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Monday, August 6, 2012

Control over the Classroom and the Story

     Before each semester, professors across the world set out at an arduous task. We revise our syllabi policies. We build on experience, seeing what works and what doesn't work. What has been exploited, and what encourages learning. The resulting changes often feel like legal contracts with many clauses and restrictions.
      I don't like it.
      Not only does it take a toll on me trying to figure out a way to wrangle the policies in a way that works, but prevents undesirable behavior, it creates an totalitarian air to the classroom and the policies. While I understand that young children often need the discipline and structure rules provide, I teach adults. I know from experience and my own heritage that such rules and discipline can often provoke the wrong response. I have some of the famed "Missouri Stubborn" stock in me, so in the face of such rules and restrictions, the impulse is to rebel.
      Moreover, these rules feel oppressive and prevent a lot of participation by certain members of the class, who see no point in contributing since the class is handed down from the professor, and their views do not matter.
      I've been thinking long and hard about these ideas; I've gradually been moving towards more student autonomy, to encouraging them to act and do for themselves. So now I'm prepared to do what I'm sure many professors would consider the unthinkable.
      I'm giving up control.
      I'm going to put classroom policies in the hands of the students. They will be responsible for setting them. I feel it's the only way to truly give them ownership of their education. I hope it will bring them together and show them they can freely express their ideas, and that people will recognize and pay attention to those ideas.
      I'm excited and terrified. I have no idea how it will turn out. This will either be one of the greatest successes or colossal failures.
      Stories are the same way. Stories come best when they're not forced. Writer's block is what happens when I try to force the story too much. Sure, there's always grinding, just churning out those bits that need to be there, but by easing up on the reins, the story is able to go where it must.
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