In my FYC class, we’ve been talking about the divisions we impose in education: the divisions we impose on subjects and disciplines, as well as the difference between curricular and extra-curricular activities. We are sent the message about what counts, what really counts, and what we could/should do away with. These messages often directly conflict with the students’ perceptions and attitudes. How many of you, I ask them, look forward to school not because of the subjects you learned but the activities you did after school? But for parents and teachers, these extra-curricular activities (or bird classes or even being able to go home and play video games) are at best a motivating factor (get a B average or no more swim team!), at worst a distraction from the “real” work of getting an education.
We talk about all of the “transferable” skills we learned doing extra-curricular activities, connecting them to our major and our eventual career. I work to help students make connections between disciplines, how what they learn in my class can help them in math or physics or whatever they are studying. I tell them about how coaching swimming to both beginners and experts completely changed how I approach teaching more traditional subjects, and how blogging has also helped me become a better teacher, if only because I practice writing more, and practice a kind of writing that I think is more relevant to them than my dissertation or peer-reviewed articles, even though the latter is more valued in my profession.
Writing has always been a passion of mine. One of the reasons I chose to go to graduate school was because I wanted to be a writer and I figured (perhaps erroneously) that studying other writers was one way to go about doing that. But my favorite writers (or perhaps more accurately my favorite things to read) were op-ed writers, or creative non-fiction writers, whom I would read in newspapers and magazines, and then on the Internet. I’ve always loved words, what words could be made to do, and what words could do to me.
I was also a debater in high school, one sanctioned area where it was beneficial to be an opinionated girl, where I could “fight” and be rewarded for my intelligence rather than ridiculed (because, as Beatty put it in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, “wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours?”). Again, words were powerful tools, coupled with research and information, woven together to convey and convince. It was an opportunity to perform and also to engage, as you had to be just as ready to refute your opposition’s arguments as well as present your own. Talking about games and learning, debating was one game that I was pretty good at.
This, blogging, is an extra-curricular activity for me. It won’t get me a job, a raise, tenure, or professional recognition (in fact, infamy seems to be in the cards instead). I know that. But it is so central to who I am as a teacher and a researcher that I can’t separate it from my professional identity. I have met and interacted with more academics and other people than I ever have through my articles and my conference presence combined. I read each and every comment I see on my posts and try to engage as much as possible. I, perhaps, was a little too simplistic and biased in my attitude towards the possibilities of gamification in the classroom. But if I’m writing the comments here and not on the post, well, it’s because I’m tired.
As important as I know my extra-curricular activities are (and in this I include my very active presence on Twitter and co-moderating #FYCchat), they are exhausting. Coupled with the demands on me as a mother and wife, as a teacher and mentor, and as a researcher within my own field, well, I get tired. But, I’m not giving up. Debating for me was a humbling experience that made me stronger. Blogging here has done the same thing. I don’t need to wonder if I’m a Bad Female Academic, because I hear it here, on just about every post.