Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Reading With a Writer’s Eye; or Emerson Takes on the Twenty-First Century Teenager by Tom O’Malley

By Tom O'Malley

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar” still speaks to 21 century students.

books pencils1835 was a difficult year for Ralph Waldo Emerson.  His beloved first wife Ellen had died.  He had resigned his ministry compelled by a longing for the freedom to read and write – not in imitation of his ancestors, but in a new style, strong and supple as this American land.
America needed a voice of its own – one that reflected its independent, self-reliant character. And in his state of mind,Emerson went up to his Grandfather’s ancient house in Concord, the Old Manse, and in his grief began to weave a new literature for his country and a new life for himself.

In his essay “The American Scholar” Ralph Waldo Emerson describes how the human mind proceeds to classify things in the world around him. As the child grows, he or she begins to make connections and classifications. A keen observation because it describes exactly what the modern teacher is striving to accomplish. In the day to day discourse of the classroom it is easy to lose sight of this fact.

Often, the way reading and writing are taught shows a lack of understanding of the wonderful complexity of these processes. In our practice and in our evaluation of a student’s ability to read, we are not really teaching students to read in any real sense. As we prepare our students for the demands of SAT examinations, or other standardized tests, many of the nuances that Emerson describes in the American Scholar are being lost to our students. Emerson believed that”tis a good reader that makes a good writer.” This is testament to the fact that there is a symbiotic relationship between the writer and each of his or her readers.

A text is never static. Even the writer never knows exactly how his text will appear to an individual reader. Therefore, this process does not lend itself to a multiple-choice test where the better readers are the ones who come closest to the “answer key.” Teachers must allow students to step into the larger universe that unfolds before their eyes whenever they turn the pages of a book.

In fact, reading and writing are really part of the same process. Because my students are expected to write every day, they begin to read as writers read. Everything they read becomes fodder for their writing. Everything they write becomes the foundation of their reading.

Emerson wrote like this in the same room where his Grandparents sat to watch the first skirmish of the American Revolution only a stone’s throw away at the Old North Bridge.

Ironically, Emerson was also a revolutionary who fired volleys of ideas instead of musket balls.  And his ideas were far reaching. No one reads to answer multiple choice questions.  We read to broaden our experience by imaginatively stepping into other people’s shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. The other people may be Huck Finn floating on a raft down the Mississippi River swapping lies with Jim.  It may be the noble Macbeth reaching for an invisible dagger at midnight. It may be Jay Gatsby looking for a green light on the dock across the water.

As Emerson pointed out in the American Scholar, books are for nothing but to inspire. Students who read with a writer’s eye are really reading. They are broadening their experience, developing their imaginations and allowing themselves to be inspired.

About the author

Tom O’Malley teaches at St. Francis High School, Athol Springs, NY.  He also teaches in the English Department at Canisius College in Buffalo.


Comment on this article...

Next Article...
This entry was posted on Saturday, February 1st, 2014 and is filed under *ISSUES, Feb 2014, Thomas O'Malley. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.11 No.2 February 2014

Harry & Rosemary Wong: Effective Teaching
Execute and Praise
Cover Story by Todd R. Nelson
Paddling to the Sea - The Educational Value of Unplugged Play
More Teacher Articles...
»The Right Fit: When It All Makes SenseSarah Powley
»Rigor and the Common Core: Just the BeginningBarbara Blackburn
»How to Close the Learning Gap for Children at All Socioeconomic Levels - The Unstoppable Power of Applying Maslow's Laws TodayRosanna Pittella PhD
»5 Ways to Bring the Common Core Shift into Your ClassroomAimee Barber
»Finland Classroom Shock: What I'm Learning as a Teacher in FinlandTim Walker
»Seven Features of Highly Successful Picture BooksAbby Connors
»Reading With a Writer's Eye; or Emerson Takes on the Twenty-First Century Teenager by Tom O'MalleyTom O'Malley
»Writing Prompts for FebruaryJames Wayne
»10 Tips for Teacher SurvivalLeah Davies, M.Ed.
»Coaching Abuse: The Dirty, Not-So-Little Secret in SportsDr. Alan Goldberg
»Black History Month Lessons and Resources
»Top Tweets for Teachers
»Parenting Plays Key Role as African American Boys Move from Preschool to Kindergarten
»Poetry, Essay and Art Contests for Students
»Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist Exhibit Opens in Skokie, IL Holocaust Museum
»StudyWorld 2014 9th International Fair for Higher and Continuing Education
»U.S. Census: Data Visualization of Population Change, Settlement Patterns, More
»Apple Seeds: Quotes for EducatorsBarb Stutesman
»February is... Special Days This MonthRon Victoria
»eLearning Africa 2014 - 9th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training

By State
AL   AK   AZ   AR   CA   CO   CT   DE   DC   FL   GA   HI   ID   IL   IN   IA   KS   KY   LA    ME   MD   MA   MI   MN   MS   MO   MT   NE   NV   NH   NJ   NM   NY   NC   ND   OH   OK   OR   PA   RI   SC   SD   TN   TX   UT   VT     VA   WA   WV   WI   WY