My students have handed in “final” drafts of their blog posts. I put the final in quotation marks because the post isn’t final until it goes online. But even then, because the student can go in and modify it as much as they want (as can I, but I’m going to restrain myself, intruding only to fix broken links and other formatting issues), it is never really “final.” More about writing and publishing on the Internet that I need to get used to. Publishing anything online is permanent in that it is almost impossible to get rid of, but never concrete in that it can be edited, modified, and reshaped. So much to think about, teach, and learn.
It’s that time of the semester. The time when students who have been mysteriously absent all semester start showing up, wondering what it is they can do in order to pass my class. My immediate response: “Build a time machine, go back to the beginning of the semester, attend class, and do the work you were supposed to have done up until now.” I hold my tongue, but the kids have mostly been trained to expect bonus work, or credit recovery, in order to salvage their semester. Didn’t do anything all semester? Here’s a small assignment that if you complete it, you’ll not only pass, you may earn an A!
After a flurry of posts, I’ve been really silent for the past two weeks or so. The end of the semester is near, and I have been attempting to figure out what the end of semester is going to look like for my students. I’ve sort-of gone off syllabus. I’ve been applying for conferences, publishing opportunities, and research grants. I’ve been doing mountains of paperwork because we’re buying a house. My kids have been sick, husband away, and Europeans visiting. And, you know, Thanksgiving.
Opening for Ben Folds on his current tour is the group Lady Danville (I’m pretty sure the “New Song” video was taken at the Chicago show I attended). They are, to me, amazing. Three young dudes making great music? Yes, please. I went up front to buy their CD and there was one of the members of the band, selling their stuff. Even though I’m pretty sure I have at least ten years on him, I gushed like a school girl: You guys were awesome. So great (giggle, blush – ugh). Funny thing was, he was as excited and giddy as I was: You really liked it? Thanks! That’s so great! Thanks!
Art and academia are often seen as being very isolated and isolating professions. For many artists, you spend hours or days or years locked up in a room somewhere, by yourself, creating. Academics spend the same amount of time, apparently, in libraries, archives, offices, labs, out in the field, again, by themselves. But of course, that’s completely false. At one point or another, the artist emerges and shares their art. So, too, with the academic.
But that art is often rarely created in complete isolation. That’s we have schools, movements, collectives, troupes, and other ways that artists support and work with each other. While in Chicago, I also met a young woman who had left her small town in rural West Virginia to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. She was working with a bunch of artists whom she had met in art school and they were working and supporting each other in order to create art and make a living. She was living her dream and loving it.
I come home and I read about how reference letters in academia for women that talk about collaboration are held against the candidate. “We found that being communal is not valued in academia,” it read. When I told my husband about the findings, he was completely unsurprised. Communal, he said, isn’t as important as being independent and self-motivated. My fellow University of Venus bloggers (ok, she’s one of the founders), Mary Churchill, tweeted “grad training is currently creating insecurity, arrogance, and depression rather than collaboration.” Why are we recreating the worst stereotypes of the solitary, tortured artist, when the artists themselves long ago rejected that model?
If anything, academics should be learning from artists who look to collaborate and share their work with the widest possible audience. We should be open and honest about how challenging the life of the mind can be, but also how rewarding it can be, much like choosing to become an actor, musician, or painter. There are still academics out there who want to share with their students and colleagues. (For two examples, check out here and here). After reading these tributes to being a teacher and academic, can you imagine either of the two writers doing anything other than what they currently do? I can’t, and I can’t imagine it for myself, either.
We cannot give up hope in higher education, in some form or another. And to survive, we’re going to have to start working, and I mean really working, together. Things are going to have to change.
Let’s go. Who is with me?
As I said in my previous post, Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies; another would be The Muppet Movie. I grew up with Jim Henson. Sesame Street was my favorite show. The Muppet Show used to reduce me to hysterical laughing. Fraggle Rock was a Sunday night ritual (it aired on Sunday evenings in Canada on CBC). I was completely mystified and fascinated by The Storyteller. I still remember where I was where I heard that Jim Henson had died (in my friends’ ecology classroom in grade seven during lunch period; they were working on projects and their teacher had the radio on). When asked the questions, who would have lunch with, dead or alive, I always answer Jim Henson.
In my writing class, both advanced and developmental, we are talking about education reform and going to be crafting an argument essay/blog post on what each student thinks is the most important reform that needs to take place (or, as I put it to them, one thing that will make high school suck less). My more advanced writers are coming in with their first drafts next week, while my developmental writers will spend the final three weeks of the semester working on it. We were talking today about the assignment and what the students should include/do/say in their blog posts in order for them to be effective, etc.
This weekend, I was in Chicago for the Midwest Modern Languages’ annual convention. I organized and chaired the section on Canadian Literature (my original academic love). We had two panels of three presenters each. Four of the six were graduate students, another a recent PhD, and one final panelist from the U.K.
Today, I talked to my developmental students about making sure that the “tone” of their essays is appropriate. We’ve already talked how they can look like we’re wearing sweatpants to a job interview when they don’t adapt their writing according to purpose and audience, but the students needed reminding, especially since this was their first “formal” essay (the first essay was a narrative). I’ve read drafts and, while their writing has dramatically improved, they are still writing like they talk.
If we have our own challenges in adapting our writing, why are we trusted with helping students do the same?