The Individual and His Writing (1950)

LaBrant, L. (1950, April). The individual and his writing. Elementary English27(4), 261-265.

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LaBrant discusses the role of writing as a contemporary (to 1950) need for students. She identifies examples of how literacy (writing) has changed in society. Recognizing the importance of writing, LaBrant argues for ways to teach writing well, including “what an intelligent person in our country should know about language” (p. 263). She concludes with four points for teachers of writing to consider.

Quoting LaBrant:

Related to all of the foregoing is our fairly successful attempt to bring reading and writing to the masses of the people whereas it was once the possession of the few and privileged, and a resultant tendency to treasure books and written copy less. (p. 262)

Moreover, it is probable, though I would find it hard to prove, that doing careful writing is the best device for understanding careful writing, and the best device for teaching critical and understanding reading. (p. 263)

Once on a time we teachers of the primary and secondary school and even of the first college courses, thought our prime duty was to teach about sentence structure (“Grammar” we called it, although grammar is also much more than structure) and achieve a fairly respectable use of conventional form in the sentence. We now know that good usage is most effectively taught by direct correction and change, and by reading. We no longer believe that teaching abstract statements about the need for a verb will result in the use of verbs, and we can be certain if we read the literature that similar failure will result from other similar measures applied to agreement, case, and/ or any grammatical structure. (p. 263)

There is other sematic knowledge with which our students should become familiar. They should discover the danger in word-magic, that calling a man by a name does not necessarily make him what we say; that describing the postal system as socialist does not transfer our mail to Moscow, nor brand either the writer or the postman as disciples of Stalin. We must teach our students that words are symbols which they use, and that there is stupidity in word magic. (p. 264)

Perhaps not everyone in the land is ready to read Macbeth or to write a sonnet. Better, it seems to me, that each read what he can honestly understand, and admit on occasion that he is baffled; better that the boy or girl write a simple account of what he saw on the street than that he write a collection of stereotypes on democracy. Let him, perhaps, admit with all of us that he is learning about democracy and has much to read and to think before he can say what should be. Misuse of language, as Hitler demonstrated, is a terrible thing; we teachers of English can at the very least teach our students that language is a tool of thought, a tool which can be sharp and keen, but is easily blunted. Alice was wrong, for once: It makes a great deal of difference whether one says “important” or “unimportant.” (p. 265)


About plthomasedd

P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), in which he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010). He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).He has also published books on Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Ralph Ellison. His scholarly work includes dozens of works in major journals—English Journal, English Education, Souls, Notes on American Literature, Journal of Educational Controversy, Journal of Teaching Writing, and others. His commentaries have been included in Room for Debate (The New York Times), The Answer Sheet (Washington Post), The Guardian (UK), truthout, Education Week, The Daily Censored, OpEdNews, The State (Columbia, SC), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) and The Greenville News (Greenville, SC). His work can be followed at the becoming radical ( and @plthomasEdD on twitter. View all posts by plthomasedd

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