Stand Back, Miss Grundy: We're Coming Through

eSchool News recently published a feature article titled, "NCTE defines writing for the 21st century : New report offers guidance on how to update writing curriculum to include blogs, wikis, and other forms of communication." Yes, the National Council of Teachers of English has extended its imprimatur beyond basics, classics, and even phonics to include those bastions of digital literacy: blogs, wikis and social networking. This is a good thing, but not particularly surprising. NCTE, after all, is the same forward-looking organization that endorsed the writing process approach, whole language and reflective practice.

What surprises me, however, are some of the comments posted in response to the story:

We should not allow our students to be placed at a disadvantage because they do not know how to adequately express themselves in more formal formats. High school seniors have asked me if they could submit research papers in Power Point format alone, because they have been allowed to do so since 5th grade.

Oh dear! We could have a complication here. 'Scholars' will be illiterate except in communicating to themselves. The worm could turn. no wadimeen?

It seems to me that we need to stay with the rules of standard English for prose and poetry. If we begin an acceptance of text message and email shorthand, when will the next generation ever learn how to read the past which includes some of the best literature ever written.

Well! I had no idea the situation was so dire.

I'm always floored when I read remarks such as these. Integrating new forms of literacy into the cannon does not mean that the teacher becomes a potted plant in the corner, abdicating her role as guide, critic and arbiter of what constitutes acceptable work. Surely if decades of banal essay writing didn't turn us into mindless troglodytes, a few IMs won't corrupt the survival of great literature.

The problem is not the form or the medium those are promises. The problem is trepidation, the threatening "what if", the nagging fear that something might not work. The solution is a shift in perception--that first step in paradigm shifting-- and a reminder that if we're not nervous, we're not learning anything.

In March 2009, Mary Chase joined our extended network of alumni.