Without Writing: Not Seen, Not Heard

Few these days would hold by the old adage that children should
be seen, children_writing1.jpgnot heard. The silent child, though not
demanding much attention, is also not learning to live a full
social life. We know that to learn language a child needs to be an
engaged participant, learning that language is a way of sharing and
doing with others, that language is a way to make meanings and
jokes. In learning to speak the child also learns to hear, being
pulled further into the interactive world made by language. As we
grow up we learn to breathe language, inhaling and exhaling—and
thereby become a vibrant social person among others.

But we are less likely to see literacy as a matter of give and
take. Rather in school and home we put far more emphasis on
reading. Assessments and assigned curricula foreground reading and
arithmetic, but writing is, as a recent report proclaimed, “the
neglected R.”

Sometimes you hear that students don’t need to write until they
have something to say— until they have read the textbooks and
learned all there is. But do we say to a child to be quiet until he
or she can give a presidential address? Instead, we prize the first
dada, mama, and bye-bye, and we cherish
our conversations about our child’s school day, even though we
already know pretty well what happens in the third grade. Yet in
the world of literacy, if you are not heard, you are not even seen.
You become invisible, to be overwhelmed by the reading you are
expected to receive and not answer back.

In recent years there has been a worldwide movement, in which
the GGSE is contributing, to bring the neglected R back. The
National Writing Project, within which our South Coast Writing Project
has been a pioneer, has endeavored to make every teacher a teacher
of writing bring enthusiasm and knowledge of how writing works to
his or her students. This same philosophy is part of our teacher
education program. Internationally there has children_writing2.jpgalso been a resurgence in research in
writing, studying how children and adolescents learn to write, how
people develop as writers across their lifespan, how reading and
writing interact, how the mind grows through engagement with
writing, what conditions foster writing development, how teachers
understand writing, and what transitions in writing students must
make as they move from elementary to secondary school to higher
education and the workplace.

This research on teaching and learning writing is put into
context by research into the role writing has in society and the
historical development of all aspects of civilization from law and
business to the development of knowledge and educational systems.
The doctoral programs at the GGSE are preparing the next generation
of researchers to carry this work forward. We have also been the
host of major conferences on writing research in 2001 and 2005, and
the
next scheduled for 2008
is shaping to be the largest and most
significant international gathering of writing researchers ever. We
have also been forging partnerships with researchers and programs
in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

We need to write and read with high levels of knowledge and
acuity to participate in the information society. If our children
are to contribute to this society, take important roles, and
enterchildren_writing3.jpg into the global conversation fostered
by new media, they must be heard to be seen, they must write as
well as read. At the GGSE we want to put the power of writing in
each of their hands, so they can speak their minds.

Charles Bazerman is Professor of Education and noted
researcher on the history and social functions of writing, He is
editor of the soon-to-appear
Handbook of Research on Writing
and has recently been elected chair of the Conference on
College Composition and Communication.

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