Thursday, April 30, 2015

#Rhizo15 / Week 3 / Content - Morning Coffee

This is a fascinating topic and I think it begins the root of one of my difficulties as a writing teacher. But before I ramble about that -- it is important to remember that we are the content, and what we say and what we think are diverse and complicated packets of thought. If we are the curriculum, we are also the content. We've been filling this space with content, but how it connects and how it all moves us through our learning paths and root systems, is not content but the result of the content and the curriculum moving in orchestra.

Course content to me is a dream. During my writing courses and working with graduate students, there is the content - which I always discuss in terms of coffee (content), and the cup which is everything else (form, ethos, pathos, logos, audience, time, place). I've been asked to teach courses with no coffee and all cup - and all coffee and just the mention of a cup. So, what is more important and why?

In the end, I need to give the students a cup of coffee. An empty cup doesn't serve them because they need the coffee, the caffeine, and something warm to ingest. On the flip side coffee can't happen without putting it into something or it will be a complete mess. And so the connection of these ideas have to come together. Form and content together. And let's face it - it is not all that exciting discussing comparative essays with no content. And writing about gun control without understanding how an argument works is mentally exhausting as well.

And if I might complicate matters a bit more, what if the coffee is the form and the cup is the content? What if I am the coffee and the writing is the cup? Sorry, I just get caught up in Rhizo fits of thinking.

Do I need content to talk about writing? No. But the difficulty is to explain "form" in a vacuum without content. And then explaining that it doesn't matter what goes into the cup or what the content is, as long as you understand the form and what it can do. It gets more complex when we get into creative writing.

Creative writing is about telling stories and creating emotions. Story is content developed through the writer. I don't feel like my role is to change content in creative writing unless I have a reason based in form and function. To say, I just don't like this has to be based in reason, not just my own subjective taste. My job is to ground my comments in the function of form - and sometimes that is difficult to do. That is where I need to be a better teacher and mentor. I need to study narratology, I need to study form and rhetoric in fiction and linguistic. Their content is subjective which speaks to their story and ideas. And frankly, it bothers me when people judged my creative work without a functional purpose for change. How do I make creative writers produce better writing - I talk to them about everything but their content. I even make them write journals about why they are doing what they are doing and mapping out how they work. Shaping their form and aesthetic well-being will give the best fertile ground for growing something brilliant.

Having said that - isn't it ironic that I've been hired to teach "subjects" - content and not teach in an area where I can be effective in all modes of written expression. Perhaps that is a place in our academic world that we should subvert. We are all so much bigger than the content we teach. Perhaps that would go on our subjective portfolios and resumes - the place where all the really important things are listed and never realized. 

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha, this is GREAT, Ron - all cup and no coffee, such a great metaphor. My situation is the opposite: I'm supposed to be teaching all coffee (Humanities Gen. Ed.), but my students don't have cups, so it was all just sloshing around on the floor, trickling away. So I decided on my own to teach writing instead. Let's get some cups! And let them be fun cups, with personalities all of their own. :-)
    I just reshared a post from last month that seems to fit this content question, but I definitely want to do some more thinking, esp. as I read other people's posts. Tomorrow is last day of classes, too, and summer with its wonderful gift of TIME is almost here. Here's my post about how I unexpectedly became a writing teacher (nobody was more surprised by that than I was!):
    The Shift from Teaching Content to ... Teaching Writers