Although their works focus on different issues within writing and communication, both authors are ultimately concerned about the status of learning language – Sheridan hones in on the lack of attention given to tone, while Elbow emphasizes the various dialects of English that are being ignored. Sheridan goes on in detail to describe how our natural “animal passions of man at least, should be fixed, self-evident, and universally intelligible; and it has accordingly been impressed by the unerring hand of nature on the human frame”, and yet education during his time was neglecting to instruct students on this very natural means of communication (884). This was especially surprising since Sheridan acknowledges that “the tones expressive of sorrow, lamentation, mirth, joy, hatred, anger, love, pity &c. are the same in all nations, and consequently can excite emotions in us analogous to those passions, when accompanying words which we do not understand” (884). Writing during the Enlightenment, I would have imagined that we would have embraced the use of tones and how it brings a level of understanding even across cultures – however, perhaps it was specifically their emerging emphasis of reason that led to their concentration on clear language, a language that could be clearly understood between people. Since, although the tones can be interpreted cross culturally, a perfect understanding might not have been believed possible – “It is certain that we have given names to many of these emotions, at least to such as are the strongest, and most remarkable kind, tho’ much the greater part of them, and the different degrees of all, remain without names” (883). Sheridan was calling for attention to our tones in language because of their power to communicate, and was up against a culture focused on right reason and clarity in language.
In the same way, Elbow is trying to call attention to a large element of language and writing that has been overlooked for centuries – the various dialects of English. I felt his word choice, like Anthony pointed out, was very interesting. Using terms like “mistakes”, “Bad English”, “wrong language”, and “conform” highlighted Elbows belief that SWE has been a tyrant of sorts in the world of academic writing instruction. Elbow is in a very similar situation as Sheridan insofar as his argument is going against a widely accepted cultural norm for the teaching and development of student’s writing in English. I agree with his idea to “give more attention to meaning, thinking, organization, and clarity” and I believe as well that a good way of doing that is allowing students to write in their “Mother Tongue” if necessary (667). As for myself, I recall being instructed to just “get my thoughts on paper” and to worry about grammar during a later draft of my writing. Although I always felt that this helped me, I would still, however, feel that twinge of anxiety and great urge to correct my grammar earlier on. I think his method is a good way to encourage an enjoyment of writing in students who might have been turned off from it given the anxiety that accompanies writing in SWE. Although, I don’t think I can say I am thoroughly convinced that we should be teaching various English dialects as academic writing (Ahh! Don’t kill me!). Elbow references writers of stigmatized dialects such as: Gloria Anzaldua, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Lois-Ann Yamanaka - to name a few - but all of these individuals were college educated when SWE was still, well, the standard. These authors deviated from the norm which is what makes them stand out so brilliantly. It just seems that with this we’d be changing our system of education just to change it. I think students should absolutely be exposed to these alternative styles of writing, they should be encouraged to utilize their “Mother Tongue” to organize their thoughts and rhetoric, however, I still believe it’s important for students to get a complete grasp and understanding of academic writing as it is held at the university level – especially as Elbow is directing his theory specifically at college level courses.