For this week, I read Penrose and Geisler’s “Reading and Writing Without Authority.” Although they themselves would caution against my saying this, I agreed with the majority of their points. The two administered an interesting semester-long experiment on two individuals, Roger and Janet. At the time, Janet was a college freshman while Roger was seeking his doctoral degree in a field related to ethics. Penrose and Geisler asked each to consult eight scholarly articles to guide their thinking and development of an essay on paternalism. The two had clear differences in educational background and experience surrounding the topic. I would like to think that I would’ve succeeded in this experiment, but I will admit that I continue to make the same mistakes Janet committed.
The piece lays out the four premises of their research: (1) texts are authored, (2) authors present knowledge in the form of claims, (3) knowledge claims can conflict, and (4) knowledge claims can be contested.
1. Texts Are Authored
- While Roger noted the authors’ names and used them to organize his thoughts, Janet put excerpts of the text into simple quotes and laid out her thinking into topics. I find that I make similar mistakes when I’m reading text. I need to do a better job of citing authors and giving proper attribution. The key remains reading the text as the thoughts and claims from a person rather than a definitive text. In class, I tend to make the error in referring to readings as coming from “them” or “it.” Well, “it” and “they” are people just like me! I need to steer clear of the mindset that the material stands above me.
2. Knowledge Presented in the Form of Claims
- Roger analyzed the authors’ thoughts and broke down their validity. Meanwhile, Janet simply searched for facts. I empathize with Janet: we all just want the truth! I need to remind myself that these authors are making claims and should be taken as such. They exist far from the truth. I have a tendency to do this in my everyday life. Are you on this side of the argument or the other side? Well, whichever side is the right one. Most times it’s not as clear which side is the proper one.
3. Knowledge Claims Can Conflict
- Janet failed to face controversy head on. Many times, she had few strategies for dealing with it and simply wanted to take sides. On the other side of campus, Roger used debate as a springboard for his own opinion and acknowledged controversy as critical to his work. Roger appeared to have immersed himself into the conversation while Janet served as simply an outsider. Again, I understand Janet’s feelings towards this situation. I’m sure Janet didn’t feel qualified enough to act as an expert in the field of ethics. I have a tendency to think the same way–what makes me qualified to talk about proper campaigning strategies in my political science class essay?
4. Knowledge Claims Can Be Tested
- Again, Janet made another error. She used examples only to illustrate her point rather than to help examine connections and contrasts. This girl can never get a break! It’s ok, Janet, I’m in the same boat. I want to get better at using examples to test my claims.
At the end of the essay the author explains that feminist theorists believe many women resist inserting themselves into in argument because they feel no place for themselves in the conversation at hand. This statement resonates with me. I’m going to read this essay again because I think it illustrates common errors in writing and tips for improvement. I hope Janet will join me in this effort.