Saturday, January 22, 2011

From Creative to Compliant

After talking about Creative Writing verses Technical Writing the other night, it really got me thinking about the concept of “compliance” that I remember Elbow referring to in his article Illiteracy at Oxford and Harvard: Reflections on the Inability to Write, which is about the notion of voice verses compliance in writing.
Personally, I have struggled to integrate my compliance to structure with a passion for writing. In fact, I feel as though my passion for writing has become abolished by educational rhetoric and academic compliance.  It’s been almost 6 years since I received my undergrad, and I’m finding the transition back into the classroom much more difficult than I had expected. I was actually very excited about returning as a student. I’ve been trying to create good students for so long now, so I felt like I’d know exactly what I needed to do in order to become one myself. Of course, this all falls right into the trap of compliance.
Not only am I complying with the standard writing structures in that regard, but also for the past 4 years, I have been writing digital textbooks. The texts demand so much of time, effort, and writing energy that the creative writer, which once such a significant part of my life, has seemingly vanished.
 Shortly after I began teaching, I also started writing the digital texts. The work was tedious and never-ending. Along with grading, lesson planning, and every other aspect of my life, I found that I had no time for writing unless it was something that would make me money. The deadlines that were set were ridiculous, and I would spend days upon days glued to my computer screen from sunrise until late into the night writing.
Writing became a duty and a task; it was work. It was no longer something I believed in. The structure of the textbooks completely conflicted with my beliefs about teaching and learning; I was writing instructions for things that I would never actually do as a teacher. I still work for the company, and I hate it. I only do it because I’m getting paid to do what I do best: write. I can do it from home, on my own time. Most people would love to have such an opportunity, but sometimes some things aren’t as great as they seem.
I thought I enjoyed being a compliant writer, but I’ve begun to realize that my lack of personal voice and passion for writing must be reflected in my teaching practices. How can I expect a student to feel passionate about their voice if I have become so compliant in my quest for knowledge and writing that I have lost my own?
 My cyber school teaching experience differs greatly from my classroom experience, and it seems to be more aligned with many of the theories surrounding writing that I’ve been learning about during grad school. I suppose this makes me feel a little bit better about what I’m doing now, but I’ve sometimes found myself more passionate about teaching the students in the computer lab about the distance formula than I do about writing. What am I missing? Why have I become so compliant? Why do I feel like I’ve lost my voice?
I only taught the 9th grade Writing class for one year, and I taught 11th grade Honors Literature during the rest of my classroom teaching experience, so there was a lot of writing involved. During the class, the students each had to write their own original novels, and other than analytical, reflective, and research papers, the curriculum focused primarily on writing strategies geared toward the ACT.
As I reflect back on those experiences, I feel like I did a disservice to those students; I never really taught them how to find their voice. I feel like I regressed my teaching to basic writing strategies, grammar, usage, and mechanics, but I never gave them a chance to really embrace their inner creative writer. Sure, the novel was great, and most of the students really enjoyed it, but I feel like I never showed them how to become passionate about their writing. I taught them compliance because that’s what I do best.

1 comment:

  1. That's a very heartfelt and complicated post. I think I understand your concern over losing your voice due to work burnout. I write and edit for a living, and I have insane deadlines, too. (All-nighters aren't uncommon.) The content of my work is dull, dry, rarely read in full, and definitely not an extension of what I'm all about. Nonetheless, I feel positive about my efforts and feel my voice is being heard through the choices I make. I think a level of creativity can be achieved even in compliant situations. It might just get buried between the lines a bit.

    Also, there's nothing wrong with teaching your students the craft of writing. I think approaching written communication as craft is a great way to demystify what we do - make it more egalitarian. The art of writing comes later (or not). At any rate, it sounds like you planted some good seeds.