The recent brouhaha on WPA-l about student bashing has started me thinking. I’ll offer my thoughts here instead of there.
The background: an article in Slate has people up in arms for a few reasons: the idea that we shouldn’t assign papers; the blaming of students for what MAY be bad teaching; the (nearly constant) outlier representation of a group (in other words, most writing teachers don’t feel this way, but the cranky, outspoken ones are the ones who get the publicity).
Student bashing: On the one hand, everyone—without exception, I believe—wants/needs to vent about their work. For teachers, this includes students. We don’t always complain about students. We might also complain about other elements of our work: bosses, coworkers, bureaucracy, or the temperature of our offices. The problem comes when the medium for the complaint is a public one. We have become so used to having “conversations” with our “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs, that we forget that these “conversations” are generally utterly public, and the whole world is listening in. (I'm not saying that the author of this article is guilty of this-- after all, it's Slate. I'm referring to most of us in the trenches.)
What to do: Everyone complains from time to time. The secret is to do it in an appropriate way. Parker Palmer claims that teaching is at an awkward intersection of public and private, and I think this is key in how we talk about our jobs. We need to resist embarrassing anyone, ever. If our rant would embarrass our boss, our employer, or, most crucially, our (generally quite vulnerable) students, it shouldn’t be public. It’s easy enough to find a friend and have coffee once a week to get this kind of venting out of our systems.
Is the kettle black? Earlier this week, I posted about a student listing “prayer” as the first step of the writing process. Was this student bashing? I didn’t think so. I thought that response was cute and funny—even clever. Every time we post about work, I guess we’re running the risk of posting inappropriately. Rather than choosing (as many do, and that’s fine) never to post about work, I try to evaluate each post. That means I’ll mess up more, but I think it’s a tradeoff—I also get to participate in more edifying conversations that way.