LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for TSE Archives


TSE Archives

TSE Archives


TSE@PO.MISSOURI.EDU


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

TSE Home

TSE Home

TSE  December 2004

TSE December 2004

Subject:

Re: (OT) Internet : an overkill ?

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 20 Dec 2004 23:22:07 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (404 lines)

It has never been demonstrated (as far as I know, no one has even tried)
that writing is (even potentially) a common human skill, like speech or
walking, rather than an _uncommon_ human skill, like ballet dancing or
singing Wagner. If you examine closely many really bad pieces of writing
(consisting of comma splices, sentence fragments, etc.) you will find
that "sentence fragment" is an exceedingly precise metaphor: that is,
you can see that what is on the page is the wreckage of sentences which
were perfectly formed in the brain. The student's difficulty, then,
whatever it may be, has nothing to do with his/her command of _language_
but with his/her command of the technology of transcribing from the
brain to paper or screen! This is the reason, incidentally, that
students not only can recognize their own errors if read aloud, but will
often, reading aloud their own work, read the sentence that _should_
have been there rather than the sentence which is on the page -- and not
even realize that they are changing the written text as they read.

There was a thread around this topic some years ago on the English
Department list, which I condensed a little over a year ago for two
posts on another maillist (lbo-talk). I copy those posts here. (I have
since read the book by Patricia Dunn which she mentions below. I highly
reccommend it.)
-----


I'm returning to a thread of some months ago, beginning with a post from
Justin on reading habits.

Justin wrote: I was thinking less of nostalgia than television. My bet
is that people read more. Moreover, we do have real evidence that
popular attentiuon to complicated argument was greater once. Think of
the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Tens of thousand of Illilois backwoodsman
flocked from the middle of nowhere to godforsken little towns to stand
for hours listening to two men in suits, one tall, one short, debate
national policy and cosntitutional law in unforgively high terms, and
stood out in the weather for hours, without the benefit of
amplification, to participate in these discussions. jks

I'm advancing the tentative hypothesis that the seemingly greater
"literacy" Justin and others refer to was _not_ literacy in the strict
sense (letters on paper) but collective understanding mostly through
_oral_ communication.

They _listened_: they did not _read_ those speeches. And I have a very
vague memory of accounts of people (actually, men) gathering together in
the 1780s to have Federalist papers READ ALOUD to them.

[I've been working away at this and some related posts off and on for
several months, & I'm not going to be able to develop them in a coherent
fashion right away. So I'm just going to noodle away on them. They might
be called Variations on Mao and Gramsci.

1) Is Mao's proposition, "Trust the People" relevant, _in some form_ to
the U.S. left.

2) Gramsci argues that while a general staff can always raise an army,
an army can't raise a general staff. I think that is wrong, but does
point in the right direction.

The rest of this post deals with literacy.

The following argument reflects  my personal experience as I find it
confirmed in Patricia A. Dunn, _Learning Re-Abled: The Learning
Disability Controversy and Composition Studies_ (Portsmouth, NH, 1995),
a work which summarizes a good deal of research and which gives bite to
my personal experience.

[The next 3 paragraphs are copied slightly edited from a post I wrote on
the ISU English Dept. list back in February 1998. I quote more from that
whole thread further on in this post.]

The personal experience began with an odd student I had back in the
early '60s for three courses, two of composition and the third an intro
to lit. He was a delight to have in the classroom, willing to speak, and
always speaking intelligently. In the comp courses I gave him a C for
this reason and out of general charity, but in those two courses I don't
believe he ever submitted a paper with a single complete sentence.

Then in the lit class, one day he was in my office discussing the novel
we were reading, _Rabbit Run_. At that time I possessed a fairly sharp
ability to memorize an oral statement of several sentences and project
it on a screen in my mind, and I did so with what he said to me at one
point.

What I saw on that screen was as well "written" a passage as any I ever
received from an ISU student. The syntax was complex, flexible, and
correct; the observation on Updike's novel intelligent and striking.
Examining his papers from that perspective, it was quite clear that all
those sentence fragments were just that, broken pieces of sentences that
in themselves were quite unexceptionable. He had no trouble with
grammar, with sentence rhythms, with the articulation of his ideas.
There was simply some horrid glitch between brain and fingers, but not
between brain and vocal cords.

Here was this illiterate who (1) had read a reasonably complex novel
with no difficulty and (2) had intelligent things to say about it in
complex and well structured language, but he COULD NOT WRITE. I doubt
that he could _ever_ have learned to write by any means of instruction
now available. But what his illiteracy tells us is that our definition
of literacy is terribly screwed up. (Since he could read quite well, he
doesn't fit the more well-known pattern of dyslexia, inability to read.)
I would tentatively suggest that _writing_ ability (as opposed to
ability to speak and listen) is rather like perfect pitch or the ability
to wiggle one's ears, sort of freakish.

"Writing Ability": I'm not referring just to syntax or even style. I
include all the "higher" forms of thought: organization, coherence,
relevance, overall decorum, ability to recognize a paragraph, substance
even. My student who could speak so well about _Rabbit_ could not have
written anything intelligent about it. Many people, I suspect a rather
large majority of the human species, simply cannot think on paper. BUT
THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY CANNOT THINK, OR CANNOT THINK ABOUT COMPLEX
SUBJECTS. Moreover, just because most Americans are not, at present,
applying that capacity to the topics _we_ think they should does not
mean that they are not, even now, exercising that capacity on other
subjects.

And incidentally -- it is as difficult for someone who can write to
write badly as it is for a bad writer to write well. In other words, it
is seriously in error to account for "bad grammar" etc. in terms of
laziness. I've known only one person in my life who could, in speech or
writing, shift back and forth between "literate" and "illiterate" speech
easily. [Good writers can produce really bad prose, of course, when they
strain to he humorous under the widespread impression that without
something called a "sense of humor" one is not fully human.]

My post on this "illiterate student" generated a lengthy thread. I had
not met (or heard of) Patricia Dunn, a newer member of the department,
but she responded with the following post:

Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 16:27:34 -0600
To: [log in to unmask]
From: "Patrica A. Dunn"
Subject: Re: pedagogically speaking

Carrol, I wish more teachers/professors recognized the phenomenon you
described below.

For too long, good WRITING, interpreted narrowly, has been correlated
with intelligence. What's worse, people with the kind of glitch you
described--they can speak in syntactically complex sentences but can't
get them on a page or screen--have been told, explicitly or implicitly,
that they are NOT intelligent.

Those of us who are good "writers" (and I would venture to guess most of
us on this listserv are decent writers or we wouldn't be doing what
we're doing) can only imagine what society's assumed and often false
association between writing and intelligence does to people with the
kind of horrid glitch you describe.

Susan Vogel and others have done research that confirms what you say
about some students having highly complex and sophisticated sentence
patterns that for some reason they can't get down in writing. At the
risk of sounding like a show-off, I must here put in a plug for my book
(LEARNING REABLED: THE LEARNING DISABILITY CONTROVERSY AND COMPOSITION
STUDIES - Boynton/Cook Heinemann), in which I summarize and analyze this
and other related research.

Also, now that voice activated computer systems are getting much more
sophisticated,(i.e. Dragon Naturally Speaking), perhaps the academic
playing field, with its over-emphasis on the written word, will begin to
become more equitable for people who must deal with this frustrating
glitch. -Patty Dunn

[This may be too optimistic in regard to voice activated composition; I
don't know - cbc]

- - - - -
(In a future post I'll quote much more of this ISU English Department
thread.)

There has been a good deal of negative commentary by lbo posters on
american culture (i.e., the culture of the bulk of the population) --
sometimes by the same posters who in a different context -- discussion
of foreign affairs -- are apt strongly to condemn "anti-americanism." It
seems to me that anti-americanism (defined as a condemnation,_in
principle, of the u.s. state) has to be half the foundation of any
significant left movement in the u.s. It _also_ seems to me that the
other half of of that foundation must be a resolute condemnation of the
kind of anti-americanism which dominates lbo: i.e., the endless
criticism of the populace. (Wojtek and Carl Remick are perhaps the most
extreme instances of this, but the habit is widespread. It is behind
Zizek's silliness, for example, re willed ignorance.) Such silliness has
more in common with whining about the weather than with any thing that
can be called social analysis from a left perspective.

To Be Continued

Carrol

POSTED  March 13, 2004. Subject: Terrain of Struggle 1a
--------------

[Terrain of Struggle 1b]

Then the following post appeared, after a post of mine quoted in the
response. Writer's name suppressed, but he is a good teacher and an
intelligent scholar. Yet he _completely_ misunderstood the points that
Patricia and I had made.

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 10:42:36 -0600
From: R
Subject: Re: "mistakes" // Speech vs. Writing, an issue ignored.

As a teacher and practitioner of even so allegedly nonhumanistic a thing
as technical communication, I do not spend time on first and second
drafts of student papers, reports, etc. identifying the minutiae of
grammar and usage. "But," one might ask, "aren't these things important
in business and industry, from whence most of our students either come
or to which most of them plan to go? Sure they are.  They are like the
nails and fasteners that fill your house. But whatever "compositionm
teachers for the past 100 years" are alleged to have done, any technical
writer will tell you that no one builds papers and reports out of
grammar and usage any more than a contractor builds houses solely out of
nails and fasteners.

"Do you mean no grammar and usage at all?" one might ask? Of course not.
I often recall the novelist Thackeray: "The priniciples of grammar are
like trousers: no one talks about either of them, but good society is
dismayed if one appears without either." I agree with the folks who
descanted on the problem of killing humanistic studies by focusing on
grammar and usage, but who's doing it? Even so base a subject as
technical communication has long been rid of the notion that you can
build your intellectual house with nails and fasteners. Let's not debate
the evils of times past. R-

Carrol wrote: ****I am surprised that no one chose to respond earlier to
Patricia Dunn's post on writing, speaking, and intelligence, or to
recall her post in connection with the present thread on "mistakes."
After all, if the research she refers to in her post is even partially
correct, it calls into question the very existence of humanities
studies, which presuppose that "humanist" values and the comprehension
of them can be measured by the student's competence in writing.****

My point was that when we talk about usage, we aren't speaking of
competence or correctness but of social assumptions about the ways that
people use language. Of course, these assumptions are not either right
or fair (most things in society are not right and fair). We can't,
however, do anything about changing the assumptions unless we know they
exist and unless we know the kinds of damage these assumptions can do
both consciously and unconsciously to both to the person holding them
and the person judged by them.

****The case I described in my original post is perhaps the extreme, but
if Patricia is correct, then one would expect less dramatic but
important instances to be widespread, in which case "composition
teachers" for over 100 years have been engaged in an unintentional but
still systematic assault on the intellectual well-being of their
students and on the intellectual needs of the society as a whole.****

This assault explains why we don't copyedit students' first, or even
second drafts, and why we work with them on argument, rhetoric, and
style before we begin to engage a final draft on issues of copyediting.
We don't assault them with red pens any more.

****It would in fact seem to follow that the appearance of media that
deemphasize writing constitutes a potential "unleashing" as it were of
intellectual capacities suppressed by 20th-c educational practice.****

You're confusing writing and brutal copyediting. Writing is that very
pleasurable stuff we are doing right now. I wouldn't feel the least bit
"unleashed" if I couldn't race my fingers over a keyboard several hours
of the day. And oh the joy (as Norton Crowell used to say) of seeing
one's name in print--nothing brutal about writing then, just pure
pleasure.

***Moreover, it would be arguable that teachers of writing and those who
place writing at the center of their teaching of other subjexts are
engaged in a practice analogous to Bruno Bettelheim's blaming autism on
lack of maternal love.***

Only if you can't tell writing from proofreading.

***Do classes in theory of composition consider the research Patricia
points to?***

All the time. R-

Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. --Samuel Johnson

[Note -- Neither Johnson nor R above seems really curious as to the
sources of either diligence or skill. And a questioning of those
sources, I think, is a fundamental lack in this whole thread re
"literacy" on LBO.]

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 11:42:57 -0600
From: Patrica A. Dunn
Subject: Re: "mistakes" // Speech vs. Writing, an issue ignored.

R wrote: "Do classes in theory of composition consider the research
Patricia points to?" and answered "All the time."

I agree that the field of Composition Studies regularly considers and
discusses instructor response to student writing and generally rejects
the copyediting "correcting" approaches of the past.

However, I must disagree that Composition, as a field, regularly
considers the kind of research I was describing. Much research in
educational psychology, reading, speech acquisition, learning
disabilities, and neuroscience has been done on students--many of them
with average or above average IQs--who have language learning
difficulties those of us on this listserv would have trouble imagining.
(Carrol is right that most of us ENJOY writing.)

Some of this research has been rightly critiqued by Gerald Coles, Barry
Franklin, and others as being methodologically unsound. However, the
best work in these areas may have important implications for Composition
theory and pedagogy: recent studies in brain plasicity, in dictation and
writing, and in syntactical patterns in the writing of learning disabled
and non-LD students.

Very occasionally there will be an essay summarily dismissing this kind
of research (Paul Hunter, College English, 1990 Vol 52), but mostly it
is completely ignored. A small group (8 - 10?) of people show up at the
rare CCCC panel that addresses this work, but most of us have learned to
look elsewhere for the kinds of studies we're looking for.

Why does all this matter? In an earlier post, Carrol raised the
possibility that "'composition teachers' for over 100 years have been
engaged in an "unintentional but still systematic assault on the
intellectual well-being of their students and on the intellectual needs
of the society as a whole."

I think he may be right. The assumed link between "good writing" and
intelligence is so strong--not just in the academy but in American
society--that no one needs to even mention it. Smart people who write
poorly have also internalized this unproven link and may dismiss their
own ability to contribute intellectually to the world. (There are a lot
of bright people/poor writers in jail, for example.) The assumptions we
make about people's intelligence based on their ease with writing is
unspoken but palpable. Assumptions dictate expectations. We can only
guess the harm this is doing. - P Dunn

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 13:00
From: Carrol Cox
Subject: Re: "mistakes" // Speech vs. Writing, an issue ignored.

M wrote:  *** If the definition of "good" writing implies getting into
print, informing or influencing readers, or getting paid for one's work,
you can disprove the IQ/writing equation by walking to the Alamo and
skimming the magazine rack.***

Yes. But I believe the _serious_ issue revolves not around whether "good
writing" is an index of intelligence (as Gould and others have
demonstrated, "general intelligence" does not exist, but that is another
issue), but over whether _inability_ to write is an index to _lack_ of
intelligence. My suggestion is that it is _not_ such an index, and that
by grounding the whole educational structure in writing (_not_ just the
teaching of composition) the intellectual resources of the whole social
order are being damaged and/or not tapped.

And I am _not_ talking about mistakes. I imagine there have always been
writing teachers who ignored mistakes (copyediting), but have there been
writing instructors who ignored organization, coherence, minimal clarity
of statement, logic, responsiveness to assignment, awareness of
audience, tone, etc. etc. etc. The argument is that there at least _may_
be not just a few but _many_ people capable of serious intellectual work
who could not meet _these_ criteria.

I could never think on a typewriter but used 5x8 cards or legal pads. I
can think on a computer. Some of those reading this probably still
prefer a legal pad or even a typewriter for composing. (X. J. Kennedy
did all his writing [prose and verse] directly on a portable typewriter,
or at least that was his practice when he had the cubicle next to mine
at Michigan in 1958-59.) We provide "signers" for our deaf students and
braille or cassettes for our blind students. Perhaps we should provide
stenographers for this as yet unnamed class of students. For some of
them we might even need to provide a responsive audience of two or three
_and_ a stenographer.

But to go back to R's point above, of _course_ good writing is measured
by getting into print, or by receiving some other response translatable
into cash. There is no other measure of merit available in a capitalist
mode of production. Professors who can't accept this should also
repudiate the merit system, for it is based ultimately on the ability to
write. (No dissertation: no appointment.) And to go back to the "trout
in the milk can" with which I started this thread, that student was the
best _judge_ of writing in the class but the _worst_ writer. It was only
by accident that I discovered this conjunction. -Carrol

[End of excerpts from ISU English Department]

With this much context, let me return to one of Justin's observations:
"Moreover, we do have real evidence that popular attentiuon to
complicated argument was greater once. Think of the Lincoln-Douglas
debates."

They _listened_: they did not _read_ those speeches. And I have a very
vague memory of accounts of people (actually, men) gathering together in
the 1780s to have Federalist papers READ ALOUD to them. Moreover, part
of the 'evidence' offered in other posts of workers' 'literacy' in the
past was (a) that in cigar factories the workers listened to complex
texts read aloud and (b) that in the late 19th century workers would
pool their money to buy copies of _Capital_: which were probably _read_
as well as purchased collectively. For such discussion - of the debates,
of the Federalist papers, of Capital - to proceed successfully only a
few, perhaps as few as one, in each group would have needed the kind of
"literacy" the lack of which currently most in this thread bewailed.

[End of LBO posts]

We do not _know_ whether the Iliad author would have been any good as a
_writer_! Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Carrol

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
March 1996
February 1996
January 1996
December 1995
November 1995

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



PO.MISSOURI.EDU

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager