Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I'm becoming more comfortable with simply writing something down here and in an uncritical moment, clicking on publish--of course I can think later and come back to delete a post, but if I've left it up for an hour or so, it may already have done its damage.  After a couple of conversations with forgiving friends who have been reading some of these posts, I have had to think about the self-indulgent character of blog writing, or at least my blog writing.

Carra stepped out a bit farther on the limb and noted that a good deal of my writing seemed self-indulgent--and I realize that right now, I am proving her point, writing about the writing life--as I see it.  I want in this post to reflect (there it is again) on two characteristics of personal writing and the kinds of writing my students do, particularly in Life Writing.  I think I first want to talk about my/our sense of readers, the readers in our heads and the readers who most definitely are not in our heads but who nevertheless stumble across our words and on occasion get back at us, letting us know they were, in fact, there.

When I'm writing in this blog, I have a sense of some of the people who might read these posts: several of my students because I usually let them know when I've made an entry (let's call this the rhetoric of enactment); many of my WPA friends, some of whom know what I went through two years ago (there's the self-indulgence in spades again); and some of my Facebook and Google+ friends, because I'm trying to promote this blog in both these venues (I'm going to try Twitter next).  And then there are some people who stumble across these posts and read them in any number of surprising ways, ways I could never have anticipated.

In our field, we generally emphasize to our students audience awareness--an emphasis Peter Elbow has at least partially challenged, noting that at times we need to be able to write without a sense of audience on our backs.  As a writing teacher, I have generally gone along with the audience-awareness trope, but my recent experiences have, at the least, complicated my sense of audience.  I know that when I am writing here, I am mostly trying to get down some thoughts about an issue, almost as if I were writing in my diary.  Getting the thoughts down is my priority--knowing I can always go back and get rid of deadwood and really stupid thoughts (assuming i can spot them).  But while I'm writing, I have a vague sense of some of my close friends who I think will be reading this--but it's as if I'm talking to them.  And then in the distant corners of my mind are memories of negative responses I've received about my writing over the years and a couple of negative responses to this blog.

To a certain extent, all the people who have responded to our writing/being in one way or another are on our backs as we write. I think the degree to which we can shake them off is some measure of our writerly self-indulgence.  And personally, I can say (Peter's point), the more I can shake this audience-burden, the more I enjoy writing.  I know that at times, I have to pay attention to audience (I'm trying to rewrite an article on the ecology of assessment right now--well, it's what I'm supposed to be doing, but I'm writing this instead, writing my way, if you will, into work).

I think I've worn this topic out.  I want to move from readers & self-indulgence to vulnerability and what my students are writing (and maybe, self-authored revision).  I'm going to try to make this quick; actually, the moves are obvious.  When writers self-indulge, they open themselves up.  And when we open ourselves up, we of course risk a lot, but we also open the door to other people, kind of like asking others into the party.  Some people are not going to have a good time, won't like the pictures on the wall and so on, but others will feel more or less at home.

That's not a very good metaphor--so let me try it this way.  In my Life Writing class, my students have really opened themselves up to each other.  Maybe rather than let people in, they have let themselves out--walked into the street and found a lot of other people like them, with the same problems, the same hurts, the same desires, the same fears.  Their words have helped them get out of their culturally imposed prisons (you are not supposed to go naked in public).  When my students discover commonality through their writing and when they write back to each other about these hurts and desires that we are taught we should keep under wraps, they discover writing.  It's not too hard to theorize how one can move from the self outward in this kind of writing (Chapter Two in Teaching the Universe of Discourse), but this post is already overly-long, and I really do need to be working on that article.

But a final word on revision.  You will see when my students give me all the links to their reflections on writing and vulnerability (you can see some of them by clicking on the Life Writing Autobiography page above) how they are paying attention to audience (the class as an audience and readers of this blog as a potential audience [and to a certain extent, me as an audience]) and both writing and revising with these different rhetorical situations fully in mind.  In my last class, to a person, they all said about my linking to their vulnerability essays, they wanted to look them over again first.

Ok--to the article. #personal writing #writing #writing for fun #vulnerability #Irvin Peckham #Peter Elbow #audience #self-indulgent writing


  1. Blogging, writing, and speaking on disability, I sometimes consider how colleagues (including students) might perceive my words. I keep my "Digital Pedagogy" blog apart from my disability blog, and have learned they have different audiences with different perceptions of what I should write. My pedagogy blog has never received hate mail, or any real complaints. The disability blog can be a minefield. That reminds me of how audiences and topics shape the writing I compose.

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