Posted by: Emily | December 11, 2008

In praise of lifelong learning

I started a master’s program this semester, an MA in English, concentrating in writing and rhetoric. This program will teach me to teach freshman composition classes–something that I suspect will extend and enhance my library instruction skills in really interesting ways. (I totally buy the library instruction/writing center collaboration research, and look forward to the ways I’m now institutionally bound to try it out.) I turn in my first term paper today, and I learned an awful lot writing it.

My class was about critical perspectives on basic writing. We read some history, some theory,  and some practical case reports about basic writing curricula in colleges and universities around the country. It was totally eye-opening to little old parochial me. Did you know that you can teach students without treating them like they’re dumb for not already knowing? Yeah. Sort of blew my mind.

But more than that, I learned how hard it is to write a research paper, a lesson I was due to learn again, a lesson we should probably all re-learn once or twice a year. Honing a research question and keeping it narrow and focused is really hard. There is so much information out there that you have to put blinkers on just to make it through to the end. Citations styles are easy to follow until they get really hard. (I had two articles by the same author, published the same year, and with the same first title–how do I handle that in parenthetical citation?) It’s hard to tell when to stop researching and start writing, and eight times out of ten, my writing leads me not to neat conclusions but to big gaps in my thinking that force me back to the research trough again and again.

I’ve got my own mixed opinions about this tenure debate we have amongst ourselves that I’ll leave aside for now. But I do think that being forced to research and write is a humbling experience that we teaching librarians need to have over and over again, so that the student who comes begging for anything, anything at all about witches at the 11th hour will garner our empathy rather than our scorn. I know just how she feels, after all.


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