The Pedagogical Practice
I truly believe that, as an educator, I have a responsibility to break down the barrier that students believe exists between school and the "real world." I believe that educational settings should be microcosms of the world at large, a place where diversity exists, views clash, and there is the possibility for collaboration. In my particular case, most of the students who step into my writing classroom will never be English majors, and I don't want them to feel that writing is only something that is performed for an English teacher.
I believe that breaking down this barrier not only enables students to see writing/learning as a social transaction/process, but hopefully removes some of the pressure that keeps students from writing, which I feel is especially derived from writing to the test. I also think it gives purpose to their writing, makes them more aware of the role they wish to play and the audience they wish to address in their writing, and removes the idea that student work is only practice and never of any real value to the community (social or scholarly).
With that belief in mind, I assigned several "real world" writing activities this semester. They include:
- posting to public blogs (not class moderated)
- posting drafts of their essays to Blackboard so that all of the classmates' can read one another's work
- submitting essays to NPR's This I Believe archive
- doing an activist writing project (some of these will be in the form of blogs, photojournals, letters to senators, newspaper editorials, etc.)
- using Wallwisher
- submitting to our class's gallery of writing at NCTE's National Gallery of Writing Gallery (Writing from the Core)
- encouraging them to submit their work to literary journals
The Ethics Question
Though, I believe I am doing something good by blurring the boundaries between the safety net of school and the contact zone of the world outside our classroom, I also see questions of ethics coming into play.
Some of my students do panic when they learn that their writing will be viewed by others outside of the safe house of classroom. They fear judgment of their writing and of their beliefs. I also worry that somebody who is merely out to rage against others (especially in blog comments) will attack one of my students and leave them feeling shut down, shattering the confidence that I have been working hard to build all semester. I want to encourage growth, not stifle it.
So, I am left wondering:
- How ethical is this teaching practice?
- Is it wrong to force my students to write for public audiences?
- Am I doing them more harm than good by removing the safety net?
- Should my students be allowed the option to write for my eyes only?
Furthermore, specifically in regards to the Writing as Activism project:
- Is it a good thing to ask students to write to create change?
- What if I my students aim to support a cause through writing and harm the cause instead by writing poorly or not putting any effort into their projects/reasearch?
- Is it unethical to ask students to expose their beliefs and let those beliefs be judged and criticized by people who may not agree with them?
- Are there other, greater risks involved in doing this sort of assignment of which I am unaware?