As I previously wrote, I took a break from dissertation writing specifically and writing in general for a couple of months to focus on some foundational readings and other sundry projects that needed to be wrapped up. With much of what I set out to finish now completed I have been working this month to return to the practice of daily, early-morning writing. As I accustom myself to a writing practice again, I decided to make a few changes.
For two decades I have journaled regularly and continue to find it a helpful practice to concentrate and clear the mind. Over the course of this next year, it will be helpful to reach beyond this ordinarily solitary writing habit. With my recent hiatus now over, my return to daily writing will be accompanied by a commitment to making my reflections public more regularly. My continuing academic work on a Ph.D. dissertation at GWU, the commencement of a teacher credentialing program at SDSU, and the ongoing antics of life in general provide an abundance of food for thought. I decided that as I recommend it for my students, it would be a good practice to share my reflections more regularly in the public space. Of course, “public” is more than a bit relative given the cacophony of online content, but I think having our work is accessible and available for response is a growing norm for everyday life. I have set myself this task after reading an inspirational book on education, An Ethic of Excellence.
While there are many helpful aspects of this small volume, one in particular that impacted me was the benefit to students and teachers of making classroom practice and work public more often. The increase in careful thought and civil discourse that a public space can place upon our work (any type of work) is only one benefit that comes from sharing work (online or in other public spaces). I believe that was is even more important is the growth that can come from feedback and collaboration. This type of growth is only possible when we interact with others, when we reach beyond the confines of our own opinions and perspectives. To participate in these opportunities, we must share what we do, how we create, and what we are feeling. Despite my quasi-luddite ways, it is the opportunity to collaborate with and receive feedback from so many other people that makes the online space so filled with opportunity despite so many hurdles and drawbacks
It is ironic to set myself the task of sharing working more publicly. Doing anything as the center of attention for even a few brief moments among the smallest of groups was never easy for me. As a kid, at my birthday parties I would slide down to hide under the table before the final syllable of the first line had even ended. The candles would be lit & all would be well until family & attendees started in and all began looking in my direction. They would start in with, “Happy birthday to you…” and before those heavy final vowels started to pour out I was under the table, shying away from the gaze of others.
Luckily, I grew out of my aversion to public attention through the doggedness of good parenting. I was involved in theatre camps for many years and it was extremely helpful. To this day, if I'm feeling nervous before a public speaking engagement, I remember that one can’t remain too shy after standing proudly on stage in heart-covered boxers for a youth theater performance of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” My scrawny, pale limbs may have been drowning in a sea of white cotton and red satin hearts, but my comfort with public attention learned to swim.
In fact, I became so comfortable that even public critique no longer bothered me much. From community college, through my undergraduate time at WWU, to graduate school at UMD I was offering up creative writing for critique by peers and professors with confidence that whether succeed or fail, I would improve from the process. It wasn't simply that I refused to give up on writing what I needed to give voice; rather, I had come to realize that the process of sharing work and receiving feedback made my writing better in every way. Most importantly, it made me more hospitable to the views of others. This is the real gift of sharing our work: compassion for the views and opinions of others. Such hospitality, I have come to realize as I age, can feel in short supply in this world at times.
I imagine that writing here on a weekly basis, about even the most mundane aspects of dissertation writing, teacher education, or family life, will at times be entirely uninteresting to most. However, I am also confident that writing publicly more regularly will help in ways I can’t yet imagine, just as daily journal writing has proven a great source of insight in ways I had not anticipated. The great difference is that here I will undoubtedly benefit from the voices of others.
We teach our children to be careful of what they publish online, and that's an excellent lesson to share. Yes, it is difficult to write publicly, to voice our views and opinions. We fear that we might alienate friends or family. We are anxious that jobs might end or not begin at all because colleagues or supervisors disagree with our positions. While such fears and anxieties are not unfounded, we cannot allow judgement that is known or presumed, fear of present or future opposing views inhibit our civil discourse and lives so much that we remain voiceless. History has taught us often enough that a path of censorship by our own hesitancy or the force of others is sure to lead us down oppressive and hegemonic journeys. While we need not give public space to every thought or event, open and free public discourse is vital for our continued growth as individuals and as a society.