Thing 4

I much enjoyed reading in the sample blogs.  The ones i chose were #1 about not assigning homework, http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=133 , #2 about dead words, http://itc.blogs.com/mccullers/2004/11/a_final_goodbye.html , #4 about class scribes, http://817math.blogspot.com/2006/12/boeuns-scribe-for-december-4th.html, #8 about a “Ripe Environment” for learning, http://yongesonne.edublogs.org/2007/06/29/the-ripe-environment/ , and #9 about brief writing and collaborative writing, the 42 word challenge!, http://students2oh.org/2007/12/16/teaching-brevity/ .

The genre of blog writing in general, whether done by a student or by a teacher, seems fairly informal but not sloppy — at least not for the original postings.  The blog responses are far less carefully done and tend to a breezy chumminess that is a bit off-putting to me, but over time i assume one gets to know the fellow bloggers and can be breezier — but a danger lurks there, i think, for not just excessive informality in address, but also in thought.  The original postings were all consistently well done and thoughtful small essays, except for the scribe and the dead words postings. 

Reading a blog is different from reading, say, an essay by E.B. White, in inviting conversation with the writer, while White invites an internal reflective conversation to go on within the reader, just as he has demonstrated that process in his own essay.  The writer who wants and solicits comments, the blogger, is a very different kind of writer in beginning assumptions from the writer who seeks to move something within the reader.  The relationship of writer and reader is different.  Neither seems to me better, but they are certainly different.  A blog is like a letter to another, or a general letter sent out inviting responses.  One reads such letters, whether individual or general, with a different ear, a different posture — one is being button-holed, after all.  To read a blog and to post a blog is to commit oneself to this ongoing conversation with others, an open conversation. 

Thomas Merton talks in his Journals about a “Vow of Conversation”, a pun on the Latin vow of conversion — but for Merton this meant, even as a Trappist monk, ongoing conversation in letters with others.  It also meant, however, ongoing conversation within himself in his journals.  He mined his journals for his published writings, just as did Thoreau and many others, while his letters are a different kind of writing and conversation.  Something of that difference seems to me to be in the different sense of writing and reading, the conventions of them, in the blog world.

In reading there is always a conversation going on with the writing, even if that “conversation” is not in words, but in a tear forming while reading a bit of Dickens, or a guffaw in another bit of Dickens, that is, even merely (!) physically we admit ourselves into conversation and conversion with the writer.  When reading we often make notes in the margins or otherwise record our responses in journals or whatnot.  There is no intent there to change or challenge the writer, but as one reads one does make sense in a new way out of the reading.  That reader-response sort of thing is different from the blog reading & writing, it seems to me, where the point is collaborative thought and story-making.  Dickens didn’t want a collaborator — he was a performer in words, and tho’ writers do ask the advice of chosen readers and friends, it’s not ever an open season.  I imagine many blogs are not quite so open as they begin to be, too, but i’ve just stumbled into this world, so we’ll see.

Whether “commenting” contributes to “the writing and meaning-making” seems to me entirely dependent on the comment.  In general i’d say that commentaries are less interesting that good writing, and that the various ages of commentaries, like the Hellenistic Age or much of the Medieval Age, were not the most interesting times.  They did “make-meaning” new, but not always to much lasting sense.  On the other hand, some commentaries, and the give and take of competing comments to make meaning of a writing, whether a poem or a theological tract or Aristotle or an historical account were and continue to be lively things.  That sort of writing in commentary, however, seems some different from the blogs that are immediate and, to an author, “in your face”.  It’s a bit like Poetry Slams, it seems — very democratic and all, but in the comments to the blog postings i read i didn’t find a great deal really helpful.  Sometimes, but not often.  It’s like reading the reader reviews on Amazon.com that are sorted in pro and con bits — something i don’t take very seriously but occasionally read for the raucous fun of it.  What the book itself is, however, i don’t much trust the Amazon blog reviewers. 

A great comment, of course, can contribute to any sort of reading if it is, after all, great and insightful or generative of new meanings.  Not many comments are like that even in the best of all possible worlds.  On the other hand, we can all use help in making ourselves clearer or getting out of a rut or rising above our obvious habitual assumptions, and a good friend or reader or blogger can certainly help with that. 

And, of course, i’m assuming that the point is to write something clear and well.  That may not be the point at all in blogging.  Rather it may be to experience the process of a bull session, a Vienna cafe conversation, and so on as a way to develop one’s own ideas and to share in the ideas of others.  To get new ideas, and so on. 

As to “blogging literacy” i don’t really know what that means besides being familiar with the tools and conventions of posting and responding.  The ways of blogging seem to me most like the ways of letter writing, but without the particular smell of the paper, the sealed envelope, the handwriting.  It’s like something intimate blown open for conversation around the village well or at the local pub. 

The blogging way of writing and reading, which i’m just learning, don’t seem to me particularly relevant to way i read and write now, nor to the way we write and read in school.  But as i said, i’m just learning this, so i’m open to see what happens. 

Blogging can “facilitate learning” first of all by being motivational to give a student, and students, a hearty ok to be heard, to wonder, to criticize, and so on — the blog allows those students who tend to be shy, to be quiet, in the cauldron of the classroom, to have time and space to say and wonder something, to contribute something to a mutual project of understanding. 

Blogging also encourages learning by asking students to read in a responsible way, and to respond in the same way of responsible regard to what you’ve heard in reading.  On the other hand the separate space of writing (i’m finding this even as i write these early blogs) do not encourage a sense of responsibility to others, but give a sense of authorial privilege, a first amendment right sort of thing.  To FEEL the communal character of blogging seems to me a critical thing to be taught. 

I would be dismayed if the primary form of writing and reading turned out to be blogging in a school setting, for tho’ communal construction of meaning is a fine enuf thing, it is only one mode of making meaning.  I think it is important to retain the E.B. White or Montaigne quiet meeting of the reader with an author allowing himself to be overheard wondering about in the conversations in his own mind and soul.  Such writing is a different sort of gift to making meaning and sense of our lives than blogging does.  I don’t deny that blogging can do that, too.  I would simply not like to trade one for the other. 

As to the ideas of no homework, that’s fine as long as homework is defined as mostly repetition.  When homework is exploration and preparation for talking about something, then the blog seems to me less than compelling.  As to dead words, the idea is a fine and funny one — tho’ turning to a thesaurus is a dangerous thing to do!  What i’d rather challenge, or challenge after a bit, is how to resurrect the dead words in writing and reading.  As to the Scribe notion, i would like to try that in one of my classes and see how it goes.  The student posts were less than encouraging, all full, after all, of mostly dead words.  The trope of “The Ripe Environment” is one that i like and look forward to extrapolating further — and to returning to this blog to read more.  Finally, as to the blog on brevity, i obviously failed to make much meaning of it.  A good idea, tho’, for fun — the 42 word challenge is one i want to use in class.  If it could only be used in teachers’s meetings that would win me over. 

Cheers and farewell, over the hills and far away.  — Fionn

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