While reading Teaching Writing by Donald Murray, I happened to notice the date on which the paper was delivered. I, like only a scant few in this class was able to read the paper when it was brand new and most recently published. Back in 1972, when Murray presented his ideas to the New England Association of Teachers of English, as a toddler I would have read this piece and branded it rubbish and hogwash, making mention that it did not have near an impact as The Three Little Pigs, which in my mind, was a tour de force for the time period.
Now some forty-eight years later, I can better understand the ideas that Murray is encouraging, even though his ideas are older than I was when first able to pontificate the theories and moralities of writing. (My first picture book – sold out – only copy gone to my mom.) This relic really piqued my interest when the mention of Writing as a Product was mentioned.
Murray states that he’s “using language to reveal the truth.” I couldn’t agree more. The truth moves people toward products of all shapes and sizes. This paper (or product) was published way back when the rules of teaching were different. I love the idea of telling any teacher who is doing more harm than good that the best new way to proceed and achieve student success would be by, “First shutting up. When you are talking he [students] isn’t writing.” This language reveals so much truth.
Revision Strategies was published back in 1980. Nancy Sommers, in her product, talks about students in her research meeting certain requirements because of scores from individual SATs. When was the last time that was a major indicator? Many community colleges no longer require any high stakes exams prior to admittance. She also spoke about the linear patterns in which English is taught. Students within Sommer’s research disliked revising so much that they created their own “metalanguage” to say anything else but REVISION. I go over the concept of creating a “metalanguage” in my own presentation as a way of bridging the communication gap between students and teachers. It makes it so that not one student can say, “It’s all Greek to me.”
Both authors use the English language to reveal truths. One truth I can’t help but shake is perhaps the one truth I take away from this is that these methods are outdated and should only be used as a foundation for new teachers. Murray talks about Prewriting taking up 85% of a writer’s time. I have to disagree. In publishing – journalism especially – if Prewriting used up that amount of time, the news would be old by the time the story hits the press. Sommers is no better when she talks about rules for revising a piece and then goes on to talk about the rules one must follow after revising. I’m surprised any writing ever got done. No wonder the Chicago Manual of Style is longer than the Bible. And to define Revision as Repetition is morally wrong in the context of the English language. Vision is the root word of Revision. When one revises one sets a new vision or enhances the existing one. But again, one must consider the time in which both pieces were written.
Murray doesn’t even have steps to his methodology. He calls them “implications.” In 1972 we have the end of the Vietnam War. We have Richard Nixon and a thing called Watergate going on. No wonder “implications” was his chosen word. Sommers fairs no better. Her piece published in the 1980s had some Orwellian tones to it with Revision, Reword, Revision, Redo, Revision, Rework.
I think we can do much better in the 21st century. We have technology, something neither article really touches on. That’s because back when these papers were written, man didn’t have much faith in technology. Big Brother and all. Dinosaurs like me are either retiring or learning new tricks. Both of these articles offer teachers a great place to start. I however, suggest forging one’s own path with the thoughts of Murray and Sommers on the back burner.