Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Have you ever noticed how many, many people are writing and just how much writing there is in the world?"

At the NCTE Inbox blog, Millie Davis lists several pieces of quotidian writing that she has noticed: satellite information for farmers, testimonials for service providers, billboards, texting, etc. And she concludes, "Writing is a significant part of our lives—not just English-teacher lives but the lives of repair people, babysitters, kindergarten artists, pet-sitters, lawyers, bloggers, farmers, hospitality workers, truckers, travelers, advertisers, nurses, trades workers, and more." She says she has noticed these much more lately, since she has been thinking about the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)-proposed National Day on Writing.

Yes: writing developed out of a quirky Sumerian accounting system to keep tributes straight, not to express great truths or arguments. And in a highly literate society it saturates every corner of our lives, from our workplaces to our streets to our bodies. Writing is everywhere, often rough, opportunistic, localized, pragmatic, and unrelated to the idealized formal genres that are valorized by so much of our formal schooling.

A writing teacher's discovery of quotidian writing is like a fish's discovery of water.

That's part of what makes the idea of a National Day on Writing so odd and unappealing to me: it's like having a national day on personal hygiene, or clothing, or walking. Writing is one of our most important skills, but it's also too generalized and far-reaching a skill, with too many untaught applications, to be defined by a professional teachers' group. Especially one whose members are surprised to discover that we are surrounded by texts.

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