It’s fall and back-to-school time – which means that there are also a fair number of stories about writing and education in the news. WPA-L has been abuzz with discussion of some of these – a reprinted piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Mark Richardson; two pieces on Stanley Fish’s New York Times blog; and, most recently, two pieces (in Wired and The New Yorker) that mention the study that Andrea Lunsford and colleagues at Stanford University are conducting. Additionally, on the subject of reading, the New York Times featured a front-page story on what they termed a “radical” new approach – letting adolescent readers choose their own books (with some limits set by teachers). Research says, according to the Times article, that choice fosters students’ engagement with reading, and engagement matters. Not new news to those of us in literacy education, perhaps, but a different message about reading than the ones that flowed from policy reports focusing on “scientifically-based” instruction, to be sure!
Sometimes, these pieces in mainstream media focusing on writing don’t reflect the long-held, research-based positions of composition teacher-researchers (or, in the case of the Times piece, English Language Arts educators and reading specialists), as contributors to WPA-L have noted. Occasionally, though – as in the case of the stories in Wired, The New Yorker, and even the Times – they do reflect conceptualizations of writing, reading, and students that we share. When they do or when they don’t, folks are quick to talk about these pieces to the community of colleagues that we have developed on listservs like WPA-L and, of course, face-to-face.
This conversation is important – it helps to reinforce our ideas and our values. And if we want to change stories about writing and writers, we also need to consider strategies for moving the conversation out and getting our ideas into the mix. This happened recently when a piece in The Chronicle (published a couple of weeks before Richardson’s) spurred several responses from WPA-L contributors (including me); people on the list also wrote back to Fish regarding his op-ed pieces.
There are lots of resources available to folks who want to enter these conversations by responding to news stories, op-eds, or columns. You can find some of them through the WPA Network for Media Action (WPA-NMA) site, through the WPA-NMA's National Converation on Writing site, and as part of the WPA Assessment Gallery. You can also find them off our site – the SPIN (Strategic Press Information Network) Project has terrific tutorials and guides for creating print and on-line media.
As these early days of fall bring more stories about writing and writers, we can get involved! Whether it’s on campus in discussions among colleagues or off campus in local, on-line, or national media, we need to make sure that our voices are heard, too – and the best way to do that is to get our ideas out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – WPA is all of us. When we say “WPA should respond,” we can get involved!