Reading & writing in the second person

Speaking of what we’ve been doing for the past 6 months ….

I hadn’t taught freshman composition for two fall semesters while Katharine and I were working on the textbook (and I was working on my neverending basal ganglia project…)

When I got back to the classroom last September, I found something new: my students seemed to have spent an inordinate amount of time in K-12 reading and writing in the 2nd person.

I’m never surprised to see a lot of first-person papers — not given how many personal narratives K-12 students have been producing for the past … how many years has it been?

Twenty?

Thirty?

Twenty at least. Twenty that I know of personally because I lived through them.

That reminds me.

My neighbor told me about her then-8th-grade son’s reaction to being assigned a personal narrative about an “afternoon memory” or some such. He had been writing personal narratives since 3rd grade, and now it was 8th grade and time to write a personal narrative about an afternoon.

He told his mom: “I’m running out of memories.”

We cracked up over that one. Kids are so sweet.

Anyway, back on point: I’m never surprised to see first-person writing in freshman composition.

But I don’t remember ever seeing so much second-person. This fall, reading my students’ work, I felt as if I were seeing as many “you’s” as “I’s.” Maybe more.

To some degree, that was my fault. I was teaching a brand-new course, and the first two topics I assigned left themselves open to advice-giving.

But I saw the same thing in reading, too.

My students always find college-level texts challenging. This semester, however, I encountered a form of comprehension error I hadn’t noticed before.

My students would hopscotch through a sentence, lighting on some words and not others, then repeat the process with the next sentence and the next until the end of the paragraph, where they would fashion the words into an injunction.

“You should be yourself.”

“You should set goals.”

“You should write the way you talk.”

Things like that.

This is in no way a criticism of my students! They haven’t been taught to read college-level prose, and all of a sudden here they are, in college, reading college-level prose. They don’t complain and they don’t balk; they put their heads down and plow ahead. I admire them.

I’m not complaining or balking, either. I love teaching these students.

Instead, I’m writing this post to report a college-reading issue people may not have picked up on.

I have a couple of takeaways that I’ll circle back to tomorrow.

And see:
Reading and writing in the second person 
Common Core in the 2nd person
Injunctions of yore

4 thoughts on “Reading & writing in the second person

  1. …and the rise of didacticism more generally. I first noticed this trend with Star Trek! The episodes of the original series had playful/poetic/literary titles like “A Rose by Any Other Name”; “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”; “The Savage Curtain”. The Next Generation took a more message-oriented turn: “A Matter of Perspective”; “Second Chances”; “Lessons.”

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