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May 17, 2004



To me it seems like a no-brainer: words must precede or accompany ideation. But the implications of that realization are not easy to sort out for us writing teachers. Do we allow students simply to write about anything? Or do we offer an intellectual scaffolding or context that will provide the suitable constraints for meaningful words to flow? Constraints, man, they are really important to making meaning on the page. When I struggle to read a scholarly article, I have faith that the difficulty is worthwhile, indeed, that it is productive or generative of good work on my part. I don't want an easy ride anymore.


Yes, I would have agreed that words precede thoughts, too, before I read Pinker. What do you make of his claim? (Maybe it's a matter of clarifying what we/you/he means by thoughts?)
I'm trying to tease out the connections between that debate and the issue of intellectual scaffolding. What exactly do you mean by that? some sort of control of subject matter (or subject-related context, e.g., having students respond to a given text) or form? I keep thinking of the sonnet as a form, how its restrictions can act to liberate creativity...
And the issue of "consuming" scholarly or other difficult texts seems another issue altogether (or related somehow by the importance of context?). It's an interesting question how a reader "acquires" the faith that a difficult text is worth decoding. (I suppose that's part of what we as reading teachers hope to give to our students.) Is peer-review sufficient? And how much of the value is in content of the message decoded, and how much in the process of decoding?


Mostly, I was referring to the need to provide substantial, intellectual content in our courses. I sometimes worry that in our haste to provide skills to students who need them badly we lose sight of the fact that all of us---students and faculty--need to be engaged in our learning. In other words, the "what" of what we are reading or writing matters as much as or more than "how" we read or write.

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