Thinking about Students Rights to Their Own Texts
By Andaiye Hall
My favorite reading this week was Student's Rights to Their Own Texts. The other article on the other hand I found to be a little bit dry in my opinion. It was hard to keep engaged while reading it. The Student's Rights to Their Own Texts article stated that: "When reading a textbook, for instance, we assume that its writer knows at least as much about the book's subject as we do, and ideally even more. When we read a newspaper article, we take for granted that the writer has collected all the relevant facts and presented them honestly. In either case, 'authority' derives partly from what we know about the writer (for instance, professional credentials or public recognition) and partly from what we see in the writer's discourse (the probity of its reasoning, the skill of its construction, its use of references that we may recognize)." (157) I thought to myself that writer's authority is given so often to published authors without question. Students hardly get any sense that they can actually know what they are talking about when they actually do. When I took Introduction to Journalism, I learned that sometimes unawares newspapers may publish false stories or even flamboyantly edited versions of the real ones. Not only does that individual author end up in trouble but it also messes with the newspapers reputations. I also recalled that Oprah had endorsed a memoir a couple years ago and it turned out the man who wrote the book was lying about some of the details. The book was A Million Little Pieces and it was written by James Frey. He published it as completely true when it was actually fabricated significantly. Yet, a student can't actually know what they are talking about.
I personally think of the popularity of an author before I buy books. I am a dedicated fan to certain authors but sometimes I do try out random authors I never heard about before. The authors stated that "As readers, we see this harder material as a problem of interpretation, not a shortcoming of the composer." (157) This has definitely been true for me. I loved reading books by Charles Dickens and when I was in 10th grade I knew I had to read that dreaded huge book A Tale of Two Cities that started off with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." So many times I just put the book down because I believed that the beginning was absolutely boring in comparison to his Oliver Twist book. As difficult as I found that book to get through, I just kept in mind Dickens is one of the best authors in literary history and I must not be reading it right so keep trying.
The authors state, "When we consider how writing is taught, however, this normal and dynamic connection between a writer's authority and the quality of a reader's attention is altered because of the peculiar relationship between teacher and student."(158) This struck a nerve in me because I knew exactly what he was talking about. Instead of a teacher accepting that the student is in fact a writer with authority, they instead approach student's pieces as miniature drafts in dire need of fixing and sometimes nonsensical in nature.
The authors further state: "Student writers, then, are put into the awkward position of having to accommodate, not only the personal intentions that guide their choice-making, but also the teacher-reader's expectations about how the assignment should be completed. The teacher's role, it is supposed, is to tell the writers how to do a better job than they could do alone, thereby in effect appropriating the writers' texts." (158) Students often have to surrender what they would like to write and how they want to express it (aka their authority) for the sake of a better grade.
The authors also stated that, "Teachers are distracted from offering the best kind of assistance-that is, helping writers achieve their own purposes-while insisting on ideas, strategies, or formal constraints that are often not pertinent to a writer's own goals." (159) I wish this "best kind of assistance" was more popular in all institutions. From the author I was also able to state the following conclusions: Teachers should consult a writer on what they mean to say as stated in their papers. Teacher's ego needs to be reduced so that they can accept that the student could be write. When multiple drafts are given they need to be focused on the aspect of revising. They should let student's openly explain what they meant when they were writing.
I now end this part with an awesome quote from the article:
"Writers know what they intended to communicate. Readers know what a text has actually said to them. If writers and readers can exchange information about intention and effect, they can negotiate ways to bring actual effect as closely in line with a desired intention as possible."(162)