Rereading Moffett – Month One

While I haven’t posted in my long off-again-on-again blog in some time, this seemed good inspiration for chronicling a journey.

Photo: James MoffettLast week, I entered a reading group focused on the work of the late English teaching giant James Moffett with a bunch of National Writing Project colleagues. When I first heard the group was being created I immediately jumped in and couldn’t wait to get started.

Moffett is one of those foundational figures of the early Writing Project. It took me years to glean just how significant his contributions have been to the field of K-12 English teaching. At first, he was just a name that wasn’t mentioned on the mouths of experienced NWP folks. As often is the case, my interest piqued, I started to dig and read a little.

Over time I came to realize just how much of my own thinking about teaching English and his overlapped. It has always felt like the more I read his work the more I nod and think to myself, “Why don’t more people I know and work with realize some of this stuff?” Although to be fair, that is, in part, what has always drawn me back to the writing project. It is always the people. Even opening the virtual session to see the number of familiar faces was an emphatic affirmation.

A few years ago, I started a deeper dive into Moffett while working on a fellowship I was doing in writing instruction. However, a fair amount of his work has fallen out of print and combined with the time it took to secure some of the books and the pressures of deadlines ultimately stalled the depth of the dive. I certainly was able to make use of some of it, but I finished the project feeling slightly unsatisfied with my exploration of Moffett.

In the interim, I picked up some of those hard to find volumes but haven’t had the time to dedicate to them as I would like. Despite my desire to know more, I sometimes need a push to restart the kind of in-depth study that I had hoped. This group looks like just the motivation I needed to reopen the exploration. Already it has been an invitation to that deeper dive I started but went unfinished a few years ago.

Even before the first meeting, I began pouring over the selection of articles for the second session. My curiosity and desire reignited almost instantly.

Best of all, this opportunity already feels even better. Reading and discussing the work in a community of like-minded individuals with an array of deeper knowledge and experience with Moffett and his works is a boon that can only eclipse any individual passion project of my own. There are even members of the group who knew the man personally and worked with him some capacity while he was alive, which is all the more exciting.

3 thoughts on “Rereading Moffett – Month One

  1. Hey Fred,

    Great to read your post and get to know a little bit more about you and your interest in Moffett. You took the words right out of my mouth when you said that through reading Moffett you came to realize “how much of my own thinking about teaching English and his overlapped.” I also came to Moffett after teaching for a while and felt that he was articulating some of my base and most closely held notions about effective teaching. His writing is… weird in that way. He presages or intuits so much about what we intuitively, even instinctively, know and experience as teachers. There’s a very real, almost eerie, familiarity in encountering that “overlap,” and, as you say, it feels really important to share and discuss all of this with fellow teachers.

    So glad to have you in the reading group!


    Jonathan Marine

    • Thanks, Jonathan. I may have a lot more to share at some point. I am still, kind of drinking all of it in, but thought I would capitalize on some of the writing I have been doing in the group and share it more widely. Also, thank you for leading the group and wrangling the whole effort.

  2. I found James Moffett through a different door. Starting with Montessori I became very interested in “holistic education” as a whole. I dove into the “Meetings With Remarkable Educators” series of podcasts. Once* James Moffett was mentioned and his “The Universal Schoolhouse” was referred to as a “classic.” I had to read it. *Moffett is mentioned in interview with James Creger.

    I’m not a polished writer but I can recognize how Moffett’s ideas are worth another study today. TUS (as I call it) and Harmonic Learning are the two books I’ve read so far.

    Ron Miller, Ph.D. mentions Moffett in his book “What are Schools For? Holistic Education in American Culture”
    (Here tried but failed at copy/paste a passage from Miller’s book.) Peace.

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