The Displeasure of Reading and Writing

I’m still reading Tagg. He’s not giving me new information. As I pointed out in my previous blog–Tagg’s is progressive pedagogy: Dewey, Freire, Moffett, Judy, Rose, Elbow, me.

Perhaps what surprises me is that student/learning-centered pedagogy chronically remains in the back seat–if not in the trunk. Educators pretend to care about student learning, but . . . well, particularly as they gravitate into upper administrative levels, educators lose their foci on student learning, focusing instead on numbers and forms–really, the appearance of teaching. If you think of Plato’s parable of the caves, this retrogressive progression might be inevitable: the higher your social group membership, the more abstract your perception (Bourdieu). At the highest level, you are with the stars. Forget the fools in the shadows.

From the perspective of upper level administrators, or worse, politicians, our students are shadows. The higher you fly, the less you see on the ground. You reiterate commonplaces that sell in your social group: the most common one being the Socratic trope about the declining literacy and cognitive abilities of the kids these days. Unfortunately, this trope and the theorized remedy–usually
framed by standards, outcomes, and assessment–smother good teaching, the kind Tagg describes in The Learning Paradigm, and Dewey described in Experience and Education. Key to good teaching is knowing how to learn with your students.

I have many things I have learned from my students, but I am going to focus here on two that really bother me.

I have recently been struck in my student’s portfolios by how many of them say they no longer do self-sponsored writing and reading. They feel stressed, too busy. I suspect that many of their postsecondary school activities are disengaged, the kind assigned by tough-love teachers, brainwashed, as Jeff Schmidt (Disciplined Minds) describes it, by their passage through the educational gauntlet. (I know: I think I’ve survived the brainwash).

Because the students are disengaged, they put off their work. Then they get into a frantic mode, which is always counter-productive. They write bad stuff, stuff they don’t care about. They just want to get it done and turn it in to the teacher, whom they hope to please.

Here’s what one of my students wrote:

For me personally when doing research papers on traditional topics in school I more or less just gather the required amount of sources, get the facts and then spit them back out onto the page in a way that I used three or more sources. I also found that when researching a topic that you are not interested in you never do more than you have to; it’s an obvious fact that I wish my old teachers had noticed but then again I always thought they gave us these projects as to learn the right way to research and cite properly.

Who wants to read that kind of writing? The normal response is to whine about student writing.

I feel terrible about what we are doing to our students. I’m going to frame and reframe my questions:

  • When your student leave your writing classes, are they more excited about writing then when they came in? 
  • Do you have a way of discovering the percentages of yes and no and what what you might do to improve your courses so that you get more yeses? 
  • And if they don’t enjoy writing in your classes, what on earth is your logic? What?

2 Replies to “The Displeasure of Reading and Writing”

  1. First of all thanks for sharing such an article with us. Some great points here. It's often disturbing knowing how many people sign things they don't understand the implications of. I like this theme just fine. It feels very spacious.
    The Importance of Good Writing and Reading Skills. Most children have their own style of creativity. But they don't really lean toward writing as a means of expressing themselves

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