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Unformatted text preview: BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING Edited by Cheryl E. Ball & Drew M. Loewe BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING OPEN ACCESS TEXTBOOKS Open Access Textbooks is a project created through West Virginia University with the goal of producing cost-effective and high quality products that engage authors, faculty, and students. This project is supported by the Digital Publishing Institute and West Virginia University Libraries. For more free books or to inquire about publishing your own open-access book, visit our Open Access Textbooks website at . BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe West Virginia University Libraries Digital Publishing Institute Morgantown, WV The Digital Publishing Institute believes in making work as openly accessible as possible. Therefore, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. This license means you can re-use portions or all of this book in any way, as long as you cite the original in your re-use. You do not need to ask for permission to do so, although it is always kind to let the authors know of your re-use. To view a copy of this CC license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA. This book was set in Helvetica Neue and Iowan Old Style and was first published in 2017 in the United States of America by WVU Libraries. The original cover image, “No Pressure Then,” is in the public domain, thanks to Pete, a Flickr Pro user. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data forthcoming ISBN-10: 0-9988820-0-3 ISBN-13: 978-0-9988820-0-0 TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 1 Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe BAD IDEAS ABOUT WHAT GOOD WRITING IS Rhetoric is Synonymous with Empty Speech Patricia Roberts-Miller America is Facing a Literacy Crisis Jacob Babb 7 13 First-Year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing 18 Tyler Branson First-Year Composition Should be Skipped 24 You Can Learn to Write in General 30 Writing Knowledge Transfers Easily 34 Reading and Writing are not Connected 38 Reading is Not Essential to Writing Instruction 44 Paul G. Cook Elizabeth Wardle Ellen C. Carillo Ellen C. Carillo Julie Myatt Barger BAD IDEAS ABOUT WHO GOOD WRITERS ARE Writers are Mythical, Magical, and Damaged 53 You Need My Credentials to be a Writer 60 Only Geniuses can be Writers 64 Teri Holbrook and Melanie Hundley Ronald Clark Brooks Dustin Edwards and Enrique Paz Some People are Just Born Good Writers 71 Failure is Not an Option 76 There is One Correct Way of Writing and Speaking 82 African American Language is not Good English 88 Official American English is Best 93 Writer’s Block Just Happens to People 99 Jill Parrott Allison D. Carr Anjali Pattanayak Jennifer M. Cunningham Steven Alvarez Geoffrey V. Carter Strong Writing and Writers Don’t Need Revision 104 The More Writing Process, the Better 109 Laura Giovanelli Jimmy Butts BAD IDEAS ABOUT STYLE, USAGE, AND GRAMMAR Strunk and White Set the Standard 117 Good Writers Always Follow My Rules 121 Writers Must Develop a Strong, Original Voice 126 Leave Yourself Out of Your Writing 131 Response: Never Use “I” 134 The Passive Voice Should be Avoided 139 Teaching Grammar Improves Writing 144 Good Writers Must Know Grammatical Terminology 150 Grammar Should be Taught Separately as Rules to Learn 155 Laura Lisabeth Monique Dufour and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson Patrick Thomas Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez Kimberly N. Parker Collin Gifford Brooke Patricia A. Dunn Hannah J. Rule Muriel Harris BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING TECHNIQUES Formal Outlines are Always Useful Kristin Milligan 163 Students Should Learn About the Logical Fallacies 168 Logos is Synonymous with Logic 174 Daniel V. Bommarito Nancy Fox BAD IDEAS ABOUT GENRES Excellent Academic Writing Must be Serious 181 Creative Writing is a Unique Category 187 Popular Culture is Killing Writing 194 Popular Culture is Only Useful as a Text for Criticism 202 The Five-Paragraph Essay is Rhetorically Sound 209 The Five-Paragraph Essay Transmits Knowledge 214 The Five-Paragraph Theme Teaches “Beyond the Test” 220 Research Starts with Answers 226 Research Starts with a Thesis Statement 231 The Traditional Research Paper is Best 236 Citing Sources is a Basic Skill Learned Early On 242 Plagiarism Deserves to be Punished 247 Michael Theune Cydney Alexis Bronwyn T. Williams Mark D. Pepper Quentin Vieregge Susan Naomi Bernstein and Elizabeth Lowry Bruce Bowles, Jr. Alison C. Witte Emily A. Wierszewski Alexandria Lockett Susanmarie Harrington Jennifer A. Mott-Smith BAD IDEAS ABOUT ASSESSING WRITING Grading Has Always Made Writing Better 255 Rubrics Save Time and Make Grading Criteria Visible 259 Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process 264 When Responding to Student Writing, More is Better 268 Mitchell R. James Anne Leahy Crystal Sands Muriel Harris Student Writing Must be Graded by the Teacher 273 Machines can Evaluate Writing Well 278 Plagiarism Detection Services are Money Well Spent 287 Christopher R. Friend Chris M. Anson and Les Perelman Stephanie Vie SAT Scores are Useful for Placing Students in Writing Courses 294 Kristen di Gennaro BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING AND DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY Texting Ruins Students’ Grammar Skills 301 Texting Ruins Literacy Skills 308 Gamification Makes Writing Fun 315 The More Digital Technology, the Better 320 Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants 325 Scott Warnock Christopher Justice Joshua Daniel-Wariya Genesea M. Carter and Aurora Matzke Phill Michael Alexander BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING TEACHERS You’re Going to Need This for College Andrew Hollinger 333 Dual-Enrollment Writing Classes Should Always be Pursued 338 Caroline Wilkinson Secondary-School English Teachers Should Only be Taught Literature 344 Elizabethada A. Wright Face-to-Face Courses are Superior to Online Courses 351 Anyone Can Teach an Online Writing Course 356 Anyone Can Teach Writing 363 Tiffany Bourelle and Andy Bourelle Beth L. Hewett Seth Kahn BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING INTRODUCTION Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe Beginning in 1998, Edge.org has asked a diverse group of scholars, intellectuals, and artists the annual Edge Question, a question designed to spark arguments about provocative ideas to be published online and collected into print volumes intended for a general public audience. Edge Questions have included such questions as “What is your dangerous idea?,” “What have you changed your mind about? Why?,” and the one that inspired this collection: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” That last question was the 2014 Edge Question, published in a book titled This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that are Blocking Progress. Drew first saw the book in a publisher’s exhibit at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication, a big annual convention of writing teachers and scholars. After reading the book, especially in the context of an academic convention, Drew suggested on social media that the field of writing studies should publish its own collective effort to name particularly unhelpful or backward ideas and argue directly to the public about them. Cheryl replied right away that she would be on board, and thus this project was born. This project is necessary because while scholars in writing studies (just as in any academic field) argue to and against one another in scholarly journals, books, and conference talks, those forms of knowledge-making don’t consistently find their way into the public’s understanding of writing. Yet “the public” in all its manifestations—teachers, students, parents, administrators, lawmakers, news media—are important to how writing is conceptualized and taught. These publics deserve clearly articulated and well-researched arguments about what is not working, what must die, and what is blocking progress in current understandings of writing. So our call for proposals sought contributions that provided a snapshot 2  Bad Ideas About Writing of major myths about writing instruction—written by experts for the educated public—that could collectively spark debate and have us rethink our pieties and myths. This collection is an attempt by a varied and diverse group of writing scholar–teachers to translate our specialized knowledge and experiences about writing for a truly wide set of audiences, most of whom will never read the scholarly journals and books or attend conferences about this topic because of the closed nature of such publications and proceedings. In keeping with the public purpose of these writings, it was important to us that it be published open-access. Because there are so few options for trade-like academic books that are open access, we decided—in consultation with the authors of this collection— to publish Bad Ideas About Writing as an open educational resource through the Digital Publishing Institute, which Cheryl directs. Bad Ideas will join other books in West Virginia University Library’s nascent digital publishing project, where it will be supported by librarians for a long time to come. We intend this work to be less a bestiary of bad ideas about writing than an effort to name bad ideas and suggest better ones. Some of those bad ideas are quite old, such as the archetype of the inspired genius author, the five-paragraph essay, or the abuse of adjunct writing teachers. Others are much newer, such as computerized essay scoring or gamification. Some ideas, such as the supposed demise of literacy brought on by texting, are newer bad ideas but are really instances of older bad ideas about literacy always being in a cycle of decline. Yet the same core questions such as what is good writing, what makes a good writer, how should writing be assessed, and the like persist across contexts, technologies, and eras. The project has its genesis in frustration, but what emerges is hope: hope for leaving aside bad ideas and thinking about writing in more productive, inclusive, and useful ways. The individual entries, which we came to dub as both opinionated encyclopedia entries and researched mini-manifestos, offer syntheses of relevant research and experience along with cross-references to other entries that take up related subjects. Instead of the typical trappings of academic citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, Oxford, etc.) that are specific to certain disciplines, we asked authors in the Bad Ideas collection to summarize the available research and present it in a way similar to how a newspaper, introductory textbook, or podcast might deliver such research— not through individual citations, but through a list of resources and further reading that would point readers to follow-up material. Introduction 3 The authors of these entries are often published experts in these fields, so searching for their other work at a library or online will produce additional information on these topics. We have provided keywords for each entry as well, which correspond to the academic terms that would appear in other peer-reviewed, published research on these topics. The entries cohere around eight major categories of bad ideas about writing that are tied to the production, circulation, cultural use of, evaluation, and teaching of writing in multiple ways. The categories are bad ideas about: • The features of good writing • What makes good writers • How grammar and style should be understood • Which techniques or processes produce good writing • Particular genres and occasions for writing • How writing should be assessed • How technology impacts writing • Teachers of writing Although we have categories (and there are thematic clusters visible within the larger categories), we encourage readers to read the entries with and against each other, looking for productive overlaps and disagreements. For instance, there are at least three entries on the five-paragraph essay—the genre perhaps most known by the various publics reading this book, and the most maligned by its writers—and each entry takes a different perspective, disagreeing as needed where the research and the writer’s experience pertain. Without forcing a weak consensus or flattening out the individuality of the chapters, together they offer a practical, action-oriented group of rational manifestos for discontinuing unhelpful or exclusionary ideas about a subject and activity that all have a stake in. We hope that the collection is a conversation-starter, not a conversation-stopper, and we hope that it provides a catalog of support for productive conversations about how and why to stop the bad ideas about writing and start the good. BAD IDEAS ABOUT WHAT GOOD WRITING IS RHETORIC IS SYNONYMOUS WITH EMPTY SPEECH Patricia Roberts-Miller Recently, I was at a meeting of faculty whose research and teaching interests concerned issues of environmentalism. A colleague from another department asked me what my area was. “Environmental rhetoric,” I replied. He looked slightly shocked and then commented, “Good environmentalism doesn’t have a rhetoric.” I’m in a department of rhetoric, so I teach rhetoric, read scholarly pieces on rhetoric, and attend conferences on rhetoric. However, I often forget that other faculty members’ views on rhetoric might be different than mine. A popular view of rhetoric is that it is a straightforward model of how communication should work: A person can speak the truth simply by using words that refer to true things in the world. If she chooses not to use sentences filled with words that refer to true things in the world, then she is engaged in rhetoric. Rhetoric, in this view, is something you add on to sentences (such as metaphor) that decorates and obscures communication. If I say, “The cat is on the mat,” I am using language correctly. However, if I say, “The elegant feline languishes mournfully on the expensive carpet, waiting impatiently for what he sees as his lazy servants to open a can of salmon,” then I have added rhetoric to the first sentence, or chosen rhetoric over clear communication. For many people, the simpler, plainer version of the sentence is not just a stylistic choice, it’s a moral one. Many people believe that the addition of more complicated words obscures the meaning of the sentence. Rhetoric, to them, is something that hides the truth. If you look at the two sentences, though, you can see that the elaborated, supposedly more rhetorical one communicates quite clearly. In fact, it communicates more effectively and precisely than “The 8  Bad Ideas cat is on the mat.” It might, of course, be false—there might not be such a cat; it might not be elegant; it might not be thinking much of anything; it might be quite cheerful; it might not like salmon. But the same is true of the simpler sentence—there might not be a cat; it might not be on a mat. Thus, linguistic simplicity and truthfulness aren’t necessarily connected, and linguistic complexity and truthfulness aren’t necessarily opposed. Or, to put it another way, for a long time, philosophers of language insisted that language works by sentences having propositional content—“the cat is on the mat”—which can be expressed in various ways. Rhetoric is what we layer onto the proposition. Or, as the old saying goes, “Rhetoric is clothing on the idea.” In an Edenic world, we would all wander around naked, and we would all simply and clearly speak our thoughts; rhetoric is something we must have in this fallen world. People who believe that rhetoric hides meaning believe that we could return to Eden by using simple, plain, and rhetoric-free language. One of several underlying assumptions is that it’s harder to lie in plain language, or that lies are more obvious when the language is less complicated. Therefore, we can trust plain language and should treat complicated language with suspicion. Oddly enough, this seemingly straightforward proposition isn’t true. In other words, this simple belief shows that an idea can be untrue and persuasive at the same time. It is also interesting that the master deceivers have generally relied on simple, yet false, claims. It’s quite likely that people believed their assertions were clear and plain and, therefore, assumed that they must be true. The Edenic view isn’t a helpful way to think about rhetoric. It isn’t even how language works. While it’s true that the same thing can be said in different ways, there is a way of saying that thing without rhetoric. “The cat is on the mat” is still a style—the simple style—with internal rhyming and prose rhythm. It’s also structurally the rhetorical figure of chiasmus—the sentence begins and ends in an almost identical way. We can’t get away from rhetoric, but we can choose its kind. As in all interesting arguments, it’s a question of how we’re defining terms. And rhetoric has a variety of definitions. It was first used in Platonic dialogues with very little precision. It comes from the Greek word for a person with a certain role in the Athenian Assembly (rhetor). It is believed that it was Plato who added the -ic later. He used rhetoric in terms of speech-making as opposed to About What Good Writing Is  9 arguing in small groups. Plato wasn’t opposed to argumentation, and he wasn’t even opposed to some verbal sleight of hand. After all, Socrates—often read as a kind of spokesman for Plato’s views— relied heavily on some fairly dodgy logical moves in the dialogues. Plato’s point seems to be that speech-making isn’t a very useful skill because making speeches to large groups (Athenian juries might have hundreds of people) is not very effective for getting to the truth. It might be effective for getting others to accept the truth one has already figured out (that seems to be the point that Socrates is making in the dialogue Phaedrus), but, if you want to find out what’s true, argue with another individual. Do not make a speech. Of course, Socrates makes a lot of speeches in Platonic dialogues. So, it is still murky whether or not Plato noticed the contradiction, was making a different point despite noticing the proposition, or didn’t write the dialogues to get to the truth. In fact, Plato’s overall attitude toward rhetoric is murky, even though his school, the Academy, did have rhetoric classes. They were taught by a man named Aristotle. On the other hand, Aristotle, who was a teacher of rhetoric, neither defined rhetoric as style nor as something you add to language. He described it as a discipline and a skill that enables you to see the available means of persuasion. For Aristotle, rhetoric is about public speaking to large groups, and it is different from philosophy. So, he did share those two assumptions with Plato. But he didn’t agree with Plato about rhetoric not getting us to the truth. He thought that it could get us to the truth, but that it could also be used to deceive. It depends on the motives of the person using it. Aristotle loved syllogisms, and seems to have believed that all reasoning could be done through them. In philosophy, to get to the truth, you try to begin with a universally valid major premise (e.g., all men are mortal). Then you have a more specific proposition related to that premise (e.g., Socrates is a man) that enables you to draw a conclusion (e.g., Socrates is mortal). But Aristotle said that this kind of reasoning doesn’t work in large assemblies for two reasons. First, during a speech, people don’t have the time to reason from universally valid major premises—if you’re arguing about whether Philip of Macedon represents a threat, it’s useless to try to find universally valid premises about tyrants or war or people from Macedon. You don’t have time. Second, the kind of things about which we make speeches—politics, ethics, military 10  Bad Ideas strategy, guilt or innocence, honor and dishonor—aren’t subject to certainty. There are no universally valid major premises about tyrants that will help us figure out what we need to do now and here to assess Philip. We must rely on what is probably true. According to Aristotle, what you learn from rhetoric is how to a...
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