“It helps to be trustworthy; but, if you’re skilled, you can fake it.” – Aristotle
“Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries” by Peter Elbow addresses and engages the reader on the contrary standpoints of using “voice” in writing. Around the 1960s, the topic of voice was hot, but nowadays it’s rather quiet, he says. To some, a voice in writing is a critical aspect of developing one’s true self. To others, paying attention to the voice in writing isn’t necessary per se because we don’t write with a voice that is ours. Ironically, as I write this, I am reading every word and then re-reading every sentence out loud to make sure it makes sense.
We don’t see much scholarly writing on the topic of voice anymore, as Elbow mentioned earlier. However, it is still very much alive through student voices in classrooms, politics, and now through social media. Elbow addresses the conflicting views of voice, saying that the either/or mental framework doesn’t work for this topic, you can’t just discredit one and accept the other. There has to be a compromise; it’s either you use both, or you use one or the other based on the writing task.
So then why is voice important? Because one, the illusion of hearing, makes the writing more attractive to a reader. Two, it helps rhetorical effectiveness; the wrong tone can easily backfire. Aristotle observed that ethos triumphs logos and pathos in engaging readers. Three, using your voice in writing makes it more enjoyable and makes it easier to write. And fourth, attention to voice can help with reading, without voice, students have to understand words and phrases fully.
But then, why can voice be ignored? Because one, it is crucial for good reading. If students want to learn how to read critically, they need to understand that voice will often confuse them. Two, it is essential for teaching writing; those who cannot distinguish between voice and pure logic are literally “nonliterate.” Three, avoiding voice is a powerful tool for a writer; it helps them separate language and thinking from the author’s standpoint. Four, voice is to vague a metaphor to be useful. This is undeniably true. For my students, it’s hard to distinguish voice in a text. Too many students perceive voice conversely, which confuses them.
Elbow pleasingly presents for and against teaching voice in writing. And it’s hard to not agree with every word he says. He allows us to hear each piece, to open our minds, and be wiser in our scholarly thinking and writing. His main goal of this essay is to help us not discredit the things we are unaware of but to look through two lenses in succession. Man, I love Elbow. Often we as educators are very close-minded to practices others say don’t work. We get rid of them, not giving it a second chance. I admired round-robin reading as a student, and for many reasons, I still think once in a while, it’s a great strategy. However, my supervisor walked in on a day I was using this technique, and she was furious. She went on for about an hour over the technicalities of why this strategy should be banned.
“On Students’ Rights to Thier Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response ” by Lil Brannon and C.H. Knoblauch examine the notion of an “ideal text.” As we read a particular author, book, or newspaper, we believe what it had to say because we accept that these people are skilled and whatever they say is right. This dynamic changes when it’s a teacher-student relationship. Because we believe, students don’t have the authority yet to reach that level of being right.
Teachers correct student writing based on the “ideal text.” This correcting leads the students to think the teacher’s agenda is more critical than their own. Denying student control, reduces incentive but also, the likelihood of improvement. It’s unfortunate but true. The idea of an ideal text distracts teachers from the primary goal, which is helping writes achieve their purpose of writing. The focus has to shift from the teacher’s personal notion of the ideal version of a text to what the writer wants to communicate based on text evidence. However, not change is easy; we have to demand some changed in pedagogy for this to occur.
As a start, it would help if teachers and students can share their different perceptions as makers and readers of discourse. An excellent way to do so is by answering some general questions separately and then comparing them, generating revision. This leaves the students making individual choices, thinking about what was said and if they can back it up, without telling them exactly what to do. I would love to try this; my students heavily rely on me to tell them what a text means. They depend on me to help them find the text evidence to prove the point I suggested. It leaves no means for personal growth, and they are bound to fail during standardized testing.
Civic Writing is a robust article to sum up this week’s reading. As Elbow mentioned in his article, writing is very much alive through social media. Civic writing provides a platform for youth to research, use evidence, and produce logical arguments about issues that matter to them. If I ask my students to write an essay about uniforms, legal job age, or the use of cellphones in school, they provide extraordinary reasons and produce credible papers. I think this is an empowering tool, yet we use so little of it. The other week I decided to let my students do a creative writing piece, and they flourished. I want to engage my students in more writing they care about, writing where they can undeniably use their voice.