I guess you could say I was too comfortable. So it threw me for a bit of a loop when I happened upon some commentary that described something I had written in my blog as unkind, sneering, and dismissive. Whoa there. Me? I so seldom have occasion to hear myself (or, more precisely, my discourse) described in that way; I wasn't quite expecting it. Especially, perhaps, in relation to what I thought was a pretty minor piece of a blog entry. Here's the offending section, from a much longer entry below:
And in a way that's so much more--what, authentic? No, but something like authentic--than the old "writing alongside one's students" stuff that you get from some of the expressivists. (Maybe some of them really were writing alongside their students, but the way that idea gets appropriated really irks me sometimes: it seems too much like a parent using crayons alongside their child.)
Now, I'm not particularly interested in "defending" myself, but I am interested in (at least) two things: why I'm bothered by the way the notion of writing alongside one's students gets appropriated (sometimes one seldom stops to interrogate one's own aversions until being called out on it) and why what seemed, to me, like such an innocuous remark was received with such strong aversion. Since I probably can't answer the second question very well, I'll stick with the first one.
First, I should say that I do see how this passage could be construed as "dismissive." It's a pretty common rhetorical trope, I think, to elevate one thing (in this case, Jeff's notion of writing in order to learn how to teach) by showing how it is both different from and superior to another thing (in this case, something pretty hastily and sloppily associated with expressivism). And I would guess taking up that trope necessarily tends toward dismissing the thing you're using to make the comparision.
But, just to set the record straight (in case anyone is keeping records), I'm hardly dismissive, in real life, of what gets called "expressivism." I put that term in quotation marks because I'm really rather uncomfortable with all those taxonomies that Berlin et al set up back in the late 80s/early 90s. (See, I'm an equal opportunity critic: neither "expressivists" nor "social constructivists" get the full endorsement from me.) Like all categories, they tend toward reduction. But, then again, like all categories, they can be useful when writing in academic shorthand, which I more or less was doing in the above passage. That is, I was doing the "this is different from/better than that" trope, itself a kind of academic shorthand, and I was referring to a category that is associated with a certain practice, just to try to give a very rough sense of what I was talking about. Now that I've parsed out what I was doing there, I'm not sure it's such a great general academic practice, but it is a practice, all the same.
But, really, to get to the heart of what I wanted to write here: why do I distrust the "writing alongside one's students" thing? And it is that: a distrust. I haven't really theorized it. And, to be totally honest, I often myself do something that might be called "writing alongside my students," though I don't hold it as a dogma, as something I must do. So why do I distrust it? (This isn't a rhetorical question, btw, I'm really asking myself: I think it's tremendously useful to critically interrogate one's own affective stance toward practices and concepts.) Also, I want to point out (and here, I guess, I am being somewhat defensive) that I was objecting more to the way the practice/idea gets appropriated than the idea in general. That is, I've often heard people deploy this term as something like dogma, and I do distrust that. But, then, I tend toward a distrust of any pedagogical dogma. (Really? Are you sure? Those are useful questions, I find.) And when WAS (writing alongside students) becomes dogma, it seems to often be articulated with a certain kind of general adult/child orientation toward students. Now, I can't document this. (At least not here and now.) It's truly a feeling I have. But it's the same sort of feeling I quite often have when student writing gets talked about in publications (and often in public, too): I want to cringe. It makes me feel like I as teacher am being positioned as a superior being, one who stoops down to "write alongside" these sweet lesser beings. (Or, in the case of student writing getting talked about: like I'm the doctor observing another doctor examine a patient: a la Foucault.) I'm truly not trying to be unkind here to anyone who practices WAS: indeed, it isn't exactly the practice so much as the discourse, the attitude that comes across to my affective sensors.
But why do my affective sensors go off and others don't? Not sure. Merits more reflection, probably. But what I like about Jeff's idea is that it isn't writing *alongside* students; it's a writing practice that gets further practiced in the classroom, that affects one's pedagogy. That's why the practice of blogging has changed the way I think of blogging as a pedagogical practice: as a blogger, I *get* blogging in a way that I didn't get it when I was just setting up blogs for my students to use. Which makes me think of a smart thing Derek said sometime back and that I referenced before--and now that I look at it again, I realize he even called it "writing alongside students," but in the blogosphere, doesn't that become something different? Something much more, well, like people talking with people (even while recognizing that power differentials aren't going away) than like adults and children working side by side? (And I have to acknowledge that the adult/child thing is just one of my peeves that I should maybe also examine some: it bothers me when college students are called "kids." When I was 18, I thought I was embarking on a serious adult intellectual journey. I would have been hurt to know my teachers thought of me as a "kid." )
OK. That's enough. Thanks, Mike, for getting me thinking. Comments welcome.