Theories are wonderful things. They are helpful in examining an issue or an idea. They allow us to apply the scientific method and test various variables. Again – wonderful thing. Except when it comes to English and specifically composition theory. You see, there’s a theory for everything composition under the sun, moon and yes, even Pluto. It’s astounding to read through these essays because it’s brilliant stuff but it’s also galling because, for the most part, it’s all theory. When pressed to make a point or take a firm stand on the correct process, formula or direction the authors shrug their shoulders because there’s no firm proof that any of these theories are better than the others.
Let that sink in for a moment. I’m free of my literature classes (bittersweet) and have now begun the slow march towards the education classes and my first field experience in the fall. Ninety-eight percent of my Advanced Composition class are teachers and we’re left slack jawed at the the the density of the arguments presented that, at times, leave our heads spinning and reaching for the bag in the front of our seats. After consuming all this composition buffet, we’re left with (currently at halfway in the summer semester) the heavy challenge to translate all of these thoughts into a cohesive classroom process. We talk in our class about how slow public education is to enact change in the curriculum and the teaching methods. How the ideas written about in our text book are anywhere from 40 to 10 years old and the former are just now seeing the light of day. I’m not sure I want to imagine the time it’ll take for the latter.
What it boils down to is that we have a deeper, larger and longer understanding of how students learn. We readily accept and acknowledge that the field of the students we teach, coach and help along learn in various and innovative ways. The trouble is that there’s such a diversity of ideas, thoughts, theories and contemplations on composition process that it feels like we’re tying ourselves up in knots trying to come up with the one true solution to our educational woes when we could be putting on a buffet of methods for our students to help each of them where they are in their learning needs.
This is complicated by the fact that we teach to a test more than the actual instruction, coaching and mentoring on the art and craft of writing. We’ve got a half of a summer semester to go but our professor and class have routinely entangled ourselves into beating the dead horse of testing and how it is destroying our students and our ability to create critical thinkers able to approach problems from all corners. Here’s the terrible thing – we’re right. This seems to be one of the disconnects between the theory and the practice. The theory has all these ways of cracking open the mystery of the student writer. Yet we’re testing to a result that is a formula built out of a practice of a ritual. Our students run to find the answer without looking at the question and the considerations that surround it.
Here’s something to chew on – the amount of time it has taken to get change in the educational systems can be measured in decades. The change always circles back to a results based system. My theory is that we’ll keep on this self destructive behavior until teachers, administrators, parents and lawmakers can stop, take a breath…and realize how our theory of everything needs some serious adjusting before we fall any further away from education and into the depths of rote repetition.