This fall, I’m teaching the same first-year writing course that I taught last winter. That means I get to make changes with the benefit of recent experience, which is always a nice position to be in. Last time I taught the course (which was also the first time I taught this incarnation of the course), I threw absolutely everything at the wall to see what stuck. Some things very definitely did not stick, and I am at work enthusiastically jettisoning them from my syllabus. Others did work, and so I’m figuring out how to build on what was successful.
One thing that was, ultimately, successful, was the concept of the course itself. Students responded well to the idea that we were both reading and producing public writing. I got interesting and engaging final projects that were clearly made more engaging for both me and the students by the freedom built into the assignment to allow students to write about what interested them.
I worried about the dangers of asking students to write in public, and I continue to worry about that, although there were no problems with publicity/privacy last term. I’m making a few changes to further address these concerns in the coming term.
I’ve already made it clear that I think academics should write publicly and politically. I also think students should write publicly, though for different reasons, ones I’ll gloss briefly and perhaps expand on at some later date:
I'm trying to write new book on race and revenge that might speak to public readers but what models exist for this sort of thing in lit?— Gregory Laski (@ProfL12) September 12, 2017
Greg argued that historians produce more public writing for popular audiences than literary scholars, perhaps because their discipline is better suited to that sort of engagement, or possibly because there’s a clear market for the general-interest history book, particularly biography (e.g., everything written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton).
I’ve been reading the responses to my English department colleagues’ forceful statement on Washington and Lee’s insufficient reckoning with its history and what that history means to marginalized groups, and thinking about what it means to write in public as an academic these days. What are our obligations? What are the risks, and who should and shouldn’t take them?
This is yet another return to blogging. I can no longer keep track of how many returns I have had over the years since my first stint as a marginally successful knitting blogger when I was in college in the early aughts. And really, it’s a wonder that the genre is still around so many years later; most Internet-specific forms are far more short-lived. Even the confessional personal essay that seemed to have conquered every publication from Deadspin to the New York Times has returned to the Livejournal ether it sprung from.