Bob and I were talking about students and writing today and in our conversation, he told me an idea of his that really sits well with me:
To many students, plagerism is not understood as stealing because these students think an essay is just a collection of facts from elsewhere. Because these students don't have their own voice in their essays, essentially the entire paper is plagerized.
Then later in the day I was in a classroom in the university's Education Building which was decorated and arranged so as to simulate a classroom in an elementary school. On the side wall, the letters W I S was written on the blackboard. I learned later that WIS stood for "Where I Stand." It was a reminder to the students. Before you start, ask yourself, where do I stand?
I've been thinking quite a bit about reading and writing lately (more than my actual reading or writing). I work in a university library and so its not surprising that I should think that reading and writing are the cornerstones of not just education, but society.
And yet, I am fully aware that most students - and that being said, most people - have lives immersed in images (brands, movies, videos, fashion, cable news, television, video games) and not words. If it wasn't for email, messaging, or blogging - there would be scarcely any writing done at all.
Now I still believe in the power of the essay. For me, a well-written magazine article can set off a whole chain of rethinking personal opinions and assumptions. I love a good head-spin. But can an essay do any more than that in these modern times? I'm trying to think - when was the last time an essay move people? When did an essay last change history?
If an essay cannot cause change in the world around it, is it any wonder that students have little interested in finding and developing their voice through writing?