see how they wiggle and squirm

More than twelve hours ago, I posted the following update to Facebook and Twitter: "New whining on WPA-L is so damned annoying. Yes, nobody understands us or what we do; let's go eat some worms already." This was in response to some of the opinions offered on WPA-L about the Chronicle of Higher Education's publication of Rachel Toor's "Writing Like a Doctor," an opinion piece explaining how the writing of doctors and scientists (at least in the author's experience) is rather atrocious. Rather than discuss the potential merit of the piece, some WPA-Lers instead seized the opportunity to engage in self-flagellation ("Rachel Toor finds we have once again failed to teach writing"), petty criticism ("she confuses writing like a doctor and writing like an academic doctor") and even smug self-righteousness about the worth of Toor and the Chronicle itself.

Such engagement is their right, of course, but doing so ignores
Toor's identification of a major problem when it comes to teaching writing: "The assumption is that whoever has gone before you in the teaching has already covered the basics." This cannot be denied as a problem. What should be coupled with this, too, is the lack of reinforcing the basics. Early on in first-year and advanced composition (as well as technical communication) courses, I encourage students to think back to their previous writing experiences, to reflect on how and what they were taught and the justifications provided by past instructors. I offer up my own as points of comparison and then work with students to find commonalities, such as the importance of proper citations, essay structure, grammar/syntax and how to avoid plagiarism. I make it a point throughout the length of the course to frame my comments on their work with these commonalities in mind, even using their own words from that early discussion as support. But, I digress...

None of this is to say that WPA-L is not an overall worthwhile listserv. Many of the discussions there have been quite helpful in not only further illuminating past and present ideas about teaching writing but also introducing new approaches. I am troubled, though, by the collective victimization that rears its ugly head every time some variation of the "Johnny Can't Write" argument appears. I learned in graduate school that such variations are nothing new, but I learned on WPA-L that some responses to those arguments are just as old, and even more annoying, tiresome, unconstructive and pointless.