Professors, please think carefully before making your students blog

There are a number of professors – usually in literature departments, or cultural or gender studies – who create blogs specific to a course and sometimes even try to get their students blogging about the material.

Generally speaking, my reaction to this sort of thing is *groan.* Don’t get me wrong, there are some teachers who can use this effectively, and it doesn’t come off in those rare cases as cheesy or an attempt to overstate the importance of one’s class. But those teachers are few and far between, and especially with the cultural/gender studies approaches, there’s an ideology at times. The idea, to state it very roughly, is that you can use the same tools for “deconstructing” literature to critically analyze media. Hence (and again, I’m speaking crudely), if you know how myths or folktales work – if you know they have a structure that may have some psychological bearing – you can now go to the news and see how all the reporting about the military, for example, is jingoism and nationalism of the worst sort.

I’m not going to go off on a tangent about how it’s wrong for professors to have an opinion informed by methods of analysis. Lord knows that I have plenty of biases myself, and the politics of all students have to be challenged by any professor that’s decent (any professor that’s decent, of course, will be challenging their own views as much as possible). The whole point of the university is to raise and start answering serious questions, difficult questions. The point of an education is not to make money, and anyone who does research will tell you that while we strive for new knowledge, it also depends on chance for acquisition.

It’s those last two thoughts, that this is not about making money or even creating new knowledge necessarily, which lead me far away from recommending people have every student in a course of theirs blog. Your course is not about getting attention from the whole world. You, as a professor, have the right to want attention. You know something and should share it, and truth be told, people should be eager to hear what you have to say. But your classes are a different story. Good students need to be away from the computer, unless they know exactly what they’re doing here and why. The best students get struck with the sort of numbness Meno describes to Socrates, where they can’t speak because they’ve reached an impasse. The ideas which make the world run don’t add up and never will. There are complications to every human endeavor. Giving your students some privacy so they can develop insight into those complications is far more important than demanding they answer your questions in the comments of a blog ripped from an exam.

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