Pair of Thoughts about Paradoxes

So much thought-provoking stuff in the Sheridan Blau’s book, but I was especially struck by two paradoxes he described:

  1. It’s a great point Blau makes on p. 55: “the intellectual work undertaken by teachers in the teaching-learning relationship [presents] richer opportunities for learning to the teacher than anything the teacher might do in the course of teaching his students.” Damn, but this is true. It would be safe to say that teachers are doing the heavy lifting – research, deep analysis, identifying historical context – before the students ever hit the classroom. Blau calls this work “the most difficult interpretive and conceptual problems that might trouble my students as readers of the texts I assigned.” What instructors need to consider is that “troubled” students (intellectually troubled, that is) generate questions, look for answers and argue in a group environment. This gets back to the brief discussion we had in class about the Scholes piece suggesting that it is not the teacher’s job to provide a dazzling display of acumen and erudition to his students. He has to strive to elicit some subset, some glimmer of that from his students, as they work through challenging texts with the guidance (but not complete authority) of the instructor.
  2. Also in the “From Telling to Teaching” chapter, Blau says that “meanings constructed through reading are also composed exactly as written work is composed and through a process that entails rough drafts and revisions as much as any task of difficult writing would.” He further asserts that “reading is more like writing than writing is,” and explains that student revision of compositions often “make them worse.” By contrast, Blau says, “in reading, revision never fails to be productive in yielding additional insight or the recognition of new problems – the confusion that represents an advance in understanding” (53). Gotta disagree here. True, writing and reading are subject to much the same expressive and interpretive sausage-making. It ain’t pretty, folks. But to say that student revision of writing often makes things worse, while rereading always is productive is BS, in my mind. I would argue that writing revisions consistently represent advances in understanding – they turn a student’s understanding and reasoning processes into a concrete product and serve as a springboard for discussion. If there is the blessed, revelatory confusion Blau praises, it is evident on the page (or computer screen) and the ensuing consideration (either from the writer’s own review or that from his peers) advances understanding. Both reading and writing when revisited by the student represent a march toward deeper understanding, appreciation and clarity of thought.