Re: The Main Problem

Fred Kemp (
Wed, 25 Oct 1995 11:04:41 -0500

Beth says,

>Writing is an artifact of conversation. As such, it must adhere to *some*
>conventions of social (human emotional) practice and basic conventions
>of intelligibility.
>Beth Baldwin

Basically I agree, although I don't see writing as much transcribed
conversation as Beth implies. But there are discernable conventions to
writing. It is in the teaching of such conventions outside the context in
which they come into play that they become abstracted and eventually come
to be evaluated (which is my main gripe) strictly in formulaic terms. Even
more eventually the teacher loses all sense of context and retreats to
teaching formula, gradually distanced from the act of writing itself. It
is as if the teacher, over the years, turns more and more away from what
writing is and turns more and more to memorized lists of 'conventions.'
When I say writing is not rule-based, I don't mean that consistencies and
'rules' cannot be abstracted from the process, but that such 'rules' must
not govern writing apprenticeship, or writing becomes not an act of
communication or meaning-making but a performance, graded on performance
markers the way that diving or ice-skating is evaluated, which is fine for
diving or ice-skating but disastor for such an inherently social and
interactive act as writing.

The difference between a writing teacher and the editor of a journal is
considerable, and so is the difference in motivation between a writing
student and someone attempting to get into print. Prescriptivism in the
latter cases, of course, is proper and falls outside formal instruction.

Fred Kemp