I’ve been avoiding writing on some loaded issues. Steve Himmer has been stirring the pot. But as the issues converge, I suppose I have to say something. First, on the issue of teachers who blog— I’ve thought about that a lot.
I decided early on not to advertise my blog to my students, but not for the usual reasons. One thing that many people in my program stress, which I agree with totally, is that part of a writing teacher’s job is to instill more complex notions of responsibility to an audience. This is immediately short-circuited in a normal classroom environment— the teacher sits at the top of the food chain, and ultimately is the sole audience for writing created in the classroom. This results in myopic, stereotypical student essays. I believe that writing at the university level should instead prepare students for real-world writing environments with shifting standards and diffuse audiences. The first step is to dethrone the idea that writing is constructed to satisfy the teacher alone, which has been drilled into their skulls since the moment they enter the system.
I don’t promote my blog as an example, primarily because I don’t want them to think that I expect them to write like I do. That would be disastrous on so many levels that I needn’t really enumerate them. However, it is inevitable that industrious students can and do locate my blog. I write in a public environment by choice.
Anyone who writes in a public environment must deal with issues of self-censorship. For someone who expects approval for their skill as a writer (in the form of tenure, among other things) this forms a huge millstone. However, this is also a personal space. To be denied approval based on things I have written here would be a deeply cutting personal blow. My decision to continue to write personally about deep issues is couched in the belief that any institution that would deny me as a writer because of my honesty is just not an institution that I would care to be a part of. I read an essay earlier in the year by a veteran of this writing program that detailed his experience as a heroin addict. It was published as a part of a monograph on writing and healing, and was placed at his insistence in his tenure file at the institution he now teaches at. Numerous tenured faculty members here have published on difficult, personal experience— including, for example, a linguistic analysis of the discourse of Alcoholics Anonymous from the viewpoint of an insider, an alcoholic. I find their honesty inspiring.
However, these things are not waved like a cape in front of impressionable students as a desirable mode of practice. I dealt with the issue of my own personal writing style— often filled with doubt and conflict— the first semester I taught. I decided that it was okay if my students found out I was human. If anything, it helps dethrone me from being any sort of mythic presence in front of the classroom. Students who are industrious enough to find my blog, either by my forgetfulness in removing my signature line or by tracking down the domain, are usually the best students anyway. I have to trust that they are smart enough to realize that it is what it is— a free space for expression and compendium of research. It is neither a lesson, nor an example. It’s just a vent.
I only mildly censor myself, more for a general public than a specific one of students who are usually only infrequent visitors anyway. The few students that visit regularly are adult enough to cope with it— or at least, I have to believe that anyway, or else I’d be paralyzed with fear about it. My sense of humor can be rather twisted, and hopefully they are smart enough to tell when I’m joking.