer and writing (affect). My hypothesis is that if we can help students feel more at one with writing in our classes, they might be more able to negotiate unfamiliar rhetorical situations in academic or professional settings than if we had focused on cognitive goals, training them to respond in impersonal genres to un-impelled (Britton et al.) rhetorical situations.

I don’t want to make this a long post. I know that my required writing students are responding to this shift. They like to be in class. I like to be in class. They like writing and reading and responding to each other, and I like reading whatever they write. None of this seems strange. We are using writing as a kind of stand-in for talking. Actually, my students are right into this–after all, they txt like mad; they write dialogically. If we think seriously about Bakhtin and Burke, we might more carefully post writing situations that are dialogic rather than monologic.

We all know that in spite of our imaginative constructions of audience, the dialogic quality of student writing usually falls flat. While pretending to write to the imagined audience, the students are writing to the teacher for a grade–talk about complicating a rhetorical situation!  No wonder we get double voicing that we interpret as pandering.

I think I had better stop here. I did have an objective, but I haven’t gotten there. I’ll get there next time. I think it’s useful to question our decades old paradigm of assignment, peer-response, revision repeated two or three times, and even to question the writing workshop paradigm–one that moves the writer away from dialogism to inauthentic monologism, one that imagines writers rather than people.

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