Charles Moran
Rhetnetcomputers & writing
history symposium

Charlie Moran's "Snapshot" ---

The Teacher is Alive and the Book is Not Dead

Our history already seems history --- long ago and far away, but that's an advantage, perhaps. Among the things I learned in working with my colleagues on this project:

  1. The book is not dead. I love computers and related emerging technologies, and the book is not dead. The four of us --- authors --- did a lot of work that I'd now see as work "for the reader" --- pulling data together, making our own sense of it, and then building that sense into the information, passing both the information and the sense we'd made of it on to the reader. We were acting as information filters and story-tellers.

    Had we been producing a CD-ROM, (with Paul LeBlanc our Writing Program is just coming off the production of a CD-ROM) we'd have included much more stuff, which would have been a gain, and we would have obliged the reader to make her own sense of the stuff, which would have been work --- perhaps work gladly undertaken, but more likely not. Maybe it's my age, but I don't feel empowered by a huge pile of assembled information. A stack of someone else's notecards, even intricately webbed, does not turn me on. As a writer the prospect excites, but as a reader, not. As a reader I'm not wanting to be a writer.

    As a reader I'm after the sense that someone, or in this case someones, have made of a pile of information --- a sense that I may disagree with, even attack, but that is there, palpable, a magnetic field that has arranged into a pattern all the iron filings on the white paper. I'm thinking that book-authors, journalists, and editors have been precisely this kind of information-filter and that it's no accident that we're now searching for filters for the masses of information available on WWW. Who's there to guide us?

    Writers, that's who.

    I suppose this could be seen as a culturally-transmitted dependency. I'm guessing that it's more: that it is a human need, one that we can trace back to cave-painters and oral poets who were presenting to their audiences the sense(s) they made of the masses of information that they found in their worlds.

  2. Teaching is where we four begin. Our work with computers was part of our work as classroom teachers. More remarkable, it was part of our work as _writing_ teachers. I worry that my own --- and my field's --- connection with computers was a way of dignifying the teaching of writing, hitching our low- prestige wagon to the glamorous engines of emerging technologies.

    Did we connect with computers because we were ashamed of being "just" writing teachers? I hope not. If we did, then I'd expect us to move away from teaching as quickly as we were able, following our parent organizations, MLA and, to a lesser degree, CCCC. We'll delegate our teaching badly- paid TA's and part-timers, and go off in what seem to us more prestigious directions. I'll be watching myself, and all of us, hoping that we'll have the courage and energy to stay connected to the classroom. English is connected to teaching in a way that Physics and Chemistry are not. In English, teaching, not industry, is where the rubber meets the road. I hope we'll stay close to that contact zone.

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