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California State University, Dominguez Hills
Latest update: September 5, 2000

Listening in Good Faith
To Hear Myself

Over the summer we worked extensively on communicating ways in which we could empathize with each other's confusion, struggle, and satisfaction when we finally "get it, frustration when we don't get it." Fellman tells a wonderfully descriptive story of how the teacher can be so easily distracted from empathy with the student. (Rambo at pp. 158-159

The Journal in my classes is your private journal. I will not collect it; I will not read it. It is a special place for you to keep all your memories of the class. There are many details, such as e-mail exchange, comment submission, classes attended, workshops attended, field trips taken, notes to yourself, that we will ask you to keep. Especially since the adversarial paradigm in which we live at this institution requires that I grade you, we must come to some agreement on how much you have learned, and how integrally you have managed to fit that learning into your life.

I am a lawyer. I tend to seek evidence, though on a broad and generous scope. The reason I ask you to keep a journal is so that when we discuss your learning, you will have your records before you to make sure that you speak most effectively for yourself. I give no points for the journal. So those who choose to ignore the request will not be penalized directly. But I consider it rude to ignore a well-considered request to be heard in good faith. That goes counter to my philosophy of love, care, and respect for all things living, and many that aren't living anymore.

The details of what I ask you to put in the journal will change as we develop community in the class, and as each of us discovers new ways to measure both learning and community. But I know I want you to share vocabulary words, and to keep some rough count of them, and the number of times you find yourself looking them up.

I know that I want you to write down thoughts you have, but don't get a chance to contribute, or don't feel comfortable contributing publicly.

I know that I want you to keep some record of every file you read, every text you consult, so that I and your classmates can also find it if we want to read further.

Everything in me wants to pick up these journals, count them off, see what the average number of pages is, see which of you use color, drawing, which of you scribble, I could learn so much just by poring over them. But all of my training tells me that I must not do this. I am not meant to "know" you, unless you are in crisis, and we need to get you help. I am a teacher, who opens the door to hearing what you are learning within the crazy context of a post-modern world that is changing so rapidly we need courses to keep up with it. I am more comfortable hearing what you want to tell me. But I have learned that you, like me, gloss over much when you have not written records. The journal is there to provide you with enough detail that I can ask questions that will help me understand your learning, and you can thumb through your journal for answers. But the answers won't be in the journal, where I could "just" read them, the answers will come from the mixture of the things you remembered to record, the feelings that come back as you study your records, some of which you may not even have been conscious of. If I read your journal, that great rich depth will not inform my understanding. So it should definitely be your journal. Use it wisely, and use it well.

This aspect of the journal grew out of a scene with an unhappy student. She e-mailed me her outrage that I had given her a lower than reasonable grade. I looked at my records. They showed not very much. But then she replied with a volley of detail a dozen things she had done. I had no record of a single one of them! We were all taught when we were little that we should not blow our own horn. But, if not, who's going to blow it? If you don't tell me what you're doing, I can't possibly be giving you credit for doing it. Talk to me, please.

But don't bring me your journal to read. Bring it along so that it can remind you. So that you can show me that you did record study and praxis and reactions to your reading. But you do the pre-reading. You do the summaries you'll need. The journal is about communication, face-to-face, real time.

Now could you help me with mine? It seemed like such a good idea when I knew that I would keep one, too. But I don't have the foggiest idea what I need to put in it. Since it will be my journal about us, maybe you have some ideas?

On Januray 29, 2001, jeanne added:

I did put lots of things in my journal all through last semester. And then I spent the six weeks of Winter break trying to incorporate them into the way we operate the site. I have a very good idea of what I want to start with in my journal this Spring. I want a three-ring binder in which we'll store all the self-report handouts from this first week in the computer lab. That will give me all your e-mail addresses. Then I'll have a journal I'll keep with me in class and out to scribble all my little notes to myself. Hope it works. Wish me well.

September 5, 2000
January 29, 2001