Twitter’s Root Injustice:

You can design a social media platform that is more fair to new users just as you can design a government that is more fair to its less privileged citizens.

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.