I’m going to permit myself a few minutes of undisciplined writing about the use of personal writing in the classroom, a subject that will probably be the focus of the rest of my academic years. I am collecting on my research page statements from writing teachers (and I hope from students) on the use, misuse, or disuse of personal writing. Some of us have hit in our discussions on the difference between writing for fun and writing for pain (imagining that later the pain will pay off in, let’s say, delayed gratification). My parenthetical statement here opens up the issue of class warfare, if anyone has paid attention to Pierre Bourdieu, or, in inversion, to Lynn Bloom’s Freshman Writing as a Middle Class Enterprise–an absolutely fascinating essay chock full of social-class irony.
I am going to make an unsurprising claim here: teachers who celebrate depersonalized, pseudo-objective writing are — I’m trying to put this kindly — falling prey to a program of social reproduction. I know this is the obverse of Berlin’s claim (and I know now that I am writing to my colleagues, not my students–but they’re listening in). Well, I wrote about all this in my book, Going North, Thinking West. Here’s what lies behind this thesis–and I have been subject to this delusion (see Peckham, The Stories We Tell): We’re eulogizing a discourse or set of genres more available to middle-class than to working-class children. That’s social reproduction. Further, I think that we’re implicated in the game–in fact, I’m sure of it. We get into the academic/objective/intellectual/impersonal writing game, we are in some sense trying to increase our personal status within the field and within the very suspect universe of higher education.
I of course know that colleges and universities pretend they are educating. But really, are we all beguiled by that claim? How can we interrogate (think critically) about the function of higher education? And how can we interrogate the various games we play when we derogate writing for pleasure and fun (personal, expressive, exploratory, seriously communicative writing) and elevate supra-genres like depersonalize argument, assignments (and I’ve given many of them) that take the fun out of writing? As I write this, I realize I’m angry. I’m angry about any form of writing instruction that takes the fun out of writing–and I’ve done my share of it. I think that many of our claims about what we need to teach are forms of posturing–postures that we’ve been taught to assume (Tompkins).
I suppose I’m just reverting to a Freirean trope: we need to pay attention to what our students enjoy writing and work from there. I urge, as I think Beth put it, a refocusing on self-sponsored writing. Britton et al., called it impelled–the kind of writing I’m doing here, because I would like to see a paradigm shift away from so-called reasoned writing. I want to see (and read) writing that speaks clearly, in which writers reveal themselves, and open themselves up to a free exchange of emotions (with some grounding in experience). Doug and Wendy have of course been leaders in this agenda. I’m just following in their wake. I would make one claim and I make it to my students: if you’re not having fun here, let’s rethink. And if I’m not in love with what my students write, I had better rethink.
End of rant.
[This is a post on my personal writing blog ( personalwriting2.blogspot.com ). In my English 2000 class, I’m asking them to explore who they speak to the outside world and get that nether world to speak back. ]