This is my characteristic rambling. I’m thinking about David Coleman’s remark with zero sense of irony about student writing: “that no one gives a shit about what you think.” I’m willing to grant that Coleman was carried away by the moment and his own importance in his address to the New York Department of Education in 2011.
But still: he addresses a central problem in writing instruction. I cope with this problem. There’s a kind of reigning ideology out there somewhere that imagines depersonalized writing as the holy grail of writing instruction. Personalized writing (scatalogically emphasized by Coleman) is what we want to get away from.
In a way, I get this. We’re imagining that we can write about the world out-there without warping it from the in-here. In a sense, this out-thereism is the endpoint of the enlightenment, scientism, truth.
It’s not too hard to understand the classism involved in this opposition between the subjective and objective (Bourdieu)–and also to suspect the ways in which the dominant classes manipulate the perception of the objective–they are, after all, in control of the discourse.
I’m going to reflect on my students’ writing. Clearly, when I give them writing topics that ask them to think about their lives, their histories, their dreams, they write like Shakespeare. When I move them outward, asking them to write about the outer-world with some reference to themselves as the ones perceiving that world, their writing flattens out.
Some hang with it, but others seem to have lost the connection between themselves and the words they are throwing onto the screen. When I ask them to write about about a subject (a la Coleman) with no reference to themselves–well, this writing isn’t a lot of fun to read–and quite obviously for them, not a lot of fun to write.
I know that when my students are in their texts, I really enjoy reading and responding to them. I do this with pleasure.
I know that when I write with myself in the text, I write with pleasure. I do it for the sheer hell of it.
I recently wrote a long essay about teaching with perhaps too much of myself in it. But I have to wonder, as someone asked me, who cares about you?
I take this question seriously, and I really can’t work my way out of it.
Here’s the end. I know I like to write when I am 100 percent in my text. I also know that when my students tell me about themselves, that’s the writing I like to read. I like to read because I get to know them. In our classroom, we become a community through our writing (about ourselves).
I’ll leave my thought here before I go back to rewrite my essay and try to take a bit of myself out of it. My question still is: what are we teaching them?