Introducing NewView Writing
NewView is the gateway to all good writing–
AND NewView is the gateway to teaching all writing
On December 8, 1975, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled, “Why Johnny Can’t Write.” It raised national concerns about the quality of writing that students produce in American K-12 schools. And it caused a 30-year flood of thousands of protest articles with the same or similar titles.
Furthermore, in 1998, 2002, and 2007, national tests continued to prove that those concerns were still justified, tests that were reported by the National Education Association. The consistent results of each of those national tests: Only one out of five high school seniors showed they could write well enough to do writing required in college. And in 2003, the National Commission on Writing declared there was a national crisis in teaching writing in America and recommended, basically, that all levels of schools and governments chip in lots more money, time, and people to cope with the crisis.
However, what authorities have not realized, even yet, is that most of the major problems with teaching writing come from teachers focusing their students’ writing merely on the FORMS of writing, without teaching the CONTENT of writing.
For instance, teachers emphasize correct grammar, punctuation, and organization, which are all forms. And when they teach how to write essays, they spend all their time on introductions and conclusions, thesis statements, topic sentences, and paragraphs–more forms. All those writing forms are needed, to be sure, but nowhere is there an explicit, overt connection by teachers or textbooks between any of those forms and the most crucial thing in writing–CONTENT that is new to the reader.
True, most teachers and textbooks DO tell students to avoid cliches, to say something interesting, to say something original or new. But they don’t provide students with an actual process for coming up with something new for the reader.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming teachers of writing. I’m merely describing the situation.
Actually, it’s a cultural problem–that is, a cultural-conceptual problem.
You see, nobody really knows how to talk about the concept of newness, so how can teachers be expected to instruct on newness in writing? In fact, our civilization has ignored coping with the concept of newness for thousands of years, ever since Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, in fact.
Why? Because for all of us newness has been this mysterious, formless, HUGE black box in our minds that we put everything into that we–
- haven’t experienced yet,
- haven’t been told about yet, and
- haven’t thought about yet
Let’s verify this, right here, right now. As a mental experiment, try this:
Can you think of even ONE useful category that would fit ALL kinds of newness–or even large groups of newness? (Of course, I mean other than the three groups in the numbered list just above. Let’s also add the idea of recency, making four groups. We do usually think of something that recently occurred as being new, such as a new headache or a new bill. What makes them new is only that they occurred nearby in time, or recently.)
So, right now, try to come up with at least one group or category of newness, and then resume reading after the line of asterisks, below.
I couldn’t do it, either–until I realized a couple more things.
First, very like the vague concept of what’s new, the concept of what’s old has been a mysterious, formless, HUGE black box in our minds that takes in–
- everything we’ve experienced,
- everything we’ve been told, and
- everything we’ve ever thought about
–in fact, everything in our lives up until now! Even with these three categories, what’s old is so HUGE that we really can’t wrap our minds around it, can we?
Second, I discovered that we can cope with newness and oldness if we realize this fundamental relationship between the two–what’s new always depends on what’s old.
For instance, you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t talk about a beautiful sunset to a man blind from birth.”
If your reader has no experience with the kind of thing you are talking about–that is, no experience with a shared group that the thing belongs to, something it is like, such as other sunsets or colors or clouds or sky–then you can’t talk with him about it. You really can’t explain anything unless you can use words and ideas from groups of things you already share with him or her.
So if your reader is Tarzan of the Jungle (Tarzan taught himself to read, in the original story) and you use the word soap in your writing without explaining it, then Tarzan won’t know what you mean, since soap is something he has never experienced, has never been told about, has never read anything explanatory about, and has never thought about. So, similarly, you can’t describe a beautiful sunset to a blind man because he has never experienced those categories or groups of things we call colors or clouds or sky or sunsets.
Is it more clear, now, that it’s not too big of a mental leap to say that what’s new depends on what’s already old to (or already known to, already accepted by) the reader? (Do you see that I’ve just walked you through an example of what I’m talking about?)
Okay. Then what we need now are some categories we can use to divide up the concepts of new and old so we can make a working relationship between the two.
Here is a list of what I call the 5 OldView Categories:
- • Values
- • Expectations
- • Experiences
- • Reasoning
- • Language
And here is a list of what I call the 5 NewView Options:
- • Reverse
- • Add
- • Subtract
- • Substitute
- • Rearrange
Want a little help in remembering those five important processes? This vivid image should help you remember the powerful 5 NewView Options you can use on those 5 OldView Categories—
xxxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx
With these two sets of categories, we can teach students to identify what they share with their readers–the 5 OldView Categories–and then we can show them how to process those with the 5 NewView Options, making them new.
For instance, one student may identify her own strong OldView VALUE of not liking the divorce her parents went through, also noting that her friends don’t like divorces, generally, either.
Then we can suggest that she use the NewView REVERSE process to say that divorce has some advantages, some good things about it. And on her own she more than probably could come up with examples that show her actually spending more personal time with her father each week, going to a show or to dinner more often with him, as well as the wonderful fact that he now buys her more expensive personal gifts than before the divorce (NOTE: This example isn’t fictional: it actually occurred in a conversation between myself and a student, just as I have related it here; that experience is one of the factors that helped me to discover the OldView-NewView relationship and their helpful subcategories).
Then we can help her put that into a thesis statement, make it resonate in topic sentences, use it to provide examples and stories in her body paragraphs, and create a fine introduction and conclusion.
We can teach Johnny and Janey to write content with NewViews and still use the necessary forms in doing it. But only if we stop focusing so exclusively on forms and start focusing first on What’s new to the reader.
And only then should we show students how they can use traditional forms to support and convey their NewViews.
In the real world, as we all know, newness of content generates forms, not the other way around.
By universally teaching “What’s new to the reader” as the most important factor in writing courses, and using the powerful processes of the 5 NewView Options to do it, we’ll never have to see another irritating article titled, “Why Johnny Can’t Write”–and we’ll save a mountain of money in the process to put to better use.