Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life catches up to you then WHAM!

Since it has been a full week since I've written a post or sent you a link or uploaded a video, the title of this post seems pretty self-explanatory. Although should I give you a full accounting of why I've been slammed? I think it'd be pretty boring because truthfully it's all about grading, which means I'm doing my day job and my students are happy (well, maybe *happy* isn't the right word since they just got midterm and papers back this week). I gave all my classes a speech about the educational goals that I have for them, meaning I don't care about the grade they get, I care about what they learn. Which means when they ask me what I'm "looking" for (which some invariably do because the kids at Southern U really care about doing well since many are high achieving, academically competitive egg-head types), I tell them I'm not looking for a single RIGHT answer or in them giving me the answer I want. I'm looking to see how they are engaging with the question or topic and what they've learned.

I also give them A LOT of feedback--and I don't pull punches. I'm fairly direct, although I try to phrase my feedback in ways that are constructive and shows students how they can improve their papers. Yet I'm all too aware that receiving feedback on your writing is hard.

Case in point: I just received the final round of editorial comments on an article I have coming out in a journal. In this round it was the journal editors (and not the people who solicited the articles for a special issue) who responded to my piece and they were CRITICAL. I'm sure all of it is valid--in skimming the comments I felt slightly embarrassed by a few points that I should have caught on the multiple drafts I've written. But there were other comments that made me pause and wonder about whether I was receiving these comments because the editors were not familiar with issues related to Asian American literature and/or race and cultural studies. In other words, this is not an ethnic studies journal--it's a mainstream, for lack of a better word, literature journal that has a special issue out on issues of race. Hence the special issue editor. It made me realize that it's easy to convey your ideas when you are talking to someone else familiar with your terminology and existing ideas, but much harder when the person is looking at your work from a completely different perspective.

And there are two things that came to me in this experience. First, that it is humbling to read criticism--and hard. I am going to have to go back through this article with a fine-toothed comb, and it will be better for it, but I know that it will be painful, in terms of my ego and pride, to read through these and feel like I didn't get it "right" the first time. And now I have to remind myself of my own advice to my students--that it's about the process and not just about the final product--although in my case I got the ideal outcome I wanted, acceptance into the journal. Still, the feedback is hard. And I will share this with my students because I want them to understand that I really DO understand.

The second realization is the difficulty of trying to convey ideas about race to people who aren't thinking about this 24/7 (am I thinking about this 24/7? Maybe 16/6--after all, I have to sleep and I should have one day off). My guess is that most folks reading this blog come here because they have an interest in issues of race and share a common attitude and value system about race. But I, supposedly, want to have conversations with those who disagree with me--who will challenge me and, in turn, be challenged by me.

I say supposedly because I have often been frustrated by push-back, not so much on this blog but on others I frequent where there's that one person who doesn't seem to be on the same page as the other commenters and I think "WHY DOESN'T THIS PERSON GET IT!" And assuming that this is someone who comes in good-faith, I have to remind myself that this person is at this site because s/he has things to offer and wants to engage and simply comes from a different perspective than everyone else, and isn't that good that s/he is pushing us to clarify our terms and points?

Anyway, this is long and rambling and aside from the apology at the top I mainly wanted to just get something out in the world because I feel like I'm neglecting this space (and will more likely continue to do so as I have a new batch of writing assignments coming in today). But don't worry, I will be back--hopefully sooner than I think (maybe even tomorrow!)

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