Writing in the 21st Century

Kathleen Blake Yancey offers a thoughtful overview of the challenges and opportunities that technology brings to teachers of English. I particularly like her analysis of an effort, organized by high school students, to get AP test-takers to insert the catchphrase  “THIS IS SPARTA!” into their exams.

[‘T]he students understood the new audiences of twenty-first century composing–colleagues across the country and faceless AP graders alike.They understood one audience–the testing system–and knew how to play it. Several of the students were concerned enough not to want their scores to be negatively affected, as they revealed on another site where college advisors answer questions (answers.yahoo.com)–and those queries were removed, too!–but these students–and there were thousands and thousands of them–were quite simply bored enough to take the chance. Put differently, they refused to write to a teacher-as-examiner exclusively; they wrote as well to live teachers who might be amused at the juxtaposition between a serious claim about John Wilkes Booth and THIS IS SPARTA. Put differently still, they wanted not a testing reader, but a human one.

Unfortunately, I can only find a PDF of Yancey’s report, on a page that includes links to lots of other stuff (if the hosting page displayed an abstract, that would be a start). 

While the average internet user has a fast enough connection that it’s not that much of a burden to download the files, forcing web readers to download PDFs are a usability abomination, like a mobile phone that’s cabled to the wall so you don’t lose it, or a horseless carriage with a fake horse head on the hood and a poop-distribution mechanism in the trunk.  

We can gather that the National Council for Teachers of English still feels its core audience needs to hear this 21s-century message in a 20th-century medium.