School’s In

School’s In

I accidentally set my alarm for seven p.m. instead of seven a.m. and missed half the teacher disorientation this morning. It’s not a big deal, since I’m fairly disoriented already. I’ve decided to make some fairly big changes to my syllabi, though it goes against the opinions expressed by quite a few people I met with today. The changes are based on my experiences last semester; I’m not even going to attempt the “warm fuzzy” getting to know you essay like I did last time. Nothing against what the other people do, but it just isn’t me. I’m into research and argumentation, hardcore.

But I heard some really interesting “process oriented” approaches from other folks that I’ll be anxious to learn the results of. I love teaching in such an open department. I can do whatever works for me and my students without many worries about specifics. My evaluations have all been positive, from both faculty and students, so I think I’m just going to try to refine what I’m doing to be even more focused. Rhetoric is such a chaotic discipline, really. Most of the other teachers are more “creatively” focused than I am. I have trouble with that; I don’t think you can teach creativity. Most of the process games don’t work for me, so find it hard to recommend them to other people. But I’m the exception, and not the rule— most teachers just love free-writing and all that stuff. I’m more interested in critical thinking skills. I’d rather see evidence of that, rather than creativity. Creativity can take care of itself.

“But Jeff, you’re so creative . . .” I get so sick of hearing that. Being creative never did me much good. I don’t mean to be so bitter about it, but I am. I think of critical reading and writing as fundamental life skills. Being able to express yourself is a life skill as well, but if you can read and write critically, then being able to express yourself will naturally follow— this is an ass-backwards way of looking at it compared to most pedagogical practice. But it works better for me.

Precious few people can earn a living expressing themselves. College costs a lot of money. It seems foolhardy to me to even suggest that creative writing is a way of conquering the world, especially at these prices. However, it’s a powerful way of getting to know yourself. I believe in the utility of literature, and of composition, and in helping people understand themselves and the way the world conspires to steer them into being good little cogs. It’s important as hell. But the skills of being able to research and evaluate arguments across all disciplinary boundaries must be taught by someone, and personally I think that is the primary job of first-year composition.

2 thoughts on “School’s In”

  1. I’m hesitantly with you, Jeff. I’m hesitant, because I respect the advocates of process and creativity enough not to gainsay them just because I set myself a different task with beginning writers. I’m with you not so much ’cause I think that creativity can take care of itself (though I doubt it’s waiting on me to take care of it), but because critical thinking and clear, articulate expression are capacities with ramifications that extend into practically every sphere of life. Moreover, those capacities are grossly undervalued in our cultural setting, despite the innumerable conflicts, disappointments, misunderstandings, and deceptions that flourish because people don’t bother to express clearly what they mean, or because people don’t expect to be held accountable for what they do in fact say.
    More than once, I’ve pointed out a problem in what a student or preacher said in a formal, public presentation, to which he responded, “But I didn’t mean that.” Well, good; but if you didn’t mean that, it would have been worth your trouble not to say it. And this mode of “expressing oneself” actually undergirds creativity, for the creativity I most admire involves saying just what one means to say (creatively). Joyce didn’t write Ulysses by just lolling about “being creative.”
    Sorry–I get worked up about this. Fight the good fight, Jeff.

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