Re: anti is ok (getting to 'why')

Beth W. Baldwin, Ph.D. (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 08:42:34 -0400

On Tue, 30 Jul 1996, Steve Krause wrote:

> Which leads us back to the "why ask why" question. There might be a lot
> of different questions about research and there are certainly many
> different ways of approaching research, but this lack of goal and/or
> this "doing it because we can" approach isn't very satisfying to me
> personally. I mean, we could (should?) give our students beer,
> sing them songs, make them play with crayons, teach them to juggle, send
> them to the park, etc., etc, all in the hope (feeling?) that it might
> improve their writing or prewriting or outlook on life in general. That
> might be good fun, but that isn't research per se. It might be
> "valuable" in some sense, but that's another question too.

As I hope I've made clear in other posts, I am not in favor of "why ask
why" approaches. A "study" -- empirical and objective and/or narrative
and subjective -- in our field should lead to some kind of answer to
"why." As far as I can see, our practice has too long been governed by a
failure to ask why. Your hypothetical examples above ("we could sing them
songs, make them play with crayons, teach them to juggle," etc. "in the
hope that it might improve prewriting or outlook on life in general) gets
to the heart of the matter for me. Why we make any pedagogical choice
should not be so that it leads to better pre-writing (or writing, or
revising) but that the pre-writing, writing, revising experience can lead
to better experiences of singing songs, playing with crayons, juggling,
going to the park, etc. -- what you call "life in general."

It follows then that we question writing itself and the role it plays. Is
our "end" writing, or is writing a "mean to an end," some other end?
Actually, I don't think our "end" is better experience of juggling or
playing with crayons or singing songs. I think our end is a rhetorical
end, one that transcends the written word. I think it's the quality of
communication, and quality of communication directly affects one's
experience of "life in general" insofar as the social/civic dimension of
life is where we're alive much of the time.

Again, beware of inferring from my desire to critique our practice and to
ask "why" teach writing that I don't think we should teach writing. That
is about as far from the case as it would be to infer from Steve's
response that he in any way devalues ethnography and story-telling.

Like Eric, I don't know "where" our endeavor might lead, but I feel less
in need of assurance on that score than others may feel. I think we
should move forward with the kind of spirit that says to us "let's see
where this leads." Once we "get there" we can critique our journey,
decide whether or not it was worthwhile after all. I'm interested in what
this may reveal in the wide-angle kind of way Eric suggests, distortions
and all. As Eric said:

> > might be the most appropriate primary rule under which to operate if what
> > we want to do is *see what happens* as opposed to testing a hypothesis by
> > pitting control results against variable results. Ya need protocols if
> > proof is what you're after.
> >
> > But we don't *have* to be after proof, do we? We could just be after a
> > new opportunitiy to edify and entertain ourselves.

I'm hoping that we will be edified by this experience. Maybe it won't be
broadly applicable to anyone other that for those who directly
participate, but we don't necessarily have to have as our goal changing
the world. We don't really have to prove anything. 4 out of 5 dentists
may recommend Crest, but how many dentists did you ask? Even the best
empirical proof has its limits. Four out of five of *us* may come to see
things in similar ways and may thus chose to change *our* practices --
that's important, too. " Four out of five of us" carries some
persuasive weight, too.

> I guess there are two basic points of resistance I have to this. One is
> that it sort of suggests a collective throwing up of the arms, a kind of
> cop-out where we don't feel it's possible to evaluate our methodologies
> (just like we're not willing to judge which prewriting method is best),
> so we just don't.

I think that this experience will help us to evaluate our methodology. It
certainly isn't a cop-out.

Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5140 *