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CASLL-L  May 2002

CASLL-L May 2002

Subject:

Re: Authentic Writing

From:

Anthony Paré <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CASLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 21 May 2002 17:16:37 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (103 lines)

You can always count on Graham to do a careful reading, and he's also
done an accurate synopsis of one of our major arguments in Worlds Apart.
In fact, the book is in part a critique of the belief that universities
should be preparing people for specific workplace activities, such as
writing on the job. As the book's title suggests, we don't think that's
even possible, since the two are such radically different environments,
with different goals, different social arrangements, different values
and beliefs, and on and on. (Except, of course, for those of us who
teach, since then universities ARE workplaces; but that's another
story.) We discovered (as others have) that there is a widespread belief
among practitioners in many fields that universities are failing to
prepare students for writing on the job, and we've argued that the
workplace must take on much of that responsibility, because writing is
so embedded in local activity that students cannot be "taught"
rhetorical particularities at a distance, out of context.

Another and closely related argument we tried to make -- one that might
be relevant to this lively strand (where did you all gets such energy
here at semester's end?) -- is that the function or purpose of
(students') writing in school is worlds apart from the function of
(workers') writing at work. We oversimplified that difference, perhaps,
by saying that the former is epistemic (primarily to do with
knowledge-making), and largely concerned with individual growth (writing
to learn, writing to know), whereas the latter is instrumental (oriented
to action), and almost always concerned with collective or corporate
ends. (Here the idea of ownership becomes quite literal, since many
organizations own the written products of their employees.)

I agree that the broad distinction between "authentic"/"real" and
"inauthentic" isn't useful, and we might instead ask ourselves what
writing *does*, what ends does it have? Are the ends
appropriate/authentic to the context -- that is, do they serve something
beyond the performance of the task, something with implications for the
world that the writing grows out of and enters into (a world that
includes the writer)? Will the writing have consequences, change
anything, cause action of some sort? A university writing task that
purports to simulate or replicate the rhetorical context of "the"
workplace cannot be authentic, and therefore probably cannot "teach" a
person to write for that workplace at some indeterminate future date,
after graduation, because it is not embedded in an authentic activity or
context to which the text responds; it does not DO what such a document
would do in the workplace. (And every workplace is different and
constantly changing.)

Okay, back to writing my annual report -- a document that probably sits
unread on some administrator's shelf. Is that authentic?

Anthony

PS: I hope Pat Dias soon writes that response to Russ Hunt's review of
Worlds Apart. I'm beginning to forget what Russ said.



Anthony Paré
Chair
Integrated Studies in Education
Faculty of Education
McGill University

From: CASLL/Inkshed [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Graham
Smart
Sent: Tuesday, May 21, 2002 1:54 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Authentic Writing

I wouldn't agree that the "fundamental assumption" in _Worlds Apart_ is
that the role of university writing classes is to prepare students for
their future careers, and for several reasons. First, the authors are
very clear that school writing has its own particular, and entirely
legitimate and worthwhile, purposes for writing--as do different
instances of workplace writing. The authors are *not* at all suggesting
that school writing is a pale imitation of workplace writing or that the
primary function of school writing is to somehow prepare students for
the writing they'll be doing later on in their lives after graduation.
And second, the research underlying _Worlds Apart_ focused on particular
disciplines that do represent themselves as providing professional
preparation--such as Architecture, Social Work, Engineering, and Public
Administration. And the authors don't make any claims beyond the bounds
of this research.

And to respond as well to the implication that students don't really
expect to receive preparation for their future careers . . . I disagree:
I think that this definitely is *one* of the expectations, among others,
that many students have. As one of our graduate students said here at
Purdue, "If you try telling a kid who's going to graduate with a $30,000
student loan to repay that they shouldn't really expect their academic
programs to position them for jobs, they'll think you're a little
crazy."

More grist for the mill ...

Graham

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