I’ve been away for a bit (as those of you reading this — and I quote — “US person’s boring memoirs about his travel trips” (ahem) already know), and since I’ve been back, I’ve been caught in the thick of semester start-up: first-year advising, grading placement exams, preparing for the first day of classes, and generally attempting to get reacclimated. So I’ve missed some things, over the last two weeks, particularly a great series of posts by both George and Elouise about the relationship between the professorial persona, or at least the imagined version thereof, and the personas we adopt online, in these semi-veiled but nonetheless public conversations.
Well. I find myself flabbergasted by the turn this conversation has taken, a turn that does nothing, in my mind, but highlight exactly the issues that George and Elouise were pointing to in the first place.
It began simply enough: George wondered how his students might respond to finding his blog online, and whether his knowledge that some of them might be reading his musings would alter the nature of his writing. This is a question that resonates for me; the first time a student of mine appeared in my comments, my heart did skip a beat. But that appearance was one of the factors that made me seriously reconsider what I was up to here, and which gave me the courage to unmask, to acknowledge that yep, it’s me, out here where I can be seen, and yep, I take this thing seriously. Elouise seems to have gone through much the same process, and has — way more bravely than I, I think — found ways to face the risks of being seen in all (or at least many) of her facets by those who have only come to know her in one.
But it’s a hard choice to make, deciding to let down the shields that protect us in the classroom, to drop the professor-persona and allow students to see us as fully human, warts and all. And so I absolutely sympathized, and agreed, when Liz suggested a private forum, a support group of sorts, in which blogging profs could talk about such issues in relative safety.
What ensued demonstrates exactly the reason that such a forum would be useful, and may be necessary. Liz’s suggestion was taken, both in the comments on her blog, the comments on Elouise’s, and — most hurtfully, given the ad hominem nature of the attacks there — on Wealth Bondage, as evidence of elitism, of a desire to close students out of a conversation fundamentally about them. Which, it seems to me, it was not: it was a self-protective gesture, a desire to reveal one’s vulnerabilities in a safe place. The furious result, and the bruised response — see George’s response today, as well as Matt’s — are precisely evidence of the dangers of stepping outside one’s perceived persona in this new, at times too-public, space.