Evidence-based Writing

The Trump administration has banned evidence- and research-based terminology from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Apparently, the CDC is supposed to imagine science in dialogue with local community conventions. If you are talking to a community of flat-earthers, you need to exercise caution if you claim the earth is round, even if you started east from Raleigh, NC and continued dead east until you came back to Raleigh. Perhaps the compass was compromised.
I suspect that most people who were not beguiled into voting for Trump think that we should ground our opinions in research and the evidence research has uncovered. On the opposite end of the teeter-totter lies reasoning based on what your friends told you was true. One kind of reasoning seems based on information passed on through writing; the other, through oral discourse.
I side with evidence- and research-based reasoning.  I know that rhetoric can bend facts until they turn back on themselves, but still, if we didn’t honor the basic enlightenment period move from myth to science, we would still be sending messages by smoke-signals or horseback. I view with incredulity any governmental or educational system that decided to says “It is so, because I say it is so.”
The discussion about the banned phrases (and reasoning) took on WPA-l a different turn, some teachers with secondary school experience noting the reductive consequences of genuflects to evidence-based writing linked to testing, formulas, and argumentative genres. The mis-educative consequences of testing, formulas, and argumentative genres have shaped secondary and post-secondary instruction since the late 40s. David Coleman, the chief architect of the English Language Arts section of Common Core, in his assault on personal writing (“Bringing the Common Core to Life,” 2011) is largely responsible for the negative turn of “evidence-based” discourse, leading to some confusion about its merits.
In his address, Coleman ironically cites the lack of evidence-based, argumentative genres in primary and secondary schools. In fact, Appleby and Langer in their most recent study (“A Snapshot of Writing Instruction at Middle Schools and High Schools,” 2011) show precisely the opposite, the dearth of expressive forms of writing and dominance of argumentative genres, notably of the five-paragraph sort. Teachers in secondary schools are consequently aware of the testing game and the destructive rhetoric of “evidence-based” writing. Post-secondary teachers concomitantly know that “evidence-based” and argument sells well to administrators and colleagues.
Consequently, the phrase has taken on multiple meanings, leading to confusion and often counter-productive teaching practices. Certainly most educators would agree that when people makes claims, those claims should be based on facts rather than mythology. In our dreams, political discourse would be grounded in evidence and research—in our dreams. But as educators, we should also pay attention to the full range of discourse—and to our students’ attitudes toward what we teach. Certainly, we want our students to experience a rich array of rhetorical situations and genres. But we don’t want to fixate on evidence-based arguments to the exclusion of the many other genres that can draw our students into the rich world of writing.

We always need to ask at the end of our courses, have our students (and have we) enjoyed the experiences of writing (and reading). If not, something’s wrong—probably too much of Coleman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *