Revolution Lullabye

August 1, 2012

Yagelski, “Writing as Praxis”

Yagelski, Robert P. “Writing as Praxis.” English Education 44.2 (January 2012): 188-202.

Yagelski argues for a more humanistic approach to teaching writing, one that emphasizes praxis. The goal of writing education, Yagelski claims, is to introduce students to the transformational experience of writing, giving them assignments that encourage them to use the act of writing as a way to understand themselves and their world more deeply and to live more humanely. The text is not the goal of the act of writing, Yagelski argues: it is sometimes useful and communicates well, but it is the thinking that happens in the very act of writing that matters the most.

Yagelski draws on Freire, Elbow, Emig and others to construct his argument for writing as an ontological act (as a way of being in the world.) He contends that the recent Common Core Standards, and more specifically, the move away from personal writing and narration towards technical form and objective argument shortchanges students because it doesn’t introduce them to how writing can help them live their lives. He points to how people turn to writing to make sense of life, and shows how this kind of writing matters. Students, he argues, do not invest themselves in meaningless writing assignments: the act of writing in these becomes formulaic, a procedure to be followed.

Yagelski questions the assumptions behind the Common Core Standards and standards-driven schooling, aruguing that a primary goal of education is to create a more humane society through asking students to deeply understand their complex selves and complex world. The act of writing encourages slow, deep, and reflective thinking as it shuttles the writer through the past, present, and future. He gives examples of assignments that encourage students to think of writing as praxis – to value the experience as much as the product.

Notable Notes

Yagelski places primary importance on praxis, the writer, the self, the individual writer discovering truth about herself and her world through world. He de-emphasizes the communicative nature of rhetoric – the idea that rhetoric acts within a community.

those who teach teachers – emphasizing the praxis of writing matters because how you teach teachers affects how they teach their students. Ripple effect (202).

Quotable Quotes

“Powerful experiences like Katie’s or Alicia’s students’ are dismissed as somehow tangential or even irrelevant to the real work of schooling – as if schooling should not be about living life, confronting the complexity of life, understanding our experiences in the world, being human.” 201

“Writing should be about seeking happiness. It should be about well-being. It should be a practice of living, a part of what Freire (1994) called the struggle to improve human life. And it can be such a practice – it can be a praxis – if we value the experience of writing as much as we value the text.” 199

“Ask students to write meaningless texts, and writing will be meaningless for them. But let the write in ways that matter to them, and they will embrace the opportunity; they will take advantage of the capacity of writing to help them make sense of their lives.” 195

“When we write, no matter what we are writing about, we call on the past and anticipate the future even as we inhabit the present” 192

“But writing is more than communication. It is a vehicle for sustained inquiry into our experiences, a means of understanding who we are. Ultimately, writing is a deeply human act that can help us better understand what it means to be human” 193

“I am proposing that we understand writing ontologically, as a way of being in the world, as an act of living. IN this regard, the purpose of writing is simply to live more fully. And that can be a step toward living together more peacefully, more humanely.” 190



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