Week Seven: Editing in The Liberal Arts and Unlikely to Become Obsolete

Image credit to Dr. John Fea, Stonybrook University Department of History.

Image credit to Dr. John Fea, Stonybrook University Department of History.

Despite all the pedagogical searching I’ve done in past posts, it just occurred to me this week that I, and perhaps many other editing teachers, make the assumption that editing is a skill students need to learn while studying at a university and any university, for that matter. The assumption isn’t helpful when one engages in discussion with other writing teachers, though, particularly those who think editing an unnecessary skill for students pursuing a liberal arts education, like our students at TCU. Some writing teachers also think the skill of editing will soon become obsolete in the age of autocorrect technology and others think editing encourages a reductive, product-pedagogy approach to teaching writing.

To those arguing that editing classes aren’t necessary because editing is an almost trade-like skill, not an art form to be studied and held in high regard as, say, the study of the British literature canon or the history of French Nouveau Art, I want to acknowledge that those concerns are logical. A liberal arts education comes with a certain set of values attached and instructors know this reality to be true, but do the students enrolling in liberal arts universities fully understand this reality? We might also question how best to react when a demand for more editing classes is acknowledged, most likely because more students want to work in the fields of editing and publishing, not academia. Do we refuse the requests of those students? Do we ask them to accept that a certain career path in editing that was marketed to them isn’t actually attainable to them with an English degree? Do we nudge liberal arts students to careers in academia? I hope not. Given my pedagogical values, I’d attempt to adapt to the needs of my learners in any situation, acknowledging if and when the academic vision of my institution furthers or hinders their needs. If I have a student who is enrolled at a liberal arts institution but wants editing experience, I’m not inclined to ignore this need. I’m inclined to be responsive. So I put this question to teachers: Is there a pedagogical disconnect between your students’ learning needs and those set forth in your university’s mission? If so, which set of needs will you support? Have you considered how this disconnect might affect writing instruction more than we realize?

To those of the opinion that the skill of editing will soon become obsolete due to the automation of spelling and grammar correction technologies, I ask you to tab over in your browser to a crassly-titled site, F You, Auto Correct. The purpose of the site is simple, its audience mainstream, but the “germs attacking” becomes “germans attacking” and the puppies are accidentally taken to the “boilers” instead of the “groomers,” remind us that editing technologies are just as prone to error as the humans who create them. At some point, they will err. When they do, we can only hope that individual editing skills will be sufficient for correction, and that a competent, well-trained copyeditor at Microsoft is already working to fix the problem. Here we see technological determinism, a theory unique to the rapidly growing discipline of the digital humanities, rear its ugly head and remind us that overreliance on technology does all of us a disservice.

Finally, to those committed to process pedagogy, your concerns are valid, but I want to spend some time with John Bryant, a writing scholar who reminds us we shouldn’t run to any extreme on a pedagogical spectrum. On this spectrum, we might see product approaches to teaching composition on the right and distanced from process approaches farther down on the left, the latter being more holistic and pedagogically effective than the former (click here for a more detailed explanation of these pedagogies). In his 2009 article, “Editing is Learning,” Bryant presents an idea that disrupts that spectrum, by bringing opposite ends closer together with the claim that superficial errors and corrections can be of great benefit to the developing writer (126). As part of his defense, Bryant presents a practical example from when an editor felt his reputation hinged on an article publication that was edited poorly, alerting us to the very real consequences of not teaching editing (127). “Editing,” he goes on to say, “is a search for discourse; it is more seminar than lecture” (Bryant 127). He goes on to posit that when students are fully engaged and invested in learning editing, the results are a better “finished product” and that editing learning is often associated with as well as a richer development of the writer’s process as “communal” and connected to the processes of other editors and writers (Bryant 127). So while it’s easy to jump on the process bandwagon, it’s equally easy to get carried too far in the process direction and forget that skills like editing have their value, too.



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