Thursday, February 11, 2016

Old School

I am in trouble.

I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing, at least in the classroom.

What I am doing is inviting first-year writing students to tell some of the story of who they are and to reflect on how and why it is they got to be that way.

They seem to like it. They seem to like the writing they do that expresses some of this to the community that the class becomes once everyone in class in in the same boat.

I'm not supposed to be doing this.

The higher-ups think students telling stories about their uses of language and how that affects their identities is too "touchy feely," too personal, insufficiently "rigorous."

I find that students are more interested in the strategies they can use to improve their writing when they are interested and engaged in what they are writing. I bring the rigor and the techniques and the purposes, audience, and rhetorical situation to the discussion once it means something to the students, once these abstractions have some relevance to what they are writing.

And yes, I teach them terms related to writing processes. I talk about invention, looping, focusing, developing, arranging, dividing, organizing. I talk about tone, audience, persona, voice. I talk about sentences, active verbs, sensory detail, specificity, and precision.

I want them to use these terms when they talk to each other about about peer writing. I want them to talk like writers, like teachers even.

I also want them to be agents of their own language, shapers of discourse, critics of accepted norms.

I do not teach them mere technique or how to use language with no thought to the consequences of misinforming, misleading, or misrepresenting. I hope I teach them respect for words and for what words mean.

All of this, to the modern academy, is quaint, if not vaguely indecent.

I am an anachronism among my colleagues. All of those who think as I do have moved on.

Oh, well. So be it.

I walk to class carrying the banner of a bygone set of values, values that, to me, are as rippling with vitality as the undying embers of true love.

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