reading & writing without authority

This reading, a study of the reading and writing behaviors of two students given the same subject, paternalism, expanded my own definition of “authority” in terms of writing.

I think it’s important for the class to first understand the background behind the study in order to realize its full implications. The experiment followed Janet, a college freshman, and Roger, a philosophy doctoral student (I wonder if these are their real names) about not just the writing they produced on the same subject but their thoughts and feelings throughout the process. I appreciated that the article didn’t just analyze their writing as its own entity but as a piece of a larger process including their feelings and doubts, and we were able to understand the motives behind the individuals’ writing, which plays into the results of the study.

Second, the study found that Janet followed what Penrose & Geisler call an “information-transfer model,” to write her essay on paternalism, where the writer tries to extract the truth from a collection of author’s readings and essentially relay the information back in their own words. Janet saw her resources as a collection of facts, ones not to be challenged, and according to the study exhibited an “outsider” point of view, her views irrelevant to the conversation. Roger, however, saw his resources and their debates as a jumping off point to integrate his own examples and observations into a dynamic essay to evaluate the validity of his sources.

What I thought was most interesting was the third message I think the class should absorb from the essay, the implications and takeaways from the observed differences between Janet and Roger in both their process of writing and final production. Janet’s viewpoint stemmed from her mindset that there’s a finite amount of authority existing in the academic sphere, and that her own observations, sometimes leading her to conflicting and confusing viewpoints on the complex topic, were invalid. To change her mindset, Penrose and Geisler argue that Janet should be taught in a more student-driven curriculum, one in which she’s given the freedom to actively integrate herself into a conversation with the authors, granting herself more authority and a more well-rounded and honest evaluation of the topic at hand.

Something I might have missed in my reading of the study was the role of Roger’s background in his schooling. Was his full integration into the conversation throughout his process just a result of his development as a university student studying philosophy, or a factor of his k-12 schooling, or something completely separate? I thought the main ideas about the necessity of a perceived authority to form a coherent, well-rounded argument were valid, and especially relevant to this class and our roles as developing writers, I’m just a little confused about how the 2 case studies really illustrate this overall theme.

Margot Kriete

Hi! My name's Margot. I study computer science, have super long arms, never skip breakfast, and will probably become a German shepherd lady (as opposed to those "cat ladies") when I grow up. I like to cook, read, run, change my mind, and write.

2 thoughts to “reading & writing without authority”

  1. Hey I was curious what you thought so I just read yours. I forgot to mention how I like the analysis that included their thoughts and not just their writing in mine, and I think you said what I meant to say better than me ha. I agree that it would be nice to know more about Rogers history. I’m assuming a lot of it came from his college experience. But this reading opened my mind as well about a voicing authority because I have been thinking about this since my high school graduation, that we were rarely taught to think for ourselves and were mostly just hurried to learn as much as we could to do well on tests and be ready for college, which I think is the biggest flaw in the K-12 system in this country.

  2. I definitely agree that so much emphasis on standardized testing and memorization really supports the mindset of students like Janet that their purpose is just to regurgitate information. I do think it’s a weird balance though, since of course we need to teach the basics of how to extract content from research…I guess there’s a line that’s not being crossed (probably in the later high school/early college years) where students still aren’t being encouraged to “join the conversation.”

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