Philippa's right, of course, there's nothing unreal about a classroom. Maybe the term I'm
looking for is "rhetorical authenticity"? Whatever: it seems to me there's a profound
difference between (a) the situation I'm in right now, in which I'm trying to make, in writing,
a distinction in my own head as clear to other people as I can (with the realization that I may
wind up having to rethink it), and (b) _any_ situation in which I was producing a piece of
writing whose only _real_ (and I think I mean "real" there) function was going to be to be read
by a teacher or other authority, who would judge it as effective or not. It's also important
that in the present case I'm not only _expecting_ response, I'm _responding_. And the response
-- here's the hard part -- is to _what_ I'm saying. Inkshedders (especially Philippa, here)
will either get what I'm saying, or not.
> So if we design assignments that more or less resemble or
> enact practices that are close to or somehow connected with
> workplace contexts which these sutdents may one day enter as
> workers / employees (not as students), nonetheless in the
> context of our courses, the work that the students perform is
> "really" an assignment that, ultimately, will be assessed by
> us as teachers / gatekeepers of the educational system.
Yes. That seems to me exactly the problem: it's as "real," but it's not "real" in anything
like the same way. And I don't think it affords learning in any of the same ways. Nor does it
exercise the writer's pragmatic skills in anything like the same ways. What I mean by that is
this; I've already edited that first paragraph three times (and, now, this one as often),
putting in the parenthetical (a) and (b), putting in and taking out underlining, reshaping
sentences, trying to anticipate questions and objections and confusion. I do that because I'm
vividly aware that this will be read, not by someone who will admire a cool rhetorical move or
judge the organization as effective, but by someone who's (someones who're) either going to be
engaged by the argument or not. Completely other considerations would occupy me if I were
constructing an example of email to show someone how email allows accomodation for audiences.
Here's the problem:
> Admittedly, the assignment would probably be very difficult
> for them to undertake because how could they "imagine" the
> situation effectively
"Effectively imagining" is a concept and phrasing I like a lot. If we think about almost every
writing assignment out there, we're asking students to imagine situations they have no
experience of, and to do so "effectively" (which, for me, means tricking their pragmatic sense
into acting as though the situation were "real").
I'm not comfortable with "pretense," and I hope I didn't suggest that, but I'm also not very
comfortable with "practice" (someone at an Inkshed conference long ago made a distinction
between "practice" and "praxis" that I liked a lot).
> I'm more comfortable with the concept of practice (rather
> than pretense) as a central teaching / learning method - what
> is it that we want students to "practice" (as preparation for
> their lives when they are no longer students, when they find
> themselves in other rhetorical situations) and how can we
> best design assignments to foster meaningful and challenging
> but not impossible practice?
I do agree that this is an important question, but I increasingly think that the idea that
students should be practicing in situations "like" the ones they might be in otherwise isn't,
um, practical. What I want to try to do is give them "authentic" (well, okay, "real")
rhetorical motives for writing, rather than asking them to imagine situations entirely outside
I think that's the only way that they can, in Rob's term, "own" the writing situation.
St. Thomas University
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