Evolution of a Reader/Writer

The readings this week made me think a lot about how reading affects writing and the ways in which they are positioned and valued to us in society. How we learn and the level at which we master these two integral life skills greatly shape our life paths and what we do and contribute to the world. According to Brandt’s “The Status of Writing,” we’re switching from a nation of readers to a nation of writers, in part because we have the ability to read so much more than we used to with the spread of mass communication and information technologies.

I always have considered myself first a reader then a writer. I read to learn about something, I read for class, I read to borrow and steal techniques of good writing. Instead of reading exclusively for content, nowadays I look to form and function too, as my college education has instructed me to do. Before college, my reading/writing life was content-driven, simple, and largely taking everything at which I read at face value neglecting to reflect on and think critical of the text.

While reading the Penrose and Geigler’s “Reading and Writing About Authority” about the different methods in which Janet and Roger composed their reports given the same prompt, I was able to explicitly realize how much my own reading and writing habits have evolved since entering the University. When I track my growth as a writer, I’ll try to detect the evolution of my writing samples and how my writing has sophisticated over time. When I track my growth as a reader, I can pinpoint my shift from teen fiction to more nonfiction texts and then academic articles and reading for intellectual curiosity, as well as an abundance of online content.

By highlighting the study of the college freshman as an “outsider” to an “insider” in his domain, Penrose and Geigler have reasserted my own feelings I had as a freshman and how I used to feel when writing academically. Roger knows that knowledge claims can be contested causing him to write with authority. My graduated high school self certainly did not know I could formally challenge what published authors had written through my own writing. In fact, most of the ways in which Janet went about pursuing information from the article pool I would have done myself back then, heavily focusing on the content rather than the methods and form. Janet’s habits were so closely related to my own just a few years ago I thought I was reading an article about my own habits.

It wasn’t until last semester when I finally began to understand that reading an academic article (or anything really) relies heavily on understanding the claims the author is making. My International Studies course on development had us reading many articles on the different facets of the topic, and when my lecturer covered them in lecture, she consistently used the author’s names to describe arguments. While I didn’t remember author names as well as I did the content of their arguments, I understood that their words and writing was meant to be challenged and discussed in a constructive manner.

These readings have given me a lot of perspective on growth and the complex relationship that reading and writing share with each other. While I was always implicitly aware of how my reading affected my writing habits and styles, these authors shed to light more clearly my position in the context.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do

What is authority? In Reading and Writing Without Authority, Ann Penrose and Cheryl Geisler toss around this term [authority] that is complicated. In short, the essay covers the academic lives of a first-year college student named Janet, and a Ph.D. student, Roger. The research, “[was] particularly interested in how the lack of authority shapes the writing and reading practices students adopt.” Janet, being an outsider in the academic field, was expected to have fundamentally different [worse] ways of interacting with academic texts. And the research found this to be somewhat true.

-Back to my question-

When I think authority, I think about my boss at the pool. “You better be done scrubbing that whole scum-line by the end of your shift.”

“You got it,” I reply without hesitating. He has authority over me. So I do what he tells me to do.

Or the TV show cops. Police do what they want. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.

Geisler and Penrose bring up the idea that authority can also be a personal thing. In the case of their research, I realize that I have authority over the way I write. I never thought about it that way. It’s obvious, but I was taught more like Janet: “The approach [that’s] consistent with a more traditional information-transfer model in which texts are definitive and unassailable.” In the past when writing research-papers, it was exactly that. I literally found facts and plopped them on the page.

This brings me to my last question: Am I Janet or Roger? And after writing this whole thing, I’m thinking my answer is neither. I’m in between. Roger has found his authority in academics, while Janet appears to have not even thought about it yet.

As Geisler and Penrose point out, “[there are] four epistemological premises which seem part of Roger’s worldview but not Janet’s.

(1) Texts are authored – I understand this, finally.

(2) Authors present knowledge in the form of claims – Now that they put it this way I can be more aware of it.

(3)Knowledge claims can conflict – Ehhh.

(4)Knowledge claims can be tested – I guess I don’t agree with things that authors say sometimes, but I tend to take everything literally, even though as a writer I don’t usually do that.

I find it interesting that they use the word worldview because authority does shape my perspective of everything around me. Whether it’s as simple as having authority over a fellow coworker or as complex as having authority in my academic life, authority is somehow part of it. As a high school soccer player, I had authority over my own play and getting better. That was after twelve years of playing the game. That ties in with what Geisler and Pensrose say, “confidence in one’s own authority is assumed to increase generally with age.” As I said before, they toss this word around a LOT in this essay. And there is so much to dig into; that’s the point I’m trying to get across. What is authority? I’m not exactly sure, but it dominates many aspects of our lives, especially as writers. Having what Roger has [his mindset] is something that all writers should desire. Authority is significant. Authority is complicated. And most importantly, authority is a part of life.