Why Voice is Important

One of my favorite things about this course was how every time we entered the classroom and began class discussion, we not only discussed the specific topic that was on the agenda for the day but also pulled in knowledge that we had acquired from previous class discussions. And by building connections between things discussed inside the classroom, we were able to build connections with things beyond the classroom. One of the ideas that seemed to be strung from discussion to discussion as a key connector was the idea of using your own voice in academic discourse. The concept of voice was brought up again when talking about original work in our plagiarism discussion. And this got me thinking, what exactly do people think of when they think of “voice” in writing? Voice being talked about in connection to originality makes me think that some people define voice with the age-old phrase used at the beginning of so many writing prompts, “In your own words . . .”. And while I agree that, yes, using voice in writing does mean using your own words, it is so much more than that. To me, voice means invention; it means creating a dialogue in your writing that facilitates a new conversation. A student could write an academic paper in their “own words” while not bringing anything new to the table. This distinction between original worlds and voice is important because, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” It is imperative that students are encourage to use their own voice in academic discourse, because if they do not, academic discourse will no longer serve as a means for knowledge making—we would never discover anything new if we are too afraid to insert our own voices into the conversation.

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In Loving Memory of School House Rock

Yesterday, our final class discussion was inspired by Anne Curzan’s “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar”. Grammar has been a fundamental part of my education since grade school. I have fond memories of participating in classroom activities focused on the parts of speech and watching the infamous School House Rock time and time again. In fact, my school’s spring musical in 2006 was School House Rock. I bet you didn’t know there was a musical adaptation, did you? If you would like to borrow a VHS copy of the production, please e-mail oduke@udel.edu. Anyways, for me, grammar was almost always presented in a non-threatening, and even fun, way—and that made all the difference. In high school, the trend continued as grammar lessons were incorporated into my English classes through open and thought provoking discussions. As I grew as a writer, my knowledge and understanding of grammar grew, too. Needless to say, I entered yesterday’s discussion a little biased. While I completely agree that prescriptive rules of grammar undoubtedly need to be questioned, I also think they should still hold some weight—or at least exist—in the grammar conversation. My favorite line from Curzan’s piece is, “Grammar is not, and should not ever be framed as, a “Because I say so” subject”. Teaching grammar should be an open dialogue between students and teachers, with teachers never demanding rules but explaining concepts. If English classrooms facilitate these open conversations about grammar concepts, hopefully grammar instruction can stick around a little longer! So when you’re happy (Hurray!), or sad (Awww!), or frightened (EEK!), or mad (Rats!), or excited (Wow!), or glad (HEY!), an interjection stops the sentence right! – School House Rock

 

Can English be considered a subject? Yes!

Yesterday in class, our discussion was in response to ideas presented in the first chapter of Joseph Harris’ A Teaching Subject. Soon, our conversation turned to the question, “Can English be considered a subject?”. In answering the question, most people answered yes, often citing that it is a very broad area of study encompassing multiple skill sets, but nonetheless a subject—from literary analysis and film studies, to rhetoric and writing, they all fall under the English umbrella. Many people, myself included, brought up the fact that the broadness of English as a subject is often what makes people question whether or not it can still be considered one entity. Given that new media in particular has added even more depth to the study of rhetoric and writing, one could say that English as a subject is ever-expanding. In response, I would say that I think that’s exactly the way it should be. As Harris states in the text, “We need, that is, to find ways of urging writers not simply to defend the cultures into which they were born but to imagine new public spheres which they’d like to have a hand in making.” For it is in imagining and expanding the spheres of English that English as a subject—reading, writing, rhetoric, everything—can be used as a means of invention and discovering new knowledge. Because isn’t discovering knowledge the point of studying a subject anyway?

What should a writing class teach?

Yesterday in class, our discussion was prompted by the question “What should writing classes teach?”. As an English and Professional Writing major, I often find myself reading quotes about writing (geeky, I know). One of my favorites is, and always has been, from Ernest Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” As moving as those words are and as much as I want to agree with Hemingway, for most people a lot goes into getting to the point where there is seemingly nothing to writing. Yesterday a lot of people brought up the fact that many classes present writing in a way that makes it stressful for students; there is no “low stakes” writing, everything must be extremely precise and is usually graded. By constantly attaching such a negative connotation to writing, many students begin their college careers afraid to write at all. Additionally, some people mentioned the intimidation that comes with straying from the traditional academic paper and branching out to different genres. For me, being able to sit down and write a poem or short story is my greatest escape from day-to-day craziness. But, not everyone feels that way—not everyone is at a point where they can just sit down at a typewriter and bleed. So, while the nonchalant attitude described by Hemingway is definitely something for writing classes to work towards, I think it is important for teachers of writing to remember that for many students, more of a background is required.