A Delicate Boy...
...In the Hysterical Realm
Friday, February 24, 2006
"Before You Go Too Far..."
It's funny, but a few months ago, when Jeff made the initial comments that went into his IHE article from this week, I wondered how pseudonymous bloggers would respond. Later, I realized that, generally, pseudonymous bloggers do not seem to read a lot of nonymous bloggers and vice versa, and I make this judgment by the links that tend to appear in people's blogrolls. And I say "generally" and "tend to" because mine is clearly an exception as are some others. Still, I noticed at the time that no one I read who writes under a pseudonym responded to Jeff's post. I almost did my own post about it but thought that would just incite controversy and throw a bunch of people into conflict who do not normally engage with each other, and it would be pretty slimy of me to do that. But clearly, I was right that conflict would ensue.
Of all the things I could say, there is one thing that keeps coming into my mind that I'm not seeing mentioned anywhere else, and it has to do with students who read these posts. I know some of my students read my blog regularly. A fewer number of them read blogs on my blogroll. And a fewer number of them keep their own blogs. But students do engage with blogs by academics. When I give blogging workshops or talks, I always say that one of the best things about the increased number of academics who keep blogs is that our students can learn more about how the university works. They recognize how much thought we put into our teaching. They see us engage with the ideas that we bring into the classroom. They recognize that, for many of us, this is not a job but our life. That's all fantastic.
But they also see the negative. A few months ago, there was another dustup about the ethics of quoting student emails in blog posts, especially when such posts lead to labeling individual students who write such emails as "clueless," "idiots," or other negative things. When my students read some of these posts, they were disturbed that professors would call them such things in public, and we had productive discussions about public and private writing (and the blurry line between the two), citation, and argumentation (it was actually in my argument course that this came up). I chose a long time ago never to refer to specific students in my blog. When I've done it, I've done so consciously and usually with a student's knowledge and approval. Others have made different choices in regards to students, and that's all fine. We all have taken responsibility for our choices.
Still, students--and others--read what we say about students and colleagues and administrators. I was disturbed by the name-calling I saw in response to Jeff's article, like calling him an asshat. Yes, people have the right to call him names and label him however they wish. I am not talking about rights or legalities. Basically, it saddens me to have our students see us engaging in the fallacies we teach them not to use, like ad hominem attacks, for example. I disagree with a lot of Jeff's IHE piece. I know nothing about him as a person except what is in the blog. As someone who writes under my name, I may be getting myself lumped into the binary where people think I'm attacking the pseudonymous, but I am trying to be critical of the commentary and not the commenter. I want to be explicit that my concern about what students are learning from us when they see these discussions does not depend on the name under which a blogger writes.
If it's your fake name or your actual one, I think we should be engaging with each other's words and ideas. New Kid is an example of what I want to see (and though this post I am writing evolves partly out of my personal concern with some of the comments people have made in her post, I recognize that she has worked very, very hard to engage with the ideas of the piece and not the identity of the writer). Collin is an example of what I want to see. Those are people who are working hard to keep this about ideas and not about negative labeling and dismissal.
For my students who are reading this post, look to those two as examples of the best kind of academic interaction that can be critical but thoughtful. I wish I was as eloquent.
I'm not saying that, when you have a negative reaction to something online that you have to respond to it with a long, thoughtful post. I am saying that it's one thing to say, "I have a lot of problems with this essay that I won't or can't go into right now." It's another thing to say, "What a clueless moron." In my classes, I work very hard with students to uncover ways we can express our opinions in ways that extend dialogue but do not shut it down. I am disturbed when I see academics engage in the kinds of writing that I tell my students are not productive or useful.
I also recognize that many academics who blog do so more to engage with other academics than with students. But we all need to remember that students are reading. If your students are not reading you, my students might be. I know because they talk to me about it. Other students are reading whom none of us know. And they all are learning something about how we regard each other as people and how we treat each other's ideas.
In a similar vein, I felt the need to write this post because I am concerned about a pseudonymous-nonymous feud developing. It's one thing to engage with the people who are choosing to get involved in this discussion. But when someone named Amy left a comment on Jeff's blog that called Clancy's blog a "self-serving me-me-me fest," I was appalled. First, I disagree, strongly. Second, Clancy has said nothing about any of this anywhere that I have seen. Amy offered no evidence for her claim. She just attacked someone, bringing someone into this fight who was not involved. Maybe I'm making it worse by talking about it here, (and if so, Clancy, I'm sorry) but my goal is to say that I believe that such attacks made without any bit of evidence are wrong. Any students of mine should recognize that. Furthermore, I think it's one thing to engage with others who are already involved in this discussion, and it's another to drag people into it. My fellow academics may disagree (and, apparently, they do or they would not choose to do this), but I do want any students anywhere who are reading this to know what I see as effective and ineffective argumentation. And there are some ineffective moves being made by some very educated people here.
A thirty-something gay white male rhetoric professor who spends way too much time thinking about the wrong things.