Blogs, term papers, and a fear of what’s new

Cody Brown tweeted a link to this New York Times arti­cle ear­lier today about blogs and term papers. It’s a fairly shal­low piece with many things I’d enjoy respond­ing to, but I’ll pick one: the patron­iz­ing way the old guard por­trays newer forms of writing.

Here are two quotes from that arti­cle. The first is from Dou­glas B. Reeves, a colum­nist for the Amer­i­can School Board Journal:

It doesn’t mean there aren’t inter­est­ing blogs. But nobody would con­flate inter­est­ing writ­ing with premise, evi­dence, argu­ment and conclusion.

The sec­ond is from William H. Fitzhugh, founder of The Con­cord Review:

Writ­ing is being mur­dered. But the solu­tion isn’t blogs, the solu­tion is more read­ing. We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about them­selves and their home lives.

Fitzhugh and Reeves aren’t engag­ing with the idea of blogs from an aca­d­e­mic or evidence-based per­spec­tive. They seem to fear­ful of the new medium and seek to dis­credit it with all the tact of a gos­sip writer.

We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about them­selves and their home lives” is a great sound­bite, but it is ridicu­lous. First, are we so sure there is some­thing wrong with giv­ing kids an out­let to write about them­selves and their home life? Sec­ond, what does it mat­ter what the out­put is if the learn­ing that hap­pens in the process of get­ting there is sub­stan­tial? I think Fitzhugh and Reeves are far too con­cerned with the poten­tial out­put of these blogs than they are with what kids may learn by writ­ing in a medium they enjoy.

If you want to say that blogs have, through research, been the cause of decreas­ing crit­i­cal think­ing among stu­dents that is fine. Merely assert­ing it does not make it so, though. You need evi­dence to back your claims, just like the term papers Reeves and Fitzhugh glorify.

If, instead, you are going to char­ac­ter­ize the only ben­e­fit of blogs as the fact that some are “inter­est­ing” and imply that “premise, evi­dence, argu­ment and con­clu­sion” are only achieved through dead tree term papers, then you are full of it.

These two would be bet­ter off tak­ing Reeves’ advice and using premise, evi­dence, argu­ment, and con­clu­sion to ana­lyze writ­ing on the web.

One Response to “Blogs, term papers, and a fear of what’s new”

  1. Dis­miss­ing blogs as being only about kids’ home lives is a very nar­row view of what is, iron­i­cally, far more rel­e­vant in today’s job mar­ket than advo­cates of so-called “old lit­er­acy” real­ize. Pub­lish­ing inde­pen­dently is a revolution.