I’ve noticed that for some of you there are like two totally different people I’m interacting with each week, but all coming from one mind/body. One is the super open, excited, upset, confused but generally emotional Weekly Writing writer. And then there is the cool, calm, collected in-class-persona. That separation is normal, I think. It’s how we’ve been taught to go about life. We limit ourselves to a few safe spaces to fully express our emotional experiences. Like even if they’re not that big of a deal….
For example, on a Monday when I ask you about your weekend you’ll be like “It was cool. My friend came. I dunno.” But the Weekly Writing representation of that experience is like...sooo different. It goes something like this: “My friend came this weekend and it was so awesome. I haven’t seen any friends since I left home, and I’ve been wondering what it will be like...if they’ve changed, if I’ve changed...so I was really relieved when the weekend was awesome and we had fun like normal times.” See what I mean? This isn’t some kind of deep, dark, secret reveal of personal angst (but ya’ll know I’m totally into hearing those as well)...but it is an emotional and fully connected representation of an experience nonetheless!
In like even just little bit and pieces I want more of us to bring that to our physical classroom and interactions therein. Let me explain my reasoning for this a little more, and, I promise, it isn’t all about death and tears and doom and gloom.
I’m always so happy, humbled, and honored that you all share with me issues of personal consequence. You use emotionally charged language, regardless of whether something great or awful has happened. I think this may be because you find the Weekly Writing a safe space to do this kind of accounting and processing in your life, and I feel great success with that because that’s exactly what the imagined and hoped the Weekly Writing might do. Please keep sharing with me all of the glorious mess that is life. And I’ll keep sharing my glorious mess in bits and pieces.
I have noticed, however, that I think you’re not feeling as safe/comfortable to express these kinds of things with each other. You’re shy to share your papers in peer response. You’re hesitant to engage emotionally with what another writer has written, focusing more on the development of the writing itself -- which is great, and definitely what peer response should do! But there is space for it to do both, as I think I have shown in the ways I respond to your writing -- both technical (about the development of the writing) and personal (about the emotional experience of the self).
I especially saw this emotional reserve, distance, hesitation in the “29 Questions” responses from Wednesday’s class. On the whole, they were short and too concise for you to see the fullness of each other’s experiences. They were just the very very very tippy top of some pretty interesting and beautiful icebergs. To do Project 3 well (we will discuss in detail on Monday), I think you’re going to need to get beneath that surface a bit more.
I’d like to offer my answers to the 29 Questions as example of how, while still relatively brief, responses can begin to paint the picture of a person. I think if you read my responses, you’ll find I’m a person moved by love, confused by my relationship with my parents, and excited about new and maybe even scary/embarrassing experiences. I’m also coming through as profoundly introverted, something I’ve learned to manage as I realize that teaching is my passion. You’ll want to see some of these kinds of broad strokes with representative stories in your group’s 29 Questions document so that you can start to think about how you are going to design and present “the story of us.”
I know this class (via me!) asks you to do weird stuff, like think about your best and worst memories within seconds of each other. That makes us feel the feels, and sometimes feeling the feels in front of others is just too much, or it’s like “Lady, these feels are MY feels. Leave them be.” I get that being open about our emotional experiences as they impact our intellectual ones is a particularly risky and uncomfortable thing to do. I. get. it. That’s precisely why I’m asking you do it. Here’s why:
I think the next 3.5- 4.5 -6.5 years (However long it takes! Get that degreee!) of your life will ask you to remove your emotions from your intellectual work. It will ask you to analyze arguments with “rationality” and “logic” supported by those who have more authority than you do. This separation of intellect and emotion might make you think those are two different processes, but they aren’t. Our emotions guide our intellectual/professional work.
For example, one student, who is studying forestry, likely feels something for trees in a way that brings meaning to his life. Another student, who is going into neonatal nursing has some real feels about why she wants to do that work, the meaning it will bring to her life, and the good it will provide for others. Asking either one of them to leave those emotional connections at the door before entering spaces of “learning” risks the potential of “missing the forest for the trees” (pun intended) because they might forget, deny, or devalue the reason they got themselves into this mess of college to being with. This leads to confusion, alienation, doing things “just to get it done”...and that’s a tough space to find intrinsic (internal) motivation from. And all the best research in educational psychology (I’m apply that master’s degree ya’ll) says that internal, stable motivation is the key determiner in successful, positive educational experience. That’s not me, that’s SCIENCE.
Sure, your intro to biology instructor might not need (or want!) a journal each week that asks you to reflect on your emotional connection to your lab work, but perhaps by spending a semester (this semester, with me!) thinking about those things they will become part of your routine. And then you’ll be able to switch more fluidly between spaces dominated by rationality and reason, and your own emotional connection to those spaces. In my experience, the people who not only “survive” college but thrive through the experience, maintain and cultivate these reflective, emotional connections to the work they do and the space they are attempting to inhabit in the world.
You always have the ultimate agency (power) to decide what you want to share and what you don’t. You would never be graded in this class on how deeply or personally you share, that wouldn’t be a fair standard of me to require. Think of this more as an invitation to take a risk and reveal a bit more of your internal life not just in the Weekly Writing but in class as well.
Here’s what I can tell you from having the privilege of being the person to read the glorious mess of 27 lives each week -- you all have sooooooo much in common. You write about similar personal issues. You think about home and homesickness and sense of place. You wonder what others are experiencing in these first few weeks of college...are you the only lonely loser who misses home? The answer is NO! You’re ALL lonely losers who miss home. (Jokes, obvi. No one is a loser).
Open up to each other. I promise you it’s not as scary as you think it will be.
A lot of you wrote about Las Vegas and shared your thoughts on what we should do about this issue as a nation. Some were in favor of stricter gun control. Some were weary of the ability of gun control to stop the problem. Some felt that freedom comes at a cost. All of your ideas, feelings, and reflections were so carefully and wonderfully worded, supported by outside sources where needed, and understanding of others’ perspectives. This communicative care is so much different from how "we" (as a society, not necessarily any one of us individually) communicate these days with social media and the like. It made me think about how we need more time and space to develop these arguments, consider alternatives, and process our feelings. 140 characters just doesn't cut it.
Again, thank you so much for sharing with me because it also helped me process my feelings about the week and begin think about what might be possible for change in the future.
One common theme I did see, though, that concerned me a bit was how often the statement "I don’t want to get political" was presented as a qualifier before stating really well thought-out political arguments. As I saw this over and over again as I read your responses, I developed more adept ways of responding to that feeling. Ultimately, my thinking began considering the difference between "politics" and "civic responsibility." I think you're all concerned about engaging with the Mean Girls style of political drama that some of our elected leaders and certainly the talking heads on the 24-hour news cycle engage in. I COMMEND you all strongly for this. You see that this kind of communication and finger pointing isn't going to get us anywhere as a country in terms of easing tensions and divides. You are all so, so, so wise. Wise beyond your years, for sure.
What I'd like to offer as an alternative to "getting political" is the concept of "civic responsibility." We live in a participatory democracy, and we are all hoping that this democracy can help us as a nation realize a "more perfect union" -- to quote the preamble to the constitution. We all have different ideas about what the “more perfect union” looks like and we have diverse ideas about how to move toward it. This reality is the entire point of a participatory democracy and, in an ideal iteration, should not become a rivalry between left and right.
Participatory democracy, to run well, requires a few responsibilities of its “citizens” (here, for my purpose, “citizen” is broadly defined to include all whose physical bodies exist in the nation-state of the US...unavoidably, some of the items below relate to state “sanctioned” citizens, meaning that certain documentation is required to participate, for example, in voting.):
Stay informed on current events issues; in today’s media landscape this means caring about and developing a critical literacy of news media so that you can be sure the sources you’re reading are giving you well-researched and verified information. The list of sources I’ve included at the top of the Weekly Writing topic page on our Google Classroom provide this kind of vetted information. If you feel your values, ethics, and moral center are not adequately represented on that list, please email me and let me know where you get your information! If it meets the standards of verifiable and evidence-based information, I’ll add it! If it doesn’t I’ll recommend some news sources that come from the same value orientation but are more reliable.
Critically develop an awareness of and a commitment to your particular values, ethics, and moral center. Once you know what these looks like on various issues, use your critical media literacy skills to research candidates at the local, state, and national level, rather than voting solely on party lines. Know also that in a participatory democracy, values, ethics, and moral centers are varied. You’re going to find people who disagree with you. This. is. expected. And necessary.
VOTE. For a participatory democracy to effectively represent the people, citizens must vote. I worry that because of people’s concerns with “not wanting to get political” and not following the life of our democracy as a result, we might continue to see a decline in the polls during election years. The candidates we are presented with may not perfectly align with all of our values, ethics, and moral centers...but not voting allows others who do vote to choose those leaders for you.
Engage in your community. As citizens, we have more power than we think we do. We may not be able to directly influence our national or even state-level leaders, but we can engage in our community in ways that help to make real the changes we might wish to see at the national level or help to maintain policies that we already support and believe in. Find how your skills and passions match with needs in your community, however you define that.
Talk to and with each other, and about difficult subjects. Since the election last year, both liberals and conservatives feel like they can’t speak to the other, or feel like they can’t speak freely in groups where they don’t know the political leanings of those around them. I’m not suggesting that you posit your most controversial ideas in front of strangers our out of context, but that in spaces where opposing ideas exist -- don’t shy away from your perspective or position. It’s okay not to agree. It’s okay to feel upset by someone else’s perspective on an issue that is important to you. Deliberative debate, at micro (you and your friend at coffee, during class discussion, etc.) and macro (national opinion pieces, presidential debates, etc.) are among the fundamentals of a participatory democracy. It’s not in alignment with civic responsibility to walk quietly into silence, or to isolate yourself in “echo-chambers” of like-minded people. This is probably the hardest of the calls to civic responsibility, because many people are feeling pretty raw and misunderstood at this moment in our nation’s history. Try anyway. Keep kindness in mind. Take breaths. Be understanding. Find spaces in your heart and mind to accommodate disagreement. You may not change someone else, but you will grow from seeing that you can express your ideas, take a stand, and feel that the vision of the world you want to work toward is at least part of the conversation.
I hope you’ll consider the ways in which we all, regardless of political beliefs, might benefit from accepting and working toward these approaches to civic responsibility. I’m totally with you, let’s leave “getting political” behind, and let’s walk toward the authenticity of allowing ourselves to take a stand, communicate that stand, and listen with humility to the communication of others’ who might not agree with us. I do, really, really, want you all to “get civically responsible” because you’re not only the future of this great nation, but a very important part of it RIGHT NOW.