The first thing that Writing in the 21st Century makes me wonder is if we should ban writing so that kids might want to try it as a form of resistance. Kidding. Well, partly. I love the idea of writing as a subversive activity. (Although I can't fully agree with the article's ideas about reading being receptive and controlling while writing is about resistance. Plenty of reading is subversive as well.)
Last year when I told my parents I was teaching writing, they groaned and asked me questions about cursive. The idea of writing in school meant, to them, penmanship. I had to explain that I meant writing-as-in-getting-thoughts-onto-paper. The fact that composition is a "labor" is one that's still relevant today - I have kids in my class for who the physical act of making words on paper is so painful that it completely stunts the flow of ideas. I immediately turn to technology for kids like that. It can be such an unleashing force.
The historical narrative of the teaching of writing is fascinating, its movement through the progressive era into the current theory of process writing and writer's workshop. How unfortunate that standardized testing came along and ruined it just when it was getting good. I wonder sometimes how many potential authors dreams are destroyed by the soul-crushing agony of having to learn the five-paragraph expository essay - and nothing else - for years.
And then computers and the Internet - with all its possibilities for subversion - rises as a platform for writing just as tests are narrowing it in the classroom. I love how the article describes writing as almost its own entity yearning for freedom from boundaries and authority. Outside of schools, outside of tests, outside of five-paragraph essays (can you tell I hate them?) - people are writing. Arising from the need for communication and expression. Less talking, maybe, at Model Railroading clubs or Shriner meetings or all those other social clubs where people used to get together. (And wear weird clothes.) Now, people can group up on the Internet, and writing becomes the primary modality for communicating.
I cannot say enough times how completely awesome the story about the kids who used the Internet as a platform to get 30,000 people to screw around with the AP test is.
And then the million dollar question - how can we channel all this for a purpose more worthy? (Can we?) Students who know how to compose and organize and know how to use the audience provided by the Internet? How can we help them connect those skills toward the big issues, toward making the world a better place?
I don't know the answer to that and it's something I've thought about a lot. I think "The Internet" is still figuring that out, in a way. The election, in 2008 - Obama's campaign brilliantly used technology to connect and move people. But it fizzled out, or at least it seems that way. How to keep people going? Organizing on the internet seems to destroy the hierarchies traditional to most organizations, at least at the grassroots level. Do organizations and issue-based action require a leader?
I think of that group Anonymous, which publicly states that there's not really any hierarchy of leadership, and they manage to organize and take action. They're quite the enigma though, so I'm not quite sure how they work. But they fascinate me.
Really what will probably happen is that the kids will figure out the answers to these questions first.