Reading and Writing: Mutually Exclusive?

Upon first reading Deborah Brandt’s chapter entitled “The Status of Writing”, I was skeptical of the way she separated the processes of reading in writing.  She referred to writing as being a commercial economy and reading as being a moral economy.  This comment immediately ruffled my feathers as I have always thought reading and writing as interwoven and of writing as having great moral economy.  I think of documents like the Declaration of Independence, which, although commercial in some ways, certainly served as a moral contract, spelling out the desires, ambitions and values of a new nation.  I thought of some of my own writing, whether a reflective narrative on what I learned by working with the homeless of my hometown or my high school graduation speech, and I like to think of each as part of a great moral economy, shining as a beacon of values.  Along those lines, I was also troubled by Brandt’s claim that writing is becoming a basic craft, one that employers look for in everyone they hire.  I certainly agree with the fact that an employee should be able to write proficiently, but it was Brandt’s idea of everyone becoming a “writer” that bothered me.  If everyone becomes a brilliant and eloquent writer, who will be left to read the work of those, including myself and many of us in this Writing Minor course, who consider writing to be one of our unique talents and skills?  Doesn’t our world need equally skilled readers, if only to serve as the captive audience for our earth-shattering and Nobel prize-winning writing?   

A copy of The Declaration of Independence.   Image from: www.archives.gov
A copy of The Declaration of Independence.
Image from: www.archives.gov

 

Yet, upon reflecting on my own writing and reading experiences, I realized how separate much of my reading and writing training has been.  Sure, in elementary school, reading was of the utmost importance as we competed in reading clubs and got prizes for reading a certain number of books.  I even remember loving reading comprehension questions in class so much that I begged my parents to buy me a reading comprehension workbook so I could practice.  (It’s a wonder I ever made any friends as a kid.)  Yet, once a level of proficiency was reached, we moved on to writing.  This was pretty much a permanent move.  From that moment on, everything was about topic sentences, cursive script, the use of commas and colons and body paragraphs.  We became writers.

 

However, when I think of the moments when I’ve grown most as a writer and as a student, I realize it was in the moments when I was challenged to be both a reader and writer simultaneously.  In my AP World History class, my writing skills blossomed immensely.  I think this was because my teacher required us to read other people’s work and analyze it with a critical eye and ear.  It was then that I came to realize that it is in reading and deciding how we feel about other people’s work, whether that of professional writers or our peers, that we find our own voice to put onto paper.  As far as Brandt, I do think she nailed this on the head when she said that “Reading as a process or product has little value until it is transacted – most often, in the form of writing.”  I disagree with Brandt that it is most important to train ourselves as writers, but I do agree that reading has little value if we merely let words go in one ear and out the other.  Just as writing has little value if we merely regurgitate the words we read.  Transcribing what someone else already thought of and wrote is not writing.  It is in critical, actively engaged, reading, where we question the writer and ourselves, that we discover the inextricable link between reading and writing.

 

This idea was championed in “Reading and Writing Without Authority”, by Ann M. Penrose and Cheryl Geisler.  They claimed that schools should begin to employ learning activities in schools that require students to read critically and to find their own writing voice by deciding their opinion on the readings.  I loved Penrose and Geisler’s vision of “students [who]see themselves as authors, reading and writing alongside other authors in the development of community knowledge and norms.”  To me, this is what our schools should strive for.  When I have felt a part of a community of knowledge, like during that AP World History course, I have felt like a had a right to an opinion, whether or not I had the authority of a college professor or even P.H.D. student.  We all have a voice and I believe now, more than ever, that it is through the simultaneous processes of reading and writing that we believe we have the right and duty to use that voice.  After all, the Declaration of Independence would be nothing if it had not been written down.  Yet it also would have meant nothing if people had not read its words, pondered their meaning and built a nation on them.  Its enduring legacy is in the fact that, to this day, it is reread, rethought and quoted, living on as a piece of writing that continues to be read an analyzed.

A group of students read The Declaration of Independence at the Smithsonian.   Image from: thetimes-tribune.com
A group of students read The Declaration of Independence at the Smithsonian.
Image from: thetimes-tribune.com

 

2 thoughts to “Reading and Writing: Mutually Exclusive?”

  1. Christina, great post! I love the example of the Declaration of Independence as transcending just commercial value. I think it, and even the constitution, show how a legal document can also have ideological, moral weight to the readers. I too wonder about what the impact would be if every one could become a writer. Although, I think if this were to happen there would still be a strong reader pool, because writers would probably find a niche and I doubt we could all write pieces as important as the Declaration.

  2. Christina, I really enjoyed the analysis you did on the importance of the reflection that comes from writing. I think it’s very true that the act of writing itself makes on contextualize and prioritize experiences they had in a way that redefines their understanding of the world. I do think, however, that Brandt wasn’t saying that everyone is becoming talented writers. Many people in class seemed alarmed by this, but I interpreted the statement as meaning that writing is becoming a more useful skill than reading, therefor more people are becoming proficient writers. But proficient isn’t professional–meaning they won’t be writing articles for papers or novels. I think the fact that we’re in a program to become quality writers puts us in a great position for when we enter a work world where writing is more needed than ever before.

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