The Importance of Objects – Blog Post 1

In John Maguire’s essay “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” Maguire makes an argument for student writing to be based on concrete objects; however, in making his argument, Maguire treats the concept of student writing as an object on its own. Specifically, Maguire channels the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s essay “Why We Need Things” by discussing student writing as if it were designed to use objects to discover more abstract concepts. Maguire’s essay begins with a description of students not writing well in school and ends with Maguire describing students experiencing writing successes. The successes, he says, come because the students followed his method of writing about concrete objects rather than abstract concepts. By avoiding abstract concept discussion in their papers, Maguire argues, and building their work off of a foundation of concrete descriptions, students will be able to produce more coherent and sophisticated work. In addition to the aesthetic benefits of his proposed method of student writing, Maguire argues that the utilization of his method will lead students to the answers of the abstract concepts they originally sought to write about and allow their essays to achieve deeper truths. When describing an interaction he had with a colleague, Bernadette, who disagreed with him, Maguire stated “when you boil it down, Bernadette, all abstract ideas derive from objects. You can approach them in that concrete way and teach students to do the same.” Maguire’s argument that writing improves when built around concrete objects is founded upon the belief that abstract answers will derive from those objects, a notion which echoes the argument put forward by...

Blog Post 1: “It Drops the Object on its Foot”

1. John Maguire’s Approach to Student Writing John Maguire’s Essay “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas” asserts that modern-day freshman composition writers have a fatal flaw when it comes to writing: their work is too abstract. I disagree with the classification of student writing as being “abstract” because I think freshman student writers are more “unfocused” rather than “abstract.” I think it is important to understand where the student is coming from in regards to their writing experience. All throughout grade school, students are mostly taught with a test-centric approach rather than a critical-thinking approach when it comes to writing. Students are taught to pay special attention to the vocabulary they use, and focus on writing a paper that  utilizes the 5-paragraph-thesis approach. At colleges and universities, students are expected to have a critical-thinking approach to writing–which is a big change because the focus shifts from vocabulary-structured papers to thematically-structured or argument-structured papers, and many students do not come to higher education with the preparation necessary to tackle that shift. This shift in expectations is why freshman composition classes are so crucial. Maguire writes that he has had many students “show up in a freshman comp class believing they can’t write” and states that “their opinion is valid.” He argues that students struggle with the writing process because they lack certain skills that are necessary when it comes to writing a good paper. I agree that students struggle because they lack skills (specifically critical thinking skills), but I wouldn’t go as far to say that freshman students can’t write; if they couldn’t write they wouldn’t...
Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

In his essay for The Atlantic, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” John Maguire argues student writers and writing instruction are too focused on abstract ideas. In fact, he contends that “[s]tudent papers are often unreadable” (His words, not mine!) “because they are way, way too abstract.” Rather than asking students to grapple with abstract ideas from the outset, Maguire argues writing teachers should instead get students to focus on the physical world, and let the abstract ideas emerge from that emphasis: An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with those in mind, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do, in fact, take that approach. “If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it,” I say. “Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.” To some extent this course, with its focus on material objects or “artifacts,” puts Maguire’s assertion to the test. In our work over the course of the semester, we will hopefully learn whether–and maybe even how or why–writing about things might lead to better writing. For this post, however, I don’t want to focus on Maguire’s argument about how we should or shouldn’t teach writing, but rather on how Maguire has characterized student writing and writing students...
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