[AAACE-NLA] FW: Toward Theory-Driven R & D
jons at lacnyc.org
Thu Jun 22 13:18:31 EDT 2006
The quality of intangibles is difficult to define. Like pornography, we
know it when we see it. Can we say that university writing programs have
improved the quality of fiction in this country over the past 50 years?
I suspect most readers of enduring literature would say that the natural
geniuses, most of whom probably don't have MFAs, are producing wonderful
novels and stories that they would have written if none of these
programs had ever existed. But that doesn't mean these programs are
useless. Most of the students who go through them become better writers,
learning in class what they did not know instinctively. In what sense
are they better writers? They have more control over how they express
themselves. When they break rules of syntax and grammar, it is
intentional. When they introduce non sequiturs or fail to develop a
character, it is deliberate. These writers may never produce a
masterpiece, but many of them will become teachers, and their students
will be the beneficiaries of all they have learned.
It would be possible to measure the success of writing programs by
calculating the number of works per graduate accepted by major magazines
and publishing houses. However, a broader, more inclusive definition of
success would be the degree to which a program improves the ability of
all of its students, and their students, to express themselves. We have
a similar choice in judging the value of adult education research and
development, and of adult education classes. How we make that choice
could determine whether on our deathbed we proudly say "80 percent of my
students improved their performance on the TABE test," or "I helped my
students gain more control over both how they express themselves and the
roles they play in society."
Limiting our understanding of success to what is quantifiable would
tragically diminish both our current work and our vision of what adult
education could achieve in the future.
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