Tag Archives: writing

The Dickensian Element

The literary world celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens this week to much fanfare.  But what would Mr. Dickens think if he were still with us today?

My contention is that Dickens would be very active in the public sphere.  It was always a trademark of his during his lifetime.  Dickens was well-known for engagement with his readership, even going so far as to alter episodes of his serial manuscripts based on audience feedback.  He traveled to promote his work as well, and conducted dramatic readings of his work that paved the way for the literary book tour.  The field of literary scholarship would soon grow as well as public conversations about his works ensued.

For all of his contributions to the fields of literary business, literary scholarship, and the development of the novel itself as an art form, Dickens stands head and shoulders above other studied authors.  Yet these are not even among his most lasting accomplishments.  Charles Dickens changed the culture of Western society in unexpected ways.  His A Christmas Carol is credited with prompting the evolution of that holiday into the public consciousness.  Meanwhile, his countless works chronicling the poverty and social iniquity present in Victorian society helped to evolve the public conscience as well.

With his identity as an author so wrapped up in the age which he lived, can Dickens still be considered relevant today?  Of course, is the straightforward answer to an obviously leading question.  I would argue that a writer captivated by the social effects of the Industrial Revolution would be equally enamored of capturing the spirit of the Digital Age.  He would clearly relish new ways of interacting with his audience such as e-readers and iBooks.  The idea of putting more text in the hands of more readers would be viewed by Dickens as a tremendous positive for society.  I’m certain that Dickens would be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and that he would use these social media platforms to garner feedback from his audiences.  I have no doubt that were Dickens alive today, he would quickly alert readers through Foursquare that he was at the local bookstore signing copies of the long-awaited conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  [He might even confirm to anxious readers that, yes, it was Jasper all along!]

Yet I believe that the “Inimitable” Charles Dickens would have plenty of social criticism to dispense to that dynamic audience.  Dickens, who grew up in poverty, would have grave concerns about the Digital Divide present in today’s Western culture.  The idea that the ever-widening gap between rich and poor enables some schools to have 1:1 classrooms and others scrape by with chalk and outdated textbooks would be anathema to Dickens.

I can see in my mind’s eye a new 2012 novel from Mr. Dickens:  A young man grows up at the turn of the century (the 21st) and goes through his schooling at a poor urban school.  He and his street urchin friends would provide indirect commentary from the author on a society that has turned education into a test-score factory.  Perhaps this young man would have an unexpected turn of fortune that would land him in the midst of wealthy society.  Just as deftly, Dickens would then skewer the positions of those who argue that technology would be the salvation of these issues.  Reimagined characters like Superintendent M’Choakumchild and Associate Superintendent Thomas Gradgrind [they’ve been promoted since their appearances in Hard Times] would thrive in today’s NCLB environment!  Then Dickens would make his emotional appeal… Unless the stratification of society is made more flexible – and unless the disadvantaged from birth are provided more opportunities to become upwardly mobile – we remain a “tale of two classes.”

We sure could use a little of that Dickensian element today… Happy birthday, Chuck.

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Paradise Lost: Writing a Revolution’s Wrongs

Having spent most of my career  in the English classroom, the state of writing in today’s society is always in the forefront of my professional mind.  So it is distressing to me when I find that so many educators believe technology and writing to be at odds with each other.

It is true that many students today have developed poor habits from certain technologies.  Yet the story does not have to end at the doorstep of “u” vs. “you.”  When Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type in the 15th Century, it revolutionized the written world predominantly through the democratization of information flow.  More authors came to share more ideas with more people.  The road to the information superhighway began with Gutenberg and continued through the Digital Revolution of the 1990s.

Today, as we prepare to shift from a Web 2.0 (sharing) to a Web 3.0 (collaboration) environment, educators need to harness the prevailing winds and use them to chart in course towards improved student achievement.  The collaborative nature of technologies such as Google Docs, SharePoint, and Moodle create a treasure trove of resources that can inspire an information flow unparalleled in human communications.  The Revolution is over – now is the time to build new ways of writing.  This generation of educators has a responsibility and an obligation to guide the formation of that paradigm.

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Automated Term Paper Grading

Idea Works: Using Automated Grading for Collaborative Learning | Education News.

I can see value in this concept, but I’m also very leery of turning over my decision-making authority on grades to an automated system.  I simply don’t know how trying to quantify the nuances of writing would work.  Or if it even should work!

I can totally see this as beneficial for a fundamentals of writing course where compositional mechanics are what is being assessed.  My technophilia only goes so far, however.  When the machines start making decisions for me [Are you listening, iPhone4S?] then I start to get the Skynet jitters.

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Standards-Based Grading?

Educational Leadership:Expecting Excellence:Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading.

Is this a step in the right direction? I’ve contemplated revamping my approach to grading for years, but it never seems compatible with the expectations of my peers and superiors.

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