Sarah Allen – Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change

Allen, Sarah.  Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change.  Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse, 2015.  Web.  22 Apr. 2015.

Allen asks a key question: can the personal essay help students better connect with writing in the classroom on an emotional level?  Clearly, the argumentative approach is not working as well.  Why?  Because students know that a classroom paper doesn’t actually lead to productive discourse – all it does is give the instructor an opportunity to assess a students apparent mastery of writing.

For Allen, a major question is how we assess our students.  She’s looking for better engagement in the composition classroom, but there is the worry of a disconnect between how we teach writing and how we address the personal interests of our students (a shared concern with reform pedagogy in the creative writing classroom).

This, also, ties to a key issue of standpoint theory, since instructors don’t inhabit the same social strata of their students (at least not in the classroom space.)  So underlying argumentative assumptions that would work on Facebook or on Tumblr (or in a journalism organization focused on younger audiences such as AJ+) might be missed or disregarded by a teacher.  (I’m thinking about teaching conferences, where the common lament I hear from teachers in my age bracket and older isn’t just “today’s students can’t write,” but that “today’s students can’t think/read/focus/concentrate” because #socialmedia.)

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