Opening Up

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein”

~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Unfortunately, although I now have the relative luxury of my laptop and Microsoft Office Word 2007, I don’t feel that the writing is coming any easier. And Mr. Smith was making these dramatic claims as a sportswriter, after all. Isn’t that simply a matter of collecting clichés? Whereas I, on the other hand, am tasked with writing something worth reading on the subject of education and how we can turbo-charge it with digital power-tools.

I have tormented myself with inaction over this blogging assignment since it was first proposed by Jeff. The tech part I feel I can figure out by myself or with the help of a kindly middle school IT coordinator in exchange for extra play dates/babysitting for her young children. And the education part – no worries there. I love it. I got into teaching for the learning.

It’s the composing and exposing of myself that is excruciating for me.

William Wordsworth isn’t much help: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart,” he says. Thanks for that. It’s the echoing emptiness in my head that makes me so hyper-aware of my heartbeat anyway, and I’m already heavy-breathing (or maybe it would be classed as hyperventilating now) about the prospect of 8 blogs and a looming end-of-course deadline.

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.  ~Charles Peguy

That’s more like it. I picture my incredibly intelligent colleagues with fingers fairly flying over their keyboards as their reflections on teaching through technology enliven the blogosphere. Their wisdom – complete thoughts, rich sentences – sprout forth fully formed …Meanwhile, my process is more of the gut-wrenching, hara-kiri variety.

Surely writing would come more easily at this point if I felt I had anything of value to say, anything to add to the already loud chorus out there about digital tools and their potential for pushing us into a new paradigm for understanding teaching and learning. But why should I add my timorous voice to the bold banter of the expert bloggers out there?

Okay, so I understand the point of writing – on a personal level. I am a teacher of writing, after all. For years I have been explaining to the raised eyebrows in my classroom that we write to think. We write to give ourselves pause for thought. (A looooong pause, in my case.) We write to think more deeply. The writing process should be a process of personal discovery, of learning. To promote critical thinking and earnest self-analysis is the bottom line of our mission as teachers, right?

The new NETs for Teachers get to this, of course: “teachers should promote student reflection … to reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning and creative processes” (1c). Can you guess which tid-bit I conveniently exchanged for an ellipsis?

And, yes, if it’s good for them, it’s good for me too. Of course, I’m going to want to distance myself from the type of teacher parodied in this YouTube clip: When I become a teacher YouTube Preview Image (which is pretty much a video version of the old, offensive adage: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)

But I haven’t just been asked to write for me. I’m writing for my peers, and whoever else stumbles across me out there in cyberspace. This scares the pants off me. Now it’s a whole other ball game. We’re talking not only about writing to think, or writing as a dialogue between student and teacher, but writing to PUBLISH. And this is where I wrestle with the value of blogging for me. I have always considered that the role of a writer (a writer who seeks a public audience, that is, publication) is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. (Referentially and deferentially yours ~Anaïs Nin) If I don’t have anything new to bring, why bring it? I know a bit of blog cross-referencing and name-mentioning is a nice form of flattery for other bloggers, but that’s just Commenting, not Writing.

Shelly Blake-Plock, in his post on Why Teachers Should blog (from TeachPaperless blog) describes a poor wretch of a student in his education class who sounds a lot like me. The student complained that he had nothing to blog about because he had nothing to offer to advance the discussion. Blake-Plock says his student is wrong. To blog is to teach yourself to think, he says, and then goes on to admonish the student for over-thinking. Stop it, he says. Don’t think too much, just write. Just bare your brains out there. Be embarrassed. Be confronted by your own inadequacies, amplified exponentially by the very public nature of your idiocy. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, have another go. Think again. Grow. And grow up. That’s the point of the exercise.

But is failure a prerequisite for greater understanding? Must that failure be on a grand scale, in front of a broad readership, which includes the people I have to front up to work with tomorrow?

Must we struggle, must we fail, must we do it spectacularly and in public?

Haven’t some significant contributors to human progress done so without epic failure or even initial embarrassment? Have their endeavors always been collaborative? Haven’t they had space to think/invent/compose in private? Or at least to determine their audience – who the great work is revealed to, and when? Do I owe myself and/or my students some space to do the same? Or should we be forced into the full glare of the online world on somebody else’s timetable?

Blake-Pock declares that it is teachers who have “the power to teach a generation that to fully live and to fully know one’s self is to fully live and to fully know one’s self in the public conversation.” Wow! Is public success and failure the only kind that really counts? Is there no personal, private triumph? (Heck, I’m feeling a small victory coming on as I near the end of this post!) Just because we can – because we have this vehicle, this world wide web, to reach across the globe – is there an imperative to do so?

Can’t we just read our history (and an expert’s top 10 list of expert blogs on the subject) and learn from the mistakes of others?