Ong, North, and Human Consciousness


Scholarly research—theory—is the backbone of academia.   Whether they be philosophers or scientists, all scholars answer their questions with research. They publish their findings to build the theory of their field. Theorists communicate with each other through these published findings, with each bit of research budding a speech bubble in the dialogue of academia. Theory is a continuation of the scholarly conversation. It is a written conversation loud enough for everyone in the field to hear. A scholar’s response to established theory can be supportive or argumentary, and examine or elaborate on past findings. All of it builds upon the rest of it. The process is ongoing and growing exponentially. Even death fails to prevent past theorists from “talking” with modern ones.

Students moving up in rigor and maturity of education encounter much theory during their academic careers. From my own higher-division Communication Studies courses, I’ve gathered personal experience creating and conducting research. I’ve read theory, and will inevitably write some of it myself. Practice is the goal for my theory-based learning journey, and it starts here.

To begin an English course dedicated to the theory and practice of writing, tutoring, and conferencing, I read two works by theorists Walter Ong and Stephen North.

Walter Ong

Stephen North

In The Orality of Language, Walter Ong discusses orality, literacy, and the connections between them.

In The Idea of a Writing Center, Stephen North addresses the issues within writing centers.

In reading the two articles, my class came to a holistic kind of synthesis between the two views.

I was surprised at the connections we made together, but not so surprised that my very intelligent class came to a solid starting foundation, based in theory, that would set the tone for the rest of the semester.

Walter Ong first published The Orality of Language in 1982.  Two years later, Stephen North published The Idea of a Writing Center.  As two pieces of current (in relation to each other) pieces of theory-based dialogue, these writings and writers expand our knowledge of what it means to write, to tutor, together.

According to Ong, “Language is an oral phenomenon,” and has been since ancient storytellers’ time.  Our very consciousness is ruled by language, whether it be an internal dialogue or an exchange of the moral workings we mentally collect over time.  “This human consciousness is the center of a writer,” says North, because “without writing, human consciousness cannot achieve its fuller potentials, cannot produce other beautiful and powerful creations,” according to Ong.

Interconnectivity between the simple, primitive characteristics of language, the human consciousness, and the tangible byproduct of it all– writing, paints the synthesis between Ong and North.  Beginning simply, understanding the keystone that language is for writing, is the first step to understanding theory in this topic.  It is our main tool to create theory in the first place.  From Ong’s language, I was enlightened.  The role language has in writing and tutoring practice, however, is what North expands upon.

North critiques writing centers that fail to recognize the importance of language, or even the importance of the individual minds they mentor.  A student’s inner language, their human consciousness, is the true solicitor of a tutor’s services.  Students bring pieces of writing to writing centers.  But North calls on centers two focus on the writers who actually walk into the vicinity, not the writings they lay on the table.

To do this, North says tutoring must be student-centered.  Shallow, lower-order concerns are not as important as the student itself.  Selflessness, yet a method carefully monitoring your own language, is a major theme underlying North’s article.

With Ong, North gives theories that may be well-argued.  They may be refutable.  Either way, it’s something to build on from here.



One Response to “Ong, North, and Human Consciousness”

  1. 1 Brufee & McAndrew | The Committed Critic

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