Friday, July 15, 2011

Radical Reflections.

Fox, Mem. (1993). Radical Reflections: passionate opinions on teaching, learning and living.  New York, NY: Harcourt

Summary / Analysis:
This summary pertains to a chapter entitled “Notes from the Battlefield. Toward a theory of why people write”.  Fox describes various writing situations, primarily though anecdote, explaining the forces that cause people to enjoy writing, or more often, dislike it.   The anecdotes are real, and are interconnected in such a way that the reader is drawn further into exploration of the theme. They involve writers of all ages, and the reasons people react to writing in different ways. Her analysis is deeply embedded in the “why” of writing, instead of the “how”. 

Mem Fox is an extraordinary writer, and a teacher, and a teacher of writers. The stories told throughout the book are repeatedly illustrative of her own passions, and serve to inflame the passions of whoever is reading the book.  At once idealistic and down to earth, Fox consistently points out the failures of our own teaching systems and exhorts us to teach in a way that excites everyone in the room (not just the students).  Her work will change your teaching no matter what age you are, or what age your students are.
Relevant Quotes / Concepts:
“I developed as a writer by developing my writing, which sounds tautologous, but it isn’t.  If the children in our classes don’t care about their readers, how can they develop as writers?  They can’t because they won’t care about what they are writing, and they won’t want to revise” (5).

“I hadn’t realized how often I wrote for fun until Malcolm read the first draft of this chapter and said, ‘I’m amazed that you haven’t explained how writing is central to your life. It fascinates you. It rewards you.  It fatigues you.  Nowhere have you actually said you can’t live without writing.’  Can’t live without writing? Had I heard correctly? I loathe writing!  It’s so easy to do badly and so difficult to do well that I quail before each new writing task.  I particularly detest the battle to produce a picture-book story in less than 750 words.  Of course I can live without writing – or can I?”(16).

“I’m anxious about the power, or lack of it, in school writing.  Power is about being able to craft a piece of writing so effectively that its purpose is achieved.  Craft means understanding the nature and importance of leads and endings; of showing, not telling; of sharpening and tightening; of structure and focus; of purpose and audience; and of the conventions.  Craft means being able to put those  understandings into practice.  Craft means struggling in that battlefield between brain and hand until the best possible draft is achieved…such power doesn’t come from nowhere.  It comes from practicing writing for real reasons. It comes from having read powerful writing.  It comes from having been taught, and I mean taught, the basic skills of spelling and punctuation in the context of real writing events.  Those who write well have more power and therefore more control over their lives (italics added).  It seems to me to be a supreme arrogance on our part as teachers not to see that the granting of this power to our children is politically and socially essential” (20).

“Children develop language through interaction, not action.  They learn to talk by talking to someone who responds.  They must therefore learn to write by writing to someone who responds.  It’s not a new theory, but it is one I keep forgetting even though it’s so clear and simple.  Please keep it somewhere safe” (22).
Annotations by A. Worrall

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