Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What is old is new again

Lately, I've been finding ways to fit Narrative Prose, short stories especially, back into my life. It has largely been absent since I stopped pursuing writing fiction myself, my recent academic work has been theory-based and left little room for reading stories to read. It was only when I started listening to the podcast of NPR's "Selected Shorts" program - in which actors and other performers read short stories to a studio audience. That I even remembered what I was missing.

Today, published a series of excerpts from Red, an upcoming collection of short prose by teenage girls. I really like it. These girls have written some powerful, insightful, and original stuff. I don't know how much stock to put in the editor's assertion that social networking sites and other internet-facilitated communications are creating "a generation of writers." I'd like to believe it though, and certainly these examples suggest that for whatever reason, there are some talented young writers out there. Check it out.

I think if the editor's assertion is true, and we are looking at a whole generation learning to write online, the ramifications for those of us who are educators in the humanities will be very significant. A groundswell of unruly expression alarms some of us, I think, but we should see it as an opportunity. A potential mass movement of students interested in self-expression. The problem for us will be how to offer these students tools they need and want to use, challenge them to grow and explore, and avoid trying too hard to mold them into a "proper" format - without falling into the fallacy that they already have everything they might need to express themselves and any input on our part is somehow oppression.


dr alex said...

that's really interesting. I'm always trying to get my students to see the artistic and expressive possibilities of the Internet.

when you say that we shouldn't try to force a "proper" format, do you mean that we should accept/tolerate/get used to the tendency of folks to write in "text" language, without punctuation, using letters and numbers to substitute for words? I struggle with this sometimes--is Standard American English becoming an obsolete concept, or can we encourage alternative venues of expressive thought while preserving more traditional styles?

Andy said...

Well, I don't know what I think about the creep of text message/email styles into written work. I find it as ugly as you do. But finding something ugly shouldn't be our criteria for disallowing it.

I'm still working this thought out as I go along, but I guess what I am saying is that we need to think more about the function of our linguistic tools, and less about their form. Form is going to change with social context, and studies have shown that folks are most likely to learn how to write when they have a social context they are interested in participating with through writing. They learn the forms appropriate to the context. I think what we need to do, as educators, is not assume that a given context is already complete and perfect. Especially when it is a context made up largely of web-enabled children. We should try to push our students to the limits of the expressive tools they already know how to use, and thus develop a desire to learn new tools. Then, we would have a good chance of teaching them how to expand their language and thought functionally, rather than formally.

All of this, of course, should ideally be a dialogic process. If they can't find a use for a given function... maybe they don't need it. Then again, maybe they do. Like I said, still a thought in process.