A fundamental concept behind these week’s readings is that of motivation. Glenn and Goldthwaite speak of “alienation from research” and the duty that teachers have to make students come to the realization that we are all, in one way or another, researchers. We need only engage with a subject. It is with this engagement that the other readings pick up. The Meaningful Writing Project parts from the assumption that students will excel to the extent that the project they are working on is relevant to their lives. Sullivan, in fact, makes this the central argument of his essay, advocating for the importance of “intrinsic motivation.”
This discussion is fascinating, and it seems to me that behind each argument lies a much larger argument about what education should be. I agree with Sullivan about the need to shake things up in order to make English more interesting to students. But firstly, I think we must acknowledge that not all students can be equally invested in English studies (just as many of us, English students, are not particularly interested in math, another very valuable discipline). Thus, we cannot ignore the presence of temperamental tendencies.
Moreover, in Sullivan’s excessive championing of a creative approach to teaching English, I see the risk of conflating what the role of the artist and the role of the critic is. Drawing from my experience—as one inevitably must in these cases—I cannot but notice that it was in my composition and English classes that I learned to talk and write about texts, and it was in my creative writing classes that I had the opportunity to experiment with different, freer, modes of expression. Both equally valuable experiences; both possible responses to texts; but each its own discipline. The examples that Sullivan brings up in his paper are fascinating, of course, and they bring up new and exciting ways of grappling with texts (written or otherwise). I still believe that the expository, dialectical nature of essay writing makes it the clearest (though, granted, not always the most powerful) way to have these discussions. In the end, these are all things that students should be taught. We must only give each its due place in the curriculum.