Success, failure, and sucking it up

The mixed feelings that I experienced while reading about the assignments and activities that Sheridan Blau discusses in The Literature Workshop largely result from the internal conflicts I face in attempting to determine the goal of liberal arts education. While I do value the emphasis that the author places on creativity and personal engagement, I am not convinced that an entirely student-centric learning environment is fair preparation for the type of demands that students will encounter in the ‘real world.’ The Interpretation Project outlined in chapter 8, for example, “reflects an ideal, healthy, and democratic academic community” (176); I remain unconvinced that such a description could be applied to most professional environments. In catering to the individual needs of each student, to his interests and abilities, I worry that Blau may be failing to exercise an arguably more important skill – their ability to “suck it up and get it done.”

Don’t let me be misunderstood: I love the assignments that are explained in this book. Despite the fact that I have reservations about whether the activities themselves can be applied to a greater context, I do believe that Blau has hit on a wonderful way to encourage critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. Perhaps his greatest success in this regard is the creation of a safe-fail (as opposed to a fail-safe) learning environment.

The disadvantages of failure-proof learning have been widely discussed lately, with a number of studies proving that students who always succeed are those least able to improvise or reconfigure a plan to address difficulties. In some ways, the approach that Blau takes to individualized assignments and minimal assessment reminds me of fail-proof learning. The major difference between his safe-fail classroom and the failure-proof learning that has proven so problematic, however, is the fact that his class seems predicated on students’ exposure to difficulty.

One thought on “Success, failure, and sucking it up

  1. Professor Sample

    When it comes to writing assignments and their real-world value, one factor to consider is transferability. Can the skills used to write that essay be transferred to other fields and knowledge domains? So, which writing more closely resembles the kind of writing that goes on in the work place? A five paragraph essay with a neatly packaged thesis, or some of the writings assignments that Blau describes? I’d hazard that his collation essay (described on 180) is probably more like the writing that goes on in the “real world” than the traditional essay.

    I don’t mean to let Blau off the hook though. Research suggests that there’s one crucial form of work place writing that he completely ignores: collaborative writing, say 3-4 people working on a shared document. This is increasingly how writing is done outside of school.

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