Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Composing are Acts of Not Knowing & Wanting

Stop Stealing Dreams (2012, M.A. Reilly)

I. Acts of Faith

Fred Leebron closes the essay "Not Knowing," saying this:
Readers suspend disbelief and writers suspend disbelief because writing and reading are acts of faith along the path to knowledge, not just one particular knowledge but any knowledge that is part of the essential truths lurking to be shared by the reader and the writer and all those people in that story, that are coming to not just one conclusion but many conclusions, that follow not one path but many paths, because the writing and the story are not just about one thing but many things, and in this essential multifarious way writing is an embrace of all the complexity of not knowing and wanting to know and all the contradictions that reside therein, and that has been our task, on these paths, all of us--writer, reader, character--to embrace those contradictions (p.56).
His depiction of the tangle we know as reader, writer, and character--provides a stark contrast to how writing and reading are situated at many schools.  One of the terrible by-products of high stakes testing has been the way that certainty is privileged in curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment decisions and enactments.

One might even argue that certainty is the content, regardless of the discipline.

And we are not the better as a result of this.

II. Test Based Writing

If writing is largely a matter of discovery, what do the children who are fed a steady diet of test prompts as a substitute for good writing engagements come to know? What does it mean to be a writer in such rooms? There, knowing is THE given. Writing happens from a stance of already having your three ideas at hand, or plugging into an already scripted response the particulars from the prompt.  Such tasks have little to do with writing and a whole lot more to do with compliance.

Is it any wonder that many of the children in such classrooms fail to write with any agency, power, or faith?

III. A Better Way

Throw out the test prepping that substitutes for engagements.  Build the writing alongside the children, looking for natural places where wondering might be made more concrete through written/visual/auditory text making.  Teach the 'essentials' within such contexts and watch learners bloom.

Annie Dillard said it well in The Writing Life.

Process is nothing. Erase your path. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs. I hope you will toss it all, and not look back. 
Let's be bold enough to toss the years of high stakes testing preparation that we have substituted for writing engagements.  It is only then, when there is enough room to not know and still want, that writers might take up the pen without us.

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