Part four presents two separate copyrighted written assignments completed by the author as a student in the second and tenth grade, respectively. The first assignment commenced nearly 44 years ago. The documents, done under different conditions and at different developmental time periods, resulted in positive experiences overall based upon an informal retrospective self-assessment by the author. It is unknown whether any positive health changes occurred. The author did identify two potential impediments to positive healthy development based upon direct experience which are discussed below.
Research has supported that writing can promote positive health changes. It does appear that many people have experienced and attributed positive benefits to writing behavior. These individuals include researchers, authors, people who have experienced psychological trauma, and the general public who apparently does experience various types of developmental issues and stresses during the course of their lives.
James Pennebaker (Pennebaker, J.W. . Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166) wrote on page 162 that “…when individuals write about emotional experiences, significant physical and mental health improvements follow….Although a reduction in inhibition may contribute to the disclosure phenomenon, changes in basic cognitive and linguistic processes during writing predict better health.” Also, on page 162 : “Self-reports also suggest that writing about upsetting experiences, although painful in the days of writing, produces long term improvements in mood and indicators of well-being compared with writing about control topics…Behavioral changes have also been found. Students who write about emotional topics show improvements in grades in the months following the study. Senior professionals who have been laid off from their jobs get new jobs more quickly after writing. Consistent with the direct health measures, university staff members who write about emotional topics are subsequently absent from their work at lower rates than control participants…after writing, experimental participants do not exercise more or smoke less. The one exception is that the study with laid-off professionals found that writing reduced self-reported alcohol intake.”
In “Writing as a Way of Healing : How Telling Stories Transforms Our Lives” by Louise DeSalvo, she wrote on pages 3-4 (published and copyrighted in 1999, Harpers Collins Publishers) : “Writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life….How often have I been reading a writer’s published journal or letters and stumbled upon an admission that, for this author, without writing, life just wouldn’t be worth living, that writing has given purpose and meaning to life? Times too numerous to remember…The writer H.D., in Hermetic Definition, phrased it most succinctly ‘Write, write, write or die.’ and Henry Miller, the working class writer…once admitted…,how much writing had changed him. ‘The more I wrote, the more I became a human being…I was getting the poison out of my system.’ ” DeSalvo also wrote on pages 8-9 : “Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, sees her writing as necessary to her well being, to her very existence. Writing, she once remarked, not only for her, but for us all, is ‘a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit’….Most writers I know or have read about use metaphors like Walker’s sturdy ladder to describe the efficacious nature of their writing. ‘Picking and digging,’ my writing partner Edviga Giunta, who grew up in Sicily, with a garden out back and a grove of olive and lemon trees, calls it….For me, writing has functioned in different ways at different times for different projects. Always, though, like Walker, my writings have been necessary. For without writing, I know, I would be lost, or worse.” She also wrote on page 16 that : “…”Try not to censor yourself…Write what you need to write or what you want to write…” And, on page 26, regarding one of the identified “Guidelines for Confronting Traumas in Writing” derived from a book by James W. Pennebaker : “Write in a private, safe, comfortable environment.”
Karen A. Balkie and Kay Wilhelm wrote (in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment  11: 338-346, copyright 2005, the article was titled “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing”) in the Abstract: “Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. In the expressive writing paradigm, participants are asked to write about such events for 15–20 minutes on 3–5 occasions. Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics…” On page 338 they wrote : “…Over the past 20 years, a growing body of literature has demonstrated the beneficial effects that writing about traumatic or stressful events has on physical and emotional health…On page 340 Balkie and Wilhelm wrote : “The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls.” Longer term benefits identified were : Fewer stress-related doctor visits, improved immune system functioning, lowered blood pressure, improved lung and liver functioning, improved affect and mood, decreased depressive symptoms prior to examinations, feeling of greater psychological well being, and less post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms. Social and behavioral benefits identified were reduced absenteeism from work, quicker re-employment after job loss, improved sport performance, improved working memory, higher GPA, and a changed social and linguistic behavior. Also, on page 340 they wrote : “A meta-analysis…suggests that, for physically and psychologically healthy individuals, the effects produced by expressive writing are substantial and similar in magnitude to the effects of other psychological interventions, many of which are more involved, time-consuming and expensive.”
In “How Do I Love Thee : Let Me Count The Words” by Richard B. Slatcher and James W. Pennebacker (Psychological Science, Volume 17. Number 8, copyright 2006) the Abstract revealed : “Writing about emotional experiences is associated with a host of positive outcomes. This study extended the expressive-writing paradigm to the realm of romantic relationships to examine the social effects of writing….Participants who wrote about their relationships were significantly more likely to still be dating their romantic partners 3 months later….Linguistic analyses of the instant messages revealed that participants and their partners used significantly more positive and negative emotion words in the days following the expressive-writing manipulation if the participants had written about their relationship than if they had written about their daily activities…” On page 600, Slatcher and Pennebaker wrote : “The preliminary findings suggest that expressive writing may be particularly beneficial for people in romantic relationships. For example, when people write expressively about recent relationship breakups, they are somewhat more likely than control participants to reunite…”
James W. Pennebaker wrote (Independent Practitioner, Winter, 2010) on page 23 that “Forms of expressive writing have been used as homework within psychotherapy for over 50 years.” In another recent article by Pennebaker and Chung (in Pennebaker, J. W., & Chung, C. K. [in press], “Expressive Writing and Its Links to Mental and Physical Health.” In H. S. Friedman [Ed.], Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.) on page 3 they wrote : “A central premise of this chapter is that when people transform their feelings and thoughts about personally upsetting experiences into language, their physical and mental health often improve.” On pages 3-4 they wrote : “The basic writing paradigm…Those assigned to the control conditions are typically asked to write about superficial topics…for those assigned to the experimental group are a variation on the following : For the next three days, I would like for you to write about your very deepest thoughts and feeling about the most traumatic experience of your entire life. In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts…Not everyone has had a single trauma but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors – and you can write about these as well. All of your writing will be completely confidential. Don’t worry about spelling, sentence structure, or grammar. The only rule is that once you begin writing, continue to do so until your time is up.”
In the same article, Pennebaker and Chung wrote on page 17 : “Once an experience is translated into language, however, it can be processed in a conceptual manner. In language format, the individual can assign meaning, coherence, and structure. This would allow for the event to be assimilated and, ultimately, resolved and/or forgotten, there.” And on Pages 19-20 they wrote : “One of the basic functions of language and conversation is to communicate coherently and understandably. By extension, writing about an emotional experience in an organized way is healthier than in a chaotic way…Any technique that disrupts the telling of the story or the organization of the story is undoubtedly detrimental…The degree to which individuals are able to cognitively organize the event into a coherent narrative is a marker that the event has achieved knowledge status. In many ways, it is possible to determine the degree to which people have come to know their emotions and experiences by the language they use. Words or phrases such as, ‘I now realize that…’ or ‘I understand why…’ suggest that people are able to identify when they have achieved a knowing state about an event.” On page 21 they asked “Is it possible that peoples’ linguistic styles can predict who benefits from writing ?…Closer analyses revealed that these effects were entirely due to changes in pronoun use. Specifically, the more that people oscillated in their use of 1st person singular pronouns (I, me, my) and all other personal pronouns (e.g., we, you, she, they), the more people’s health improved. If individuals wrote about emotional upheavals across the 3-4 days of writing but they approached the topic in a consistent way – as measured by pronoun use, they were least likely to show health improvements. The findings suggest that the switching of pronouns reflect a change in perspective from one writing day to the next. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter if people oscillate between an I focus to a we-or them-focus or vice versa. Rather, health improvements merely reflect a change in the orientation and personal attention of the writer…The use of these words may simply be reflecting some underlying cognitive and emotional changes occurring in the person.” On page 22 they wrote : “…writing has been shown to increase working memory… After people write about troubling events, they devote less cognitive effort on them. This allows them to be better listeners, better friends.” On page 23 they wrote : “There is a certain irony that the original explanation for the writing phenomenon was inhibition. In the 1980s, our belief was that when people didn’t talk about emotional upheavals, the work of inhibition ultimately led to stress and illness. The explanation was partially correct…Not talking about a traumatic experience is also associated with a breakdown of one’s social network, a decrease in working memory, sleep disruptions, alcohol and drug abuse, and an increased risk for additional traumatic experiences…Writing forces people to stop and reevaluate their life circumstance…emotions and emotional experiences are translated into words. This analog to digital process demands a different representation of the events in the brain, in memory, and in the ways people think on a daily basis…these cognitive changes have the potential for people to come to a different understanding of their circumstances. The cognitive changes themselves now allow the individuals to begin to think about and use their social worlds differently. They talk more; they connect with others differently. They are now better able to take advantage of social support. And with these cognitive and social changes, many of their unhealthy behaviors abate. As recent data suggest, expressive writing promotes sleep, enhanced immune function, reduced alcohol consumption, etc….expressive writing is not a panacea. The overall effect size of writing is modest at best. We still don’t know for whom it works best, when it should be used, or when other techniques should be used in its place…the best studies have found that writing influences slow moving but important outcome measures such as physician visits, illness episodes, and other real world behaviors that may take months to see. Self-report outcomes, although common and easy to use, generally do not bring about extremely strong findings…”
The two separate copyrighted written assignments completed by the author who was then a student in the second and tenth grade, respectively, are presented below.
First, class assignment poems from the 1967-1968 school year are presented. Overall, the project seemed overwhelmingly quite successful for the teacher and class per the very clear and vivid recollection of the author. The author and many other classmates were quite pleased with (what will be referred to here as) a collection of poems that were printed based upon verbalizations at the time. The cover page cartoon character general outline, cover page words, and other words interspersed within the collection of poems were done by someone else for the entire class. But coloring on the cover page, likely the cartoon character outline detail, and the 67 recently counted poems were purportedly done individually by the class members. The poems by other classmates were not included here due to not having permission from second grade classmates of 1967-1968 as of this entry date to display their poems. The poems were apparently authored by the students in the class but were handwritten and then copied by either the second grade teacher or an assistant.
The author at that time was often called “Louie” (of which three of four poems bear this name) versus “Louis” (there was one poem, “My Trip to Space”, with this name below it in addition to this name being on the cover page). The teacher apparently edited the poem, “My Trip to Space”, at the end to read “free, free, free” without the immediate knowledge of Louie. Perhaps, not coincidentally, this poem is remembered for the apparent lack of freedom. The creative odysey in this particular poem came to an apparent narrative halt as the gravity of someone else completing Louie’s poem sunk in after it was made public in the collection of poems (that all classmates had been given a copy of when completed). The intention of the teacher was believed to have been helpful. However, the fact that those three words were added at the time was unsettling to Louie. He learned about it when he read the edited poem among the collection of poems after they had been copied and distributed. This overall positive experience (as well as many positive experiences in grade school and high school which included just a few instances of unstructured creative type of writing assignments ) was able to help keep Louie speeding along—with periodic unsettling reality checks.
But the editing is vividly remembered.
One such unsettling reality check occurred during the 1975-1976 school year. An assignment in a tenth grade English class was to keep a journal. This writing experience was thought to be an overall extremely rewarding subjective experience. For example, the Jimmy Carter prediction and analyses continue to be remembered fondly over 25 years later. After the entry dated “Mon. Feb. 23” the teacher wrote : “…Your journal does show a lot of work. If all of this is original…” The reader can see what was written in purple by the teacher who apparently evaluated the journal contents. A response to this was given by the author and then student dated “Thur., Feb. 26.”
These two differing class writing assignments illustrate that they each were rewarding from a subjective viewpoint, in retrospect. However, from the same retrospective subjective point of view : Editing (the one poem in 1967-1968 school year) and questioning the originality of nonspecific entries in an assigned high school journal (without any specific evidence, apparently) comprise two areas that appeared to be healthy change impediments in this case study of one. These two apparent impediments appeared to have diluted if not set back significantly at least some of the developmental gains of the school writing assignments. It is believed that changing student responses by additions or deletions (such as but not limited to essays, journal entries, or poems as well as on objective tests like multiple choice achievement and aptitude tests or those designed to assess knowledge of class content) and questioning the originality of assigned school work without an explanation or specific information to support such an assertion can be unhealthy. Such behaviors could undermine healthy development and could inacurrately indicate that students either have or do not have certain abilities, skills, or knowledge. The two examples provided by the author above of purported unhealthy behavior by teachers toward a student could likely dwarf in comparison in the estimation of most people in both breadth and depth to the information presented below, however.
Just last month in the Atlanta Journal Contitution an article titled “Investigation into APS cheating finds unethical behavior across every level” by Heather Vogell dated July 6 2011 at 5:00 a.m. began this way : “Across Atlanta Public Schools, staff worked feverishly in secret to transform testing failures into successes….A state investigation found former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides either ignored or destroyed evidence of test cheating across the district…Teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on students’ answer sheets…Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible…Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn…For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests…”
In another publication, Mother Jones, the title was “The Biggest Cheating Scandel Ever.” It was written by Kristina Rizga (on “Wed Jul.6, 2011 1200 PM PDT”) and began like this : “Atlanta’s former school chief Beverly Hall will probably have to return her 2009 Superintendent of the Year award. Yesterday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that names 178 teachers and principals in Hall’s former school district—including 82 who confessed—in what’s likely to be the biggest cheating scandal in US history. The report found that teachers and principals in 44 schools were consistently erasing and changing test answers after students submitted their sheets…Among the main causes behind cheating, the Georgia’ Office of Special Investigators found unreasonable targets set by the district, and a widespread culture of fear and retaliation within the district…The good news is that Atlanta’s case offers the first comprehensive view into this growing problem, which should lead to better state and federal anti-cheating policies…”
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The Hygiology Post welcomes feedback from readers on all six parts of the series (individually and/or as a total package) upon completion of the series as to whether the articles help fulfill its vision and mission.
Louis DeCola, Jr. © 2011 The Hygiology Post