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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


Guest Post: In Honor of Mike Rose: Inviting Students Across the Boundaries

Rebecca Weaver offers a reflection following the passing of Mike Rose.

August 16, 2021

I did not know Mike Rose, but if you become interested in pedagogy, it is impossible to avoid his work, and once you have encountered it, it is impossible to shake its influence. Rose fundamentally believed in learning as a human-centered endeavor and schools and schooling as places and opportunities for liberation, and over the years he tried to write these possibilities into existence. His books, Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared, Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America, and Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us, are powerful testimonies to what could happen if we center students over systems.

I only knew Rose through his books, but judging from my Twitter feed, Rose was also a generous friend and mentor to other scholars and teachers, a model for how to bring others along in their careers. Mike Rose, research professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend. It is clear he will be missed, but his work will live on in the countless scholars and teachers who have been influenced by him. One of those is Rebecca Weaver, who wrote this reflection and remembrance.

-- John Warner

Last year, on the first day of school, I wrote the text below in my morning freewrite. It was the first day of a fully pandemic semester at my school (a two-year access school within a state university), and I was to be teaching three "blended" classes (a blend of online and in-person instruction, with classes broken up into small groups that rotate attendance) and two fully online classes. I had just re-read Rose’s Lives on the Boundary and had been thinking about a quote from the penultimate chapter of his book:

Aug. 24, 2020: Well, here we are. “We’ll need a pedagogy that encourages us to step back and consider the threat of the standard classroom, and that shows us, having stepped back, how to step forward to invite a student across the boundaries of that powerful room.”

I’m thinking a lot about this from Rose this morning. He didn’t mean it for a pandemic -- he meant all the ways that the standard classroom threatens first-gen students, poor students, minority students, and so on -- but I sure as shit don’t want to invite students across the physical room today. I’ve been having back-burner anxiety about students not wearing masks, or showing up outside their cohort time, etc. and now it’s burning-pot-of-food-falling-down-the-front-of-the-stove anxiety.

The standard classroom in this case is one the state built and slowly drained of resources over the years. It’s got no heat, AC, or lighting. It has exposed wires, mold, bugs, and rodents. Leaks and falling ceiling tiles. Now we have the pandemic.

Some of the other threats of the standard classroom include the hidden curriculum, racism, reduced bandwidth, poor pedagogy (pedagogy designed for the old education) and poverty, tied to these. All too often, pedagogical poverty meets bandwidth poverty, our students, especially our poorest students, our students most under threat from the standard classroom, deserve better.

Soon after I wrote that, I drove into campus, masked up, and walked into my classroom. The stickers for social distancing hadn’t been put on floors or desks yet, and the computer didn’t work. No students had yet shown up. I took a picture that seemed to capture everything about that moment and morning.

This morning, almost a year later and not feeling much better about the imminent beginning of this school year, I opened that freewriting file (I start a new one at the beginning of each school year) and remembered all this. I remembered reading Rose for the first time in grad school: his work spoke to me about the urgency of human pedagogy in a way that I heard from almost no one else.

I went to my campus office a little later to bring in supplies and clean. The building was hot -- the AC wasn’t working. I dusted off my desk and turned on the computer. The first thing I saw on social media was that Rose had died. I sat for a moment, sweating, grieving and thinking about how, for so many of my mentors, friends and colleagues in the compassionate and critical pedagogy movement, Rose’s work is foundational and generative.

I have turned to his work over and over again in the years since first reading him, often teaching his essay "Lilia" from that book or one of his blog posts about who goes to college and why. In a recent conversation on the Pedagogue podcast, he said, “Teaching is really about collaborating with someone on their own development.” This idea has become a guiding ethos for me lately, as it seems to warmly embrace and include so much of the pedagogy I value. On the days for me last year when that idea was top of mind in my interactions with students -- when somehow, despite the masks, the pandemic classrooms, the video consultations and all of the other chaos of trying to do college, we could have genuine conversations about writing -- I would feel that maybe, all was not lost.

It’s important for me that Rose writes about teaching writing. So many students come to college with trauma and confusion about writing and what it means to communicate with actual people. As Rose noted in that podcast, this grief doesn’t stop with graduation -- many grad students and professionals carry its scars throughout their educational careers. I include myself in this number. On my best teaching days, I share this with my students -- this very real sense of being in process, in progress, still growing as a writer. This effort at connection is inspired in no small part by Rose, whose very last sentence of Boundary reminds us to not substitute terror for awe, for “it is not terror that fosters learning; it is hope, everyday heroics, the power of the common play of the human mind.”

As we begin a new semester, may those of us inspired by his work continue to invite students across the boundaries through awe and hope.

Rebecca Weaver is an assistant professor at Georgia State University-Perimeter College, where she teaches composition and runs a pedagogy book review. She has published articles about teaching in Hybrid Pedagogy, ProfHacker, The Hope Center Blog, Recursive and TechStyle and was a plenary speaker at the most recent Minnesota Writing and English Annual Conference.

Twitter: @WeaverRew

Website: https://www.talkingteachingwriting.com/

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