The "main problem" is . . .

Thu, 26 Oct 1995 08:23:51 -0500

. . . that there *isn't* a main problem. But in very human-like fashion,
we seek, as a interactive social group, to identify a main problem.
In other words, we want to simplify, to abstract, to find the answer,
solve the problem, and get on with it. We discover in interaction,
however, that main problems and simple answers have many layers
of complexity and that we need to take into account all these nuances
of meaning in order to, as Britton says, "construct for ourselves an
increasingly faithful, objective and coherent picture of the world."

This "complexifying" through interaction is our gift to one another
on this list. And the more coherent, faithful the picture we get
as we negotiate the complexities, the better we can be at teaching.

Now, I'm glad that Fred qualified his position on seeing writing as
an artifact by saying that it has a deadening effect on "many" teachers.
I for one am entirely committed to seeing writing as an artifact --
an artifact of verbal dialogue/multilogue. In my case, however, this
view has quickened what goes on in my classroom rather than deadened it.
Seeing writing as an artifact of speaking does not imply that I am
focused on its formal (as in prescribed) characteristics. Rather,
seeing writing as an artifact of conversation has helped me return
real interactivity to the process such that the communication exchange
is primary. This means that in my class we don't do essays -- at
least not monologic essays.

If I were teaching in an institution where the program goal explicity
directed me to "teach essay writing" so that 1) students learn how
to successfully write academic papers, or 2) so that students learn
how to successfully present ideas in response to essay questions, or
3) so that students learn something about themselves, or 4) so that
students learn the "essay" as a literary genre, then my teaching
would be quite different. But, I'm at an institution where the
explicit purpose of teaching writing is to teach effective communication
and rhetorical responsibility to students who as educated people will
assume public, social, and civic roles that require them to negotiate
a middle ground between themselves (as autonomous subjects) and the
autonomous subjectivity of everyone around them.

So, although I feel that writing is an artifact I also feel that writing
is *very* alive and very purposeful. Through interactive writing we can
be spectators of our own participation and participants in our own
spectating at one and the same time. Writing is the to me the most
exciting and most effective way to "see" how meaning is made and to
learn how to enter into that process with others. It becomes a
deadened artifact when interactivity is removed from the process, when it
becomes, as Fred says, independent of a readership (and a "respondership").

Beth Baldwin

On Wed, 25 Oct 1995, Fred Kemp wrote:

> Sorry, but I want it to be clear. I do not say that there aren't 'rules,'
> but that when such rules drive the pedagogy, the pedagogy distances itself
> from what writing is and does. A piece of writing must do something, not
> simply be judged on its formal characteristics independent of a readership.
> I have found (or believe I have found) that one of the most deadening
> things occurring in the teaching of writing is a gradual movement in many
> teachers from writing as action to writing as artifact, and this arises
> from their own personal distance from the act of writing itself.