A review of Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing




Hoermann, Jacquelyn E.
Enos, Richard Leo

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Composition Studies


On December 8, 1975, a very disturbing essay appeared in Newsweek called “Why Johnny Can’t Write.” This essay was unsettling because it publicly exposed America’s literacy problem. The title would lead any reader to believe that the problem lies with the child, but in the following decades of research we have seen that the problems associated with literacy lie not with the child but rather the system the child learns from and society’s view of what constitutes good writing. For his entire career, Peter Elbow, recently retired from The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, sought to correct this perception of the student as the problem. As the capstone to a long and prolific career, Vernacular Eloquence (VE) amasses much of Elbow’s research and experiences in teaching literacy through orality, contributing to the field a philosophy of writing that is timely, needed, and exceptionally eloquent in its own right. Elbow’s views on writing first came to national attention with his 1973 volume Writing Without Teachers, a work that challenged many assumptions about how students learn and how the process of writing unfolds. Such a radical challenge to the conventional notions of literacy and the teaching of English has not been without political consequence in academia.



Writing and rhetoric, Literacy instruction, Teaching writing


This is the published version of an article that is available at https://compositionstudiesjournal.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/compositionstudies_42n2.pdf. Recommended citation: Hoermann, Jacquelyn E., & Enos, R. L. (2014). A review of Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. Composition Studies, 42(2), 163–170. This item has been deposited in accordance with publisher copyright and licensing terms and with the author’s permission.