The Roots and Branches of Peter Elbow's Theory of Learning and Writing WMWP Institute Summer, 2003
Peter Elbow’s theories of learning and writing have primary roots in Plato.
Plato’s Theory of Education
Represented by the “Cave Allegory” of Republic , Book VII.
Doctrine of paideia , or ‘uncovering the hidden’.
The process of education, therefore, is an active inquiry conducted by student and teacher.
Elbow: “Socrates is the paradigm teacher.”( Embracing Contraries )
Plato’s Doctrine of Recollection
Plato: We are born knowing everything ( anamnesis ).
Elbow: “Logic is built into us.” ( Writing With Power )
Plato’s Dialectical Method of Inquiry:
Plato: “If you put a question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer of himself.” ( Phaedo )
Elbow: “The self can be coaxed to speak with an authentic voice.” ( Writing With Power )
Summary: Embracing Contraries
Dialogue creates a synthetic outcome: clearer thinking (and therefore,composition).
Elbow: “Writing calls on two skills.., creating and criticizing.” (Writing With Power)
His theory of learning and writing is a direct outgrowth of Platonic/Socratic learning theory and practice.
Taking Charge :
“One of the ways people most lack control over their own lives is through lacking control over words. Especially written words."
Defining Good Writing:
Find ways to get us to better understand the good and bad writing we see all around us; and become more attentive to the problems to be found in our own writing.
Those who write with ease are not necessarily better writers than those who write with difficulty.
Teachers are "more useful when it is clearer that they are not necessary."
Speaking and Writing :
Elbow argues that we can free up our writing and get more energy and "voice" into it by writing more the way we speak….
Writing & Editing :
Process pedagogy aims to shift attention away from the text and towards the processes that created it -- processes that should be understood as fluid, complex, and, above all, highly individual.
Freewriting means simply that for ten (10) minutes you write without stopping.
One of the purposes in freewriting is to help you develop the sense that writing/words are plentiful and therefore we can discard them gleefully when it comes time to revise.
"It is the moment when what was chaos is now seen as having a center of gravity. There is a shape where a moment ago there was none."
"Editing means figuring out what you really mean to say, getting it clear in your head, getting it unified, getting it into an organized structure, and then getting it into the best words and throwing away the rest."
“…writing without editing so that we get the best of our uncensored thinking (raw and undisciplined as it may be), and so we can maintain some semblance of "voice" in what we write.
"Hearing your own words out loud gives you the vicarious experience of being someone else.”
Garbage and Chaos:
“…a person's best writing is often all mixed up together with his worst."
“We often see digressions as a waste of time and break them off when we catch ourselves starting one. But do the opposite. Give it its head.”
Dealing With Anxiety:
If you have trouble deciding what to write and are blocked then “…you should probably begin to suspect that some part of you is trying to undermine your efforts at writing."
“…treat grammar as a matter of very late editorial correcting: never think about it while you are writing."
“ Think of writing then not as a way to transmit a message but as a way to grow and cook a message.”
On Giving Advice to Other Writers:
"Writing badly . . . is a crucial part of learning to write well. . . .