A while back I wrote an article or essay called “Death and the Writing Instructor,” and since I had written it I sent it off to a journal, but I doubt it will see the light of day because I have seen almost no articles in academic journals on writing with titles like “Death and the Writing Instructor.”
I wrote it to try to explain to myself why teaching has more recently become quite hard for me, and I am thinking about it right now because tomorrow I start up yet another quarter as a Writing Instructor. This time Winter Quarter, 2008.
My argument—to the extent I had one—was that teaching is a temporal activity, having some how to do with the passage of information and thoughts and ideas of one generation to the next. It has psychologically something to do with what the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called “generativity,” and that has something to do with the psychological need to care for generations that follow your own.
This is sort of an obvious thing; many parents do seek to set up situations, one way or another, that might help their children out after they are gone. Think inheritances. But Erikson takes this out a step further and sees signs of generativity in social institutions, policies and laws established in the present with the primary intent of preparing the ground for future generations. Right now of course the prime example might be the attempt of organizations and governments to establish policies and to make plans to head off the massive upheavals that might result, for the next generation, from global warming.
So built right into the heart of education—of a certain kind—is the awareness of time or temporality. The teacher, so to speak, is in the middle of the stream standing on shifting sands. This is a precarious position I argue and full of potential for anxiety. For an awareness of the movement of generations necessarily implies awareness, no matter how low down and unconscious, of one’s own location in time and that this time is passing (along with you).
This may seem a grandiose notion of teaching and education, but it seems to be the one I am stuck with. And in this position, one might try to fight off the anxiety by just throwing up one’s hands and saying, “Après moi le deluge!” I mean, who the hell cares, since, if I am lucky, the crap that is coming down will come down after I am gone. One could develop a whole philosophic position from this, and it would be damn hard to argue against.
That might be the position I am tempted to take. But paradoxically, if I did so, while it might afford some relief, it would probably also take away the energy or the ideals that have fueled my work as a teacher so far.
Maybe tomorrow when I go back into the classroom I will look inside and figure out where I am, though mostly I will probably be pissed at the inadequate technical resources, taking roll, and having to turn away crashers.