easy authenticity

Sun, 18 Aug 1996 16:49:48 -0500

Jeff indicated a coupla days ago that he thought I was making this
authentic writing stuff sound all too (misleadingly) easy.

> I think Eric is making this idea of "real" topics appear too easy, and
> I'm willing to bet that the majority of students, no matter how much
> choice you give them, still see their work as required rather than
> desired . . .

Since, of course, there have been a number of responses from Beth, Marcy,
Jan, and Nick suggesting creative ways to make it happen (better ways, I
might add, than I've managed to come up with).

But I'd like to come back to this accusation that I've glossed the
difficulty of the project. I'd like to correct any misleading I've been
doing by trying to clarify things a bit:

It *is* easy.

Easy as pie. Dropping grades was easy, too. Just did it. Dropping
assignments was easy. Just quit giving them. To a great extent, letting
authentic writing situations reign in class is just as easy. If the
teacher isn't giving grades and isn't making assignments, students *have*
to fill the void. They have to dream up something to do. The grade is
still Out There. It has to be recorded. And something must be done on
which to base it. All they have to guide them is their own interests.
That's the whole idea.

But do all students immediately believe they have the freedom and authority
and responsibility I say they do just because I say it? Nope. I don't *think*
I ever claimed that this approach was an unmitigated success in that regard.
I don't expect it to be. Students have been inocculated against freedom and
responsibility by 13 years of dependence on teachers to tell them when to
jump and how high. Many feel lost and afraid when the security of external
control is removed. They needn't, because I help them however I can every
step of the way, but they do, and it's understandable.

The thing that bothers me about Jeff's comment is the implication (as I
read it, and I might be misinterpreting here) that everybody ought to be
careful about actually following the lead of this loose cannon, Crump,
who cavalierly casts aside time-honored classroom conventions of teacher
control. He makes it sound easy, but it'll fail if you try it.


Sure it'll fail. It fails for me, too! Students choose topics poorly,
some don't seek help they need from me or their classmates, some are
nearly paralyzed by freedom and don't do *anything*. There are lots of

Good pitfalls. Good failures. Almost everything that happens in this
situation is an opportunity to learn and grow, if not to improve skills and
performance. I'd rather people do both (learn and improve performance) but if
I a choice has to be made, I'll take the former any day.

Conventional classroom practice, which offers each student a reasonable
chance of reasonable success by simply following orders, creates a facade of
success. Although it may take more prep time to develop syllabi and
assignments and criteria and to grade papers, etc. and therefore may seem
more difficult than the approach I describe, I think in some ways it's much
easier. Everything is neater, nailed down. You can create the appearance of
success by forcing all the students to jump the hoops you set up. Some will
be unable or will decline, but overall, the facade is assured.

OK. I've let slip. It is hard. It's hard to established expectations when
conventions (which produce automatical expectations) have been left behind.
It's hard to deal with the uncertainty and sometimes panic that students
experience when the person they thought would tell them what to do suddenly
won't. It's *awfully* hard to assess what progress has been made because the
whole approach is aimed at addressing intangible and long-term qualities. And
it's hard to resist the feelings from within that come from long
indoctrination as a teacher that relinquishing control is bad, is an
abdication of responsibility.

But to quote from "A League of Their Own," the scene near the end where
Gena Davis' character is about to quit the team just before the
championship series. She says: "It is only a game. It just got too hard."
And Tom Hanks replies: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard
everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great."

So I make it sound easy (it is) when really it's terribly hard (it is).
To Jeff I would only say that if I made it sound *only* easy, I
apologize. And I would add that difficulty is, of course, no reason not
to do it.

--Eric Crump