Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Ethics Question: Student Writing in the Public Arena

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?


auburnpath said...

Hey Nicole-- its Abbie. I work as a professional tutor at a college in my town, so hopefully some of my imput might help...but i'm not sure. I guess students shouldn't be forced to submit their work to the public, etc., but at the same time i think its important that they are pushed past their comfort zone, or what they are used to writing about. Sometimes if a student gets pushed past their comfort zone they realize so much about themselves and their writing that they might not have before...and they may be inspired to push themselves further or try new things. I guess the question is, how to get them past their comfort zone, without forcing them to be unhappy with the outcome??

I also think its important for students to be exposed to outide criticism about their work. Many times in class, doing peer editing, students may get feedback, but nothing that can really move them, affect them, or set off a light bulb. I guess overall, its a great idea to remove that safety net. How else are students supposed to grow and progress if they only stick with what they know? None of us would be where we are now if we did that. We have all grown, matured, and advanced BECAUSE our safety net has been removed. I guess its up to the individual in how they react to that happening??

I say use the freedom you have as a professor to really wake those students up and remove that sense of safety that they are used to. I guess the problem is doing it in a way that won't make you feel as if you are making the wrong ethical decision. I don't even know if this helped because I didn't offer a solution...but maybe some of my random thoughts might help encourage you =)

Wm Chamberlain said...

How ethical is it to shelter students to the point they have fear of "living" outside of school? Are we doing them any good by not exposing them to the harshness that comes from the anonymous voices on the internet or can we use those experiences to help them come to terms with the fact that a) not everyone agrees with them and b) some people are just jerks?

I suspect it is obvious how I feel about it :) but I do see a lot of value in your questions. I often do without examining differing motivations and it is always (okay maybe not always) nice to see another view point.