Sunday, March 13, 2005

Disclaimer redux

Duh. Here I am, screeding away (I know, I'm verbifying, but I'm off today) over at BitchPhD in the comment section, and I realize, "hey, why not post this on my own blog, where it's easier to find and not wasting someone else's comment thread." I realize you experienced bloggers figured this out long ago...

Anyway, many, many nerves touched by my post about the pedagogical disclaimer. And the fact that most of it so quickly evolved into (or forced me to evolve into) a more fair and even-handed approach to my pedagogical approach is precisely Why I do this at all--I love the fact that this profession collects so many people who are so willing to give themselves a second look. I'm more than a little afraid of the current cultural climate, in which thoughtfulness and reflection get read as "weakness." And I love being among a community, however discrete, where self-reflection is so highly prized, and so honestly engaged in. I personally haven't found much room for that in corporate America, but I didn't spend a lot of time looking.

I know that this is old ground for some of you; it's excerpts from various comment threads that I thought were well worthy of front-page status. I also want to take the time to address some of the more academically-oriented discussion of teaching and blogging over at Pedablogue, but that will have to wait until I take my daughter out in the sunshine for a bit:

Among the responses to my disclaimer:
First, a pointed critique from an anonymous commenter:

from anon:
God. This is the first post i read from your blog and it feels like 10 doors shutting on my face and 10 walls everywhere i look.

So many barriers and protection. So much defensive.

Is it cramped in there?

My reply:
well, anon, if you ever bother to return, i hope you'll also see some of the incredible determination, energy, and--yes--love I put forward toward my teaching. In fact, that's why I posted this as an anonymous manifesto--to defuse and vent the tension so that I can continue to be open to my students in person.

But then, if you consider one post--framed, I might add, in terms of a semi-snarky and hyperbolic response to my exhaustion at this particular time of the term--as the definitive statement of my identity as a blogger OR a teacher, then you probably wouldn't like my class, either.

Is the air thin up on your pedestal?

Anon again:
hello, it's me, anonymous!

No, i didn't mean to judge you on that one post. Sorry if I did or it seems like I did. I meant to share how the academic disclaimer made me feel.

And as you probably would agree with, what I feel is caused 90% by me and 10% by the stimuli itself, I'd say.

I definitely don't see myself on a pedestal either. In which museum?

And you're right, i don't teach and have only been a student. Actually i have "taught" language classes but not in an academic setting. I have considered academia and i might not be well suited for it. probably.

I just browsed by and read your post and the disclaimer. Call me sensitive, but I truly felt a really defensive/ agressive vibe coming from it, even though i am not a student, and i am not even involved at all. So, i feel for those who might be: the students and you.

I do feel that if i was a student of yours and read this syllabus disclaimer, I would be terrified of you and feel completely trapped, because it seems that whatever i'd say, feel, think, disagree with, or thought I understood, I would just be dismissed by you and you would have already thought about it all or judged it all.
I'd feel completely "cornered" in my thinking. Like a true discourse is not possible, because you have decided in advance that you know/ understand/ judge everything that could come from me.
Like there is really little space for me to move in. Like I am in this maze and you say "don't go there", "don't go here" "go faster" "no, go slower."
Obviously i empathized with your students after reading the disclaimer, not with you. I am not sure why. I always liked my professors actually.

The part that ticked me a bit was this one: "I am paid to have a broader range of knowledge than you do." That might be true, but that is in one area only. And knowledge is not equivalent to perspective, insight or experience nor breadth/creativity of thought. I felt a lot of contempt in the disclaimer, a lack of respect for what another might bring to the table.

I guess I was just surprised by my own reaction to this. It made me feel shut down, made mute. Like nothing I could ever say or think would matter to you or could make *you* change and evolve in this set-up. No exchange there. A one way conduit.

I realize the intrinsic problem of leaving a comment on someone's blog that you are visiting for the first time. But i had a strong feeling that i just wanted to share. I don't know you, so i am reacting from a surface feeling obviously.
I can see from the others' comments and your response that I reacted to your post with an utter lack of humor or light-heartedness and I am sorry for that. I understand this was meant as a funny rant and I guess i missed it. It felt too contemptuous to make me relax and laugh. I think you have to be one of the professors that identify in order to laugh.

mmmmm....I wonder what my response is bringing you. I hope not just grief/ annoyance/ contempt.

If I could do it over, I would take away my last sentence "Is it cramped in there?" I went into the attack mode too. Sorry about that.

Please don't belittle my grammar or spelling or expression, English is not my first language.

Ok, I'll stop taking space in your comments now...

Have a good day,


Now me again:
Thanks, T, for the thoughtful follow-up. I can see exactly what you mean about how it would make you feel shut down--in some ways, that's the intent of this mock-manifesto (emphasis on the mock).

It's absolutely not the way I run my classes or my real-life encounters, in which I absolutely agree with you that my academic areas of expertise are not the equivalent, much less the superior, of my students' personal experience. In my real life, I am constantly honored, humbled, and awed by my students--they overcome difficulties I could never have envisioned, with a grace I'm not sure I could match even at my advanced age.

And I think the subtext of the post, and the commenters who agreed with some element of its frustration and, yes, hostility, was that those of us who take our teaching so very seriously, and who work so hard to respect our students' beliefs and values, honestly resent the FEW who treat us so contemptuously.

There's a lot that's not said in this rant. And yes, it was meant as a humorous post among a community of (from much of my reading lately) similarly frustrated and dedicated faculty--of all ranks. This is precisely why I would never actually reproduce it for students--as several of us have noted, the few hostile students we want to stop short with a post like this won't get it, while someone who, like you, genuinely welcomes dialogue and has something to teach _us_ feels (understandably) shut down.

Thanks for reminding me that my anonymity does not absolve me of my desire to or need to blog in a way that is reasonably consistent with my larger pedagogy and philosophy.

I just linked to "Pedablogue"--whose author points us to one of his students' responses to academic blogs...a lot like yours. It's a much more complete discussion of the issue, one that I wager to guess all the pedagogues I hear from spend hours obsessing over.

I'm still going to use this space to rant from my side of the desk on occasion, but I do appreciate the reminder that a teacher is, oddly enough, never off duty.

(And it really makes me feel bad that you would expect to be belittled for grammar, etc.--although, in this sphere, I can see why you might...)

Thinking about this exchange, I then said this in response to Blondebutbright's comment in the thread (basically supportive, but how she would never really hand out such a document):

I'm glad T went from anonymous to pseudonymous, and took the time to reply so thoughtfully.

On the one hand, I think one of the most important things students tend to learn during their undergraduate years is that teachers are not automata but human beings--I love that when I have to cancel class for a crisis, many of my upper level students (especially those who've taken more than one class from me) send me supportive emails that say, basically, "we hope everything's all right."

But most people (not just our students) have to grow to that level--both in terms of having the capacity to see beyond themselves (a purely developmental change--and, of course, some students are amazingly empathetic at 18; some professors never got there themselves) AND to be aware that they can wound/inspire/console us as partners and colleagues and even friends in the intellectual and personal enterprise that is academia. That requires a kind of social, intellectual, personal maturity that college should allow students to acquire, gradually. Part of what my Real teaching persona is about is creating more and more opportunities for that more equitable exchange--really caring about their lives, and asking after things outside of the classroom, being delighted to go on a tangent and scrap my lesson plans, and working very, very hard to help them develop their ideas, especially those that are not "typical" or "politically correct" (as they would say).

Almost everyone who has replied to me, here or on my own site, has said, even when identifying with my venting, that they would never dream of actually putting this on a syllabus. Me either. But I do think it's important to find ways to make our teaching and ourselves usefully transparent to students, in part because it defuses such tensions from both sides and promotes the kind of equality that is essential to genuine exchange, inside and outside of the classroom.


At 10:46 AM , Blogger BlondebutBright said...

To expand on my thoughts a bit...I think that this disclaimer is witty, thought-provoking, and very true in many of our minds. Having an academic community to share frustrations with online is a wonderful support system. But really, until your post, I never thought about the students that are also out there, looking at our blogs. Of course, the whole point of being anonymous to a certain degree is so that we can vent our frustrations. But many of those frustrations are very cynical, and that's the nature of the game, but what message will the students take away?

That's precisely why this discussion, and others like it, are really excellent for those on the "other side" to see. Someone wandering on a site who sees nothing but negativity won't help, but this sort of dialogue is the best thing that could happen. It will help (some of) them to understand that most of us love what we’re doing, and are using this format to exorcise our bad days.

Ain't blogs wonderful?


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