Just My Thoughts: Writing vs. Academics

Teaching College Composition
Teaching Log #3

Have you ever been stumped while doing a puzzle? I mean, like really stumped. You paid for the box, you cleaned a specific portion of the table to keep all the pieces. You even count all the pieces after opening the box to make sure every single piece is there? Then, low-and-behold, you get 90% of the way done and you’re completely stumped. Do you remember finding the right piece and everything just fell into place because of that one piece? Well, that’s the exact feeling I got after reading the conversations between Peter Elbow and David Bartholomae about “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic: A Conflict of Goals” and “Writing with Teachers: A Conversation with Peter Elbow.”

In this log, I want to focus more on Elbow’s approach to the topic of being a reader versus being a writer. Thinking about where I am in terms of being a writer or an academic is quite interesting. I want to be an academic writer. I strive to be an academic writer; however, in doing so I always seem to take the role of a writer, more-so than a reader. Elbow would say “that writers often understand and readers and academics and teachers often don’t: The main thing that helps writes is to be understood; pointing out misunderstandings is only the second need.” In regards to this statement, I am solely a writer.

When I wrote for my undergraduate’s school newspaper, I wasn’t an academic, but I was a writer. I communicated the language of hip-hop and rap music in order to shed light on what was being discussed in the music; for example, some of the lyrics that are on the radio and mainstream platforms would not be played if the meaning behind those words were fully known. I won’t discuss further as it would lead to a digression; nonetheless, I strove with my writing educate the readers so they could understand why a song was a good song and why a song was a bad song through the use of the written word. These pieces were highly arrogant as Elbow would also put out because I took my ideas seriously and was self-committed through my writings. However, just like the music I was writing about at the time, I wanted my writings to be that of an academic because I wanted them to stand the test of time and be a piece of art not only those alive and reading at the time, but also for those who could not read as well as the unborn.

More pieces to the puzzle became easier to place to finish the puzzle after looking at my undergraduate degree and looking at the effects of graduating with a degree in English and a degree in Writing. Before switching my degree to Writing, I was also an English major. I remember talking to my advisor when I made the change and she told me that if I wanted to teach in high school or grade school, then I should really stick with English. However, there was something intriguing than finding my own ideas and using language to establish a means of an end, rather than using comparisons, analysis, and others words to write about another author’s work. Why do that when I wanted to be the author’s whose text was discussed in classrooms? Elbow would say, I want to be “a central speaker at the center of the universe.”

He was dead on correct; however, although I wanted to be a writer, I felt as though because of my peers and education environment, I needed to become an academic to do so; for example, in poetry classes. Even if things were misunderstood in the text, my professors would say, Donald what are you trying to say? After my explanation, they would say, Well say that. I wanted to be a writer. My education groomed me to be a writer, but the thought of an academic swelled in my head for my entire education. How could I create a work of art that as a writer, could stand the test of time? According to Elbow, I would have to take the T.S. Eliot approach of reverting to and finding a muse in traditional poetry, as Elbow says as “carry on an unending conversation not just with colleagues but with the dead and unborn.”

After these readings, I find myself believing that being a writer and being an academic go hand in hand. Every writer writes with a personal bias, his own feelings attached to a piece of work, whether nonfiction or fiction. A writer who has the mind of an academic are the best writers. If an academic was a writer who knew all the conventions of the English language, and a writer could be the writer who knew when and how he could break and twist those conventions to his own likings, then he would be able to stand the test of time from a literary perspective.

In a class where students may be academic and some may be writers, a teacher must find common ground between both in order to engage their classroom putting the students in a better learning environment so that all can benefit.

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