Making the grade

Making the grade.

I’ve just spent the day poring over portfolios, and being far too generous. But that’s okay. Some of the reflective essays really got to me; not that flattery had anything to do with my generosity. It was the issues that they brought up regarding my teaching style: “You talked to us on our individual levels” and things like “I’ve always hated writing personal essays, but you showed me that there were other kinds of writing beyond creative writing” and best of all, “these were tools I can use.” Most of the portfolios could have used stronger proofreading, but because I was not such a big “language cop” as other teachers, people seemed more willing to take chances with their final efforts. Almost universally, they showed strong thinking and improving critical skills. That to me is far more important than correct use of the semi-colon.

The biggest shock was the paper on medical marijuana. It was actually proofread carefully this time, and completely reformed and reshaped. Or better still, rethought. That’s what my class (in my mind at least) was all about. Learning how to think more effectively. That’s what writing does best: it teaches you how to think clearly.

As I went to school to pick up some straggling portfolios today, I ran into Dr. Kleine. He seemed to think that the paper I’m working on regarding triadic models really should find a slot for publication somewhere. I was sort of ashamed of what I gave him; I have a ways to go with it, but the basic ideas were there. I think that the focus on social practice in writing ignores the fundamental problem of “mental space” where writing is refined into a social instrument. All the “group work” in the world won’t put a person in touch with themselves, and into what really generates thought. It’s inside, as well as outside, so it’s dangerous to go too far in either direction. So many things these days seem to me to be just pendulum swings: “oh, individuality is everything… no, sociality is everything.” Writing is composed of both things. You can’t ignore one at the expense of the other. Many of my students remarked that I was the first teacher to really work with them individually on their writing. That saddens me no end. People are unique, and deserve to be treated as such.

I’ve been rethinking “Ave Maria,” the first section of Hart Crane’s The Bridge. There is a lot more that I want to try to write about that poem, before I move on with Walker Evans. There’s a paper in there too. I’ve got too many damn papers I want to write. But there is something about just spilling out these thoughts as they come to me. They are not rhizomatic, but treelike in every way. When I get a little further down the road, I’ll have to try to connect these posts in some way so that someone outside my head might stand a chance at figuring them out.

Sometimes, I go way out on a limb before I figure out where the trunk is. It’s gradually coming together as I read and write. That’s what this stuff is really good for. It is indeed, a “machine for thinking.”