I’m preparing for the WIDE-EMU conference in a couple of weeks which has a theme of “What does writing want?” My colleague and I have chosen to tentatively answer this question with, “Writing wants reluctance.” For me, I reluctantly write about math (here, on this very blog). As part of the “Phase II: Respond” pre-conference work, this particular post details some of my reluctance toward the writing-via-math project in which I am engaged. This post ends with a plea for your input on my actual presentation at WIDE-EMU.
Reluctance 1: Majoring in math. When I decided last year to enroll at the institution where I teach English and to declare myself a math major, I did not have a very clear rationale for doing so. If I wanted to learn something new, why not attend a seminar in my own field that I could add to my CV? Why math? And if it had to be math, why not join a MOOC or audit a class? The best professional reason I had, as a composition instructor, was that I wanted to better relate to my students by remembering what it felt like to be uncomfortable in a classroom. Humanities classrooms (English, Spanish, history, philosophy) have been my go-to happy places for a long time, so I needed a subject that I had avoided academically. And I needed to feel the same kind of stress, commitment, and humility as students with a lot (only their entire futures) riding on their coursework. Enrolling as a degree-seeking Math major is well outside my comfort zone, costs money, and puts my real transcript at risk: three factors that make this a relatively authentic experience.
Reluctance 2: Blogging. The decision to blog about my math journey had a clearer rationale. I frequently ask my students to write publicly, I require that they share drafts, and I offer points for engaging in reflection. But many of them are as uncomfortable writing about my assignments as I am writing about math: I don’t know how to write about math. I don’t know how to relate basic math to the things I do know. I don’t know who my audience is, what they already know, or what they want to read. My attempts to make it “meaningful” are kludgy, stilted, and sophomoric, and posting these attempts online has been mortifying. And I have all of these doubts with every single post, despite the fact that I am an enthusiastic student and am thoroughly enjoying learning basic algebra. I hit “publish” with reluctance, every single time. For many of my students, the experience of writing publicly in a composition course probably feels similar. I’m not sure how to address yet the affective and effective role of reluctance on this writing, but I can feel it at work. Further down the road, I will work on expressing that more clearly.
Reluctance 3: Asking for help. I am approaching my few minutes at the front of a room during WIDE-EMU as my chance to give a “classroom presentation” in which I reluctantly-enthusiastically try to explain, in a meaningful and interesting way, a basic mathematical concept on which I have a tenuous grasp and that somehow relates to writing (maybe magnetic reluctance?). If you have any suggestions, requests, words of encouragement, or cautions, please feel free to comment on this blog post.
PS: I passed my first test of the semester and have almost-a-B in MATH 140 right now. Hooray!