Re: Snapshots

Mon, 8 Jan 1996 11:37:55 -0500

I agree with Bob Yagelski that our students may differ from us in
knowing different things and in possesing different "literacies."
But I think that we should not start to undervalue the book literacy
that remains the basis for much of our intellectual and professional
work. We're a long way from going from "writing to learn" to "videotaping
to learn." I have a colleague who thinks that books will be replaced
by video, so I've thought a lot about this, and my conclusion is that
video is a very poor medium for much of the kind of thinking that I do.
It's expensive, awkward, imprecise, hard to revise, hard to "read around
in." It often takes more than one person to create an effective video.
I think that I could come up with some weaknesses to Internet
chatter as a substitute for formal writing, with a moment's thought.
Of course, formal writing has the drawback of being difficult to learn,
but maybe that is because we try to do such difficult things with it.
We save formal writing for our most profound and important communications,
which is why we bitch about errors in form in writing, errors that we would
ignore when listening to someon
e talk. I remember juding an essay contest
on Orwell back in 1984 and feeling insulted when a faculty member submitted
a badly edited manuscript (I think my computer just messed up this
message a bit). By contrast I read right over typos that show up in Internet
messages, including my own.
A last comment about an issue that arose on this strain: an
interesting theory on the connection between reading and writing can
be found in Frank Smith's essay "Reading like a Writer" (Language Arts, 60,
558-567, 1983). Smith argues that writing practice is not enough to
learn how to write, since we do so little practice and writing is so
difficult. He believes that a certain kind of reading is what teaches
us to write.
--Bill Murdick