Monday, March 2, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Why Teach Speaking and Writing?

10-second review: To connect people.

Title: Presidential Address: “Making Connections.” Stephen Dunning. English Journal (April 1975), pp. 47-51. A publication of the National council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “He said the best reason for practicing talk and writing was to connect people.”

Comment: I constantly wonder why I do what I do when I teach English. Dunning’s statement about using speaking and writing to connect people is so clear and so loaded with meaning that I will remember it forever as one reason that I teach speech and writing.

But Dunning is also being idealistic. Certainly we need to focus on connecting people. But people speak and write on different levels and for different purposes—and it is not always to connect people. People speak and write to hide their meaning; to persuade for personal gain, as in advertising and sales pitches; purposefully to confuse; to argue in order to make a point at the expense of another—and to disconnect from people. We don’t just practice speaking and writing. We practice speaking and writing by establishing audience and purpose. And that purpose is not always to help people connect.

I’m probably nitpicking. If so, I’m sorry, but my examples only highlight how important it is to focus students on one purpose for practicing speaking and writing: to connect people, to bring people together. My examples of other purposes do not invalidate Dunning’s point. We need to teach students how to use speaking and writing to connect people. By the way, how do we do that? RayS.

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