So, it’s been a while.
For someone who has had a blog for almost 20 years in one form or another, I’m wondering what happened last year. Started off with a bang. Posted fairly regularly elsewhere. But I think the white space here for the last year or so captures a larger struggle that I’ve been having with my place in the world and what I want to say and how to best say it.
Not to say the struggle is gone. But it feels like it’s abating a bit.
And I’m thinking it’s time to go back to the blog. For me. To air my brain out in public again on a more consistent basis. To write.
Today is the last day of January, and I’m happy to say I completed the “write every day for a month” challenge at 750words.com. But that’s the silly or private or even stupid stuff that comes with a Writing Down the Bones approach. Filter-less, which all of us could use, I think.
These days, however, I’m feeling the need to think out loud more than I have been, even though “out loud” is nowhere near the mostly happy, supportive, let’s learn together space it was two decades ago. Not that it ever got that bad in these parts.
But the thing is, I’m feeling like I’ve got more truths to tell about schools and education and the world. Seems like the more I read and think and reflect, the harder those truths seem to get. The harder those truths seem to hear.
A piece in the Atlantic by George Packer is what tipped me into this post. A piece that while talking about writing in general, I think captures the state of affairs in the Trump era all too well. And it’s not good for writers, who find it easier to accede to the expectations of the tribe than to try to engage them in shifting those expectations when needed.
The education world is right there. I’m not sure we’re telling enough truths in the education space. We’re afraid, because some of those truths are really hard. We’re too concerned with gaining “followers” by telling them what they want to hear, in many cases by giving them what’s appealing to them emotionally instead of challenging their worldviews.
Writers learn to avoid expressing thoughts or associating with undesirables that might be controversial with the group and hurt their numbers. In the most successful cases, the cultivation of followers becomes an end in itself and takes the place of actual writing.
Can we even remember the days when we wrote not for likes and followers but for engagement and conversation? When implicit at the end of every post was the question “Here’s what I think; what do you think?” and the expectation that the answer would be thoughtful and seeking to deepen rather to end the conversation? When numbers didn’t drive the messaging?
Packer suggests that writers have become afraid.
It’s the fear of moral judgment, public shaming, social ridicule, and ostracism. It’s the fear of landing on the wrong side of whatever group matters to you. An orthodoxy enforced by social pressure can be more powerful than official ideology, because popular outrage has more weight than the party line.
And that is an existential problem for a writer.
A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.
I am many things: husband, parent, educator, author, speaker, consultant, podcaster, curator, lover of basketball, environmentalist. But I’m also a writer. I always have been. I always will be.
My choice now is what to do that.
I choose to tell truths.
Aaron Davis says
Will, I really like your point that,
However, I think that Venkatesh Rao’s point about the internet of beefs raises an important concern. If telling the truth is not going to carry the conversation on, what is actually achieve? I wonder if the trade is not so much ‘truths’ but those who can bring about change and transformation? Just wondering.
Will Richardson says
It’s a valid point. But seriously, what is the alternative? That we go silent? That we water it down to appease the audience? What change and transformation is worth it if it’s not grounded in truth? Which, maybe, is why almost all change in school fails in the long run.