Essays on Teaching (4)

Hold Your Own Pen When You Write Your Story

One of the methodological practices I have seen to be productive in my writing intensive courses (there is not one that is not writing intensive anyway) at the university is the deployment of one’s own narrative in putting together an essay that makes sense.

There is the word-count requirement at the end of the piece, a graduation from the page requirement that could easily be violated, and willingly, by student writers by just simply making the font bigger, and adding more space between the lines.

And the margins—this could be an experiment in tabula rasa, a la filosopo de empericista extraordinario.

If you have been a teacher, you know these ruses only students can think of. And invent. And reinvent.

There is magic in the way they do things, and this magic can enchant you.

Seduce is a word I like to replace the word ‘enchant’ to avoid the Maria Makiling effect of the folksy, the legendary, and the mystical.

I have had occasions to tell students about how our work as text can seduce readers into entering the world of the text created.

I call this the dynamic of word becoming world—or wor(l)ding. (A side note: I wrote a thesis on this way, way back when I read hermeneutics, and argued for the interpretive possibilities of the world, with or without end.)

There are style, font, and presentation requirements.

I have required American and Americanized students who are so private and so individuated to come into the open and say something about themselves when they make a critique of the issues presented in class.

I call this life writing.

I call this the opening of one’s speech to the bigger speech of the universe.

I call this life-story making and life-story telling as two sides of the same coin to account what makes sense, and thus, to making the classroom lesson and discussion relevant, resonant, and revealing.

Emotions run high in sessions like this one, with students becoming unafraid of what they think and what they feel about many things.

There is such as thing as emotional intelligence, and this is one thing that is cultivated in my classroom.

The cultivation is always governed by respect, civility, and decorum.

And we have not allowed any member of the class to Facebook—this is a verb!—what we do in class.

“When writing the story of your life, don’t let someone else hold the pen,” says a poster going around the Internet.

It is true—and it is exactly the same thing that we do in class: we write our own life stories.

We do not allow another to write our stories for us.

Any other—an other—has not gone through the same crevices that we have gone through.

The dread we have known is ours, true. But we can share it with an another, provided we have the tools to do so.

The fear we have known is ours, but we can share it, provided that we have the boldness and daring to do so.

All these are private, and they remain so, and we will never be able to use them to educate others if they are not said, or told, or written, with clarity.

We need to say them, I tell my students. Well need to tell them, express them into words, word them, extract them from the enchanted world so that in the newness of our language they can seduce us into welcoming life again.

We may not succeed in the saying and in the telling. But the trying is worth it.


March 13, 2012

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