Rereading Moffett – Month Three

Teaching the Universe of Discourse book cover

I have some ambivalence about Moffett’s statement on drama, “Drama is the most accessible form of literature for young and uneducated people.” As someone who has a BFA in theatre, I see a lot of merit in the statement. Still, I also wonder about music, especially the kinds of narrative singer-songwriter genres so common in folk music. Perhaps what we consider folk arts might be the revealing connection.

Where I feel Moffett is most onto something is in the folk quality of culture and creativity that emerges out of experience, but more on that later

An obvious synonym for drama is play and therein lies another profound insight. Drama harnesses a sense of play in contrived circumstances and are not nearly all writing occasions a kind of contrived circumstance?

Drama amplifies the visceral, immediate, impulse to communicate with our whole selves. It is ancient and primal, a natural drive.

Do I use it in my teaching, all the time, but rarely explicit or obvious. I almost always think I should use it more. Like the tide it informs nearly everything I do in some ways that are not always even conscious.

Where I am in complete communion with Moffett, I would say drama is essentially applied English.

These were my initial thoughts.

With more time to consider, I think the field of English and Language Arts so often  emphasizes reading. Yet, drama is built upon action. It certainly involves reading, but it is reading far beyond the limits of text on a page. All the skills and tools of literacy are required writ large. Again, it involves our whole selves, speaking, listening, reading, writing are all engaged in the most meta fashion.

It involves the application of the full spectrum of everything we value and endeavor to teach in the ELA. Perhaps the best expression of this is when Moffett writes in the Preface, “I see drama as the matrix of all language activities.” For someone who agrees with his one of his most elemental premises, the best way to learn English is to learn how to operate it, drama can be seen as a pedagogical Gesamtkunstwerk (Richard Wagner’s ‘ideal work of art’). I think for Moffett, it undoubtedly was.

However, I cannot help but return to the connection to folk culture. Moffett’s comment recognizing the accessibility of drama and my experience in it is where I drew an in instant connection. Drama is organic. While it may be elevated to a high culture, it rises up from the most humble and natural of beginnings. It is hard not to think the humble, folk aspects of his revolutionary notion contributed to a lack of traction. Nevertheless, nothing diminishes the genius of the idea, as far as I am concerned.

2 thoughts on “Rereading Moffett – Month Three

  1. Great point, Fred.
    “All the skills and tools of literacy are required writ large. Again, it involves our whole selves, speaking, listening, reading, writing are all engaged in the most meta fashion.”
    Reading does seem to dominate the ELA field. How often do we elevate listening to the same tier, for example?

    • Thanks for the comment, Kevin. I think we are at another high water mark for reading emphasis at the minute too with the return of the reading wars and all. Still, I think it dominates most because it is the easiest thing to assess in perhaps the easiest way. Unfortunately, what “counts” too often is what we think can easily be measured.

      Hope all is well with you and yours.

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