The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back to School– Day 24

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…continued from Day 23…

Good things can come from crap writing, though those things aren’t usually delivered directly to the writer.  If something goes beyond bad to horrible, the writer still has a long, long way to go to really “get” what needs to happen to create effective, meaningful writing.  However, there are immediate positive effects that fellow writers can experience.  If the workshop is moderated by a master writer, as my workshops at Skidmore have been, that usually presents a good chance to see how your perceptions match up with the moderator.  If you haven’t totally shut yourself off to the piece, you can pick up a lot by hearing that master talk about it.

You also get to see just how good of a teacher that moderator is.  I’ve been enormously impressed with my last two moderators and how they have handled writing that drove the rest of us batshit crazy.  Nothing ever turned into a free-for-all, and no writers ran screaming from the room; on the contrary, some umbrella comments were made about things we all knew to be wrong with a piece under consideration (thereby eliminating them from discussion), and then other significant issues were addressed.  This is not to say that it was all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows—  it wasn’t.  The moderator rolled hard on one of the pieces Monday, getting down to the sentence level on several consecutive paragraphs and essentially thinking aloud all the concerns she had with most everything.  That went on for about ten minutes, uninterrupted.  It was enough to restore a lot of faith I lost over the weekend; at least enough so to sustain me until the workshop ends this Friday.  It wasn’t the rolling hard that resusitated my faith, it was the fact that the moderator knew that the cognitive think-aloud was what would most benefit the writer and be most effective to bring up all of her concerns.

To that end, I’ve been pleased with the quality of instruction I’ve experienced.  I decided months ago that I wasn’t going to be starstruck by whomever is leading my workshops (note that I haven’t been dropping names of the writers I’ve worked with, unless I talked to you privately).  I took for granted that whomever I worked with has already proven himself to be a master writer; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been selected to be a part of the institute.  As a way to keep positive or negative biases out of my mind, I haven’t read anything my instructors have published.  From the moment workshops started on July 4, I’ve been most interested in how well my instructors can teach.  It doesn’t mean a thing if they won the Pulitzer or the Booker Prize or the National Book Award if they can’t help me grow as a writer.  I’d be especially pissed if they took a casual, off-the-cuff approach and didn’t fully commit themselves to helping me and my classmates grow.   But I’m not pissed about those things because they haven’t happened to me.  I feel I have good cause to be worried about the quality of education, though, here at Skidmore or anywhere else (even my beloved Northwestern).  All too often, college-level teaching positions are filled by people with whom the college wishes to be associated because of their accomplishments, regardless of how well they can teach, and since there are no “methods” classes for college instructors, you can get stuck with a crap teacher, albeit one who can write a damn fine book.

When what a person produces is valued too highly over their ability as a teacher, it can lead to a myriad of problems–an enormous ego and a hyperbolic mutual admiration society amongst peers come to mind.  Unfortunately, those have manifested themselves here in the form of some obsequious introductions we’ve suffered for the guest readers we have each night.  They haven’t all been like that; in fact, most of them have been exact, insightful, and breif (the standard for “breif” seems to be 3-5 minutes).  There have been notable exceptions, though.  Several have run in the 8-9 minute range, at which point you’re asking why the introducer is still talking (and about what?).  It’s rather frustrating when you consider that you came for the reading, not the introduction.  One introducer wrote a short story in which the guest reader was a character.  Another wrote a too-long memoir of numerous experiences she had with the guest reader’s writing.  Another introduction ran for 9:57 (I timed it), which was one third the length of the actual reading.  It seems to me that some of the introducers are bent on drawing attention to themselves rather than bringing the audience’s attention to the guest reader.  It gives the appearance of a contest to see who can most deify their subject.  Or maybe there is something to be feared in not stroking certain egos.  I don’t know; post-secondary education isn’t my bag.  Still another introduction didn’t matter in the least.  I purposely tuned it out, and the subsequent reading, because the biography on the guest reader’s website was so bombastic and inane that I had already lost respect for her–I can’t respect another teacher whose biography claims (or is permitted to claim, if she didn’t write it) that her students worship her.

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Written by seeker70

July 27, 2011 at 9:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] state of graduate education in many places leaves a lot to be desired.  I first touched on this two summers ago as I was wrapping up a writing workshop at Skidmore College.  What I’m entirely tired of is […]


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