Today, I met with my Theories of Composition class. This course is aimed mostly at English majors who will pursue a career in secondary education but also at those who plan to go off to graduate school, where they’ll be hurled into the ranks of FYC teaching assistants. Topics range from… well, if you want to read about it, look here.
After a broad discussion of writing, digital text, and multimedia (texts at hand were Yancey’s 2009 report on 21st century writing, Trauman’s video on multimedia and meaning-crafting, and Wesch’s “Machine is Us/ing Us”), I dropped the following “big question” on them: Why teach writing?
It’s not the first time I’ve asked them this question (and likely won’t be the last), but it is the first time I’ve asked it in this way. That is, early in the semester, in a discussion of Chapter 1 of Lindemann’s A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, we emphasized the first word in the question: Why? The reasons she offers are no doubt familiar to anyone who has grappled with the question on their own, and are fairly standard answers for our discipline: writing is tied to economic power, is a form of social commitment, plays a role in problem-solving, and serves any number of important humanistic functions. But today, I emphasized a different word: Writing?
Why teach writing, specifically (as opposed to drawing, to videography, to graphics-editing, to podcasting)? Is the purview of the “writing classroom” really just writing? Or is it tied more closely to composition? Or to rhetoric? As I pointed out to them, the distinction between these processes and concepts is wider than it might seem initially. Do we teach writing for a meaningful reason? Or do we simply teach it at the behest of history? Do we teach writing because it’s important culturally, socially, economically, individually, materially, or do we teach it “just because”? (Other questions, which I won’t get into here, today, now–what counts as writing? and when we teach writing, what are we teaching?)
Though it might seem otherwise, asking “Why teach writing?” isn’t a summative dismissal of alphabetic text (though it could be). Today, however, I ask it as the foundational intellectual (and indeed emotional) issue that any writing teacher ought to give serious consideration to at some point.
Why am I teaching writing? Why writing?
(to be continued…)