The seminar tonight went okay, I suppose.
Night classes can be a difficult crowd, as everyone is tired and not necessarily all that motivated. I did the best I could to make some rather dry educational theory interesting to me. Of course, that meant twisting it into a linguistic theory perspective. I was amazed; the teacher didn’t interrupt to argue or complain that I was twisting it all wrong. But it’s just plain weird stuff, when you push hard on it.
The textbook, a case study of university and workplace writing called Worlds Apart argues that in order to teach effectively we need to make the motivation for writing in the university environment closer to the workplace. Drawing on activity theory, it seeks to make the case that motive is what accounts for the gap. However, if you read Leontev, the originator of this theory, he makes the claim that human consciousness does not exist outside activity. That is rather extreme. The social, according to him, is the only factor that governs activity. Marxist, and damn proud of it.
One of the conclusions of Worlds Apart is that writers in the workplace environment must inevitably lose their individuality and become alienated from themselves in order to survive. Sounds strangely like Marx’s theory of the alienation of the worker, only restated. The ultimate conclusion is that capitalism cannot survive. The workplace, because it denies the individual, would therefore be doomed. So, knowing this, we must be good Marxist teachers and teach teamwork, while accepting that it increases the misery in the world?
I don’t think so. Any model of writing that denies the power of individual motivation, of individual will, is seriously flawed to me. People write well when it fulfils a need in them to accomplish something; while “situated writing” is an important concept, it’s not the only way of looking at things. As a salesman, I know that the motivator of “what’s in it for me” far outweighs the pitch of “it’s for a worthy cause.” Teaching for me, is not much different. Making people better doesn’t mean shaping them into better cogs, it means giving them the power to make their own fucking wheel. That is what’s in it for them.
My presentation wasn’t interactive enough. I’ve got to remember to challenge people after the major points, instead of just rolling on. But I was tired myself, and the whole thing came in fairly neatly at 1 hour. We all got out early, because I just presented the contrasting points of view rather than asking people to choose sides. I think that worked out all right, because everyone was tired anyway. And this stuff just isn’t all that interesting, unless viewed in an incredibly broad context.