Reflective thinking is for many the central purpose of blogging. The word “blog” has its roots, as we all know, in the idea of a web-log, or journal– and what is a journal but a tool for written self-reflection?As I work to develop my craft in this relatively new expressive form, blog posts about blogging especially appeal to me, and while they may be perhaps a bit circular, it makes sense that we would use a tool for reflective thinking to reflectively think about that tool. In the past week, there has been a nice triplet of posts and writing about the practice of blogging, two of them posts about blogging by educators, and one a New York Times piece about Montaigne, the “first blogger.”I myself am a passionate blogger and advocate for blogging (Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons), but with every step, and in every conversation I have about the practice with fellow educators, blogging’s inherent dilemmas arise again and again.
Two dilemmas in particular stand-out:
- the tension of publishing polished, pretty, and beautifully composed pieces meant for wide public consumption vs. writing off the top of my head, providing transparent “think-out-loud” pieces sharing what is very much a thinking work in progress.
- the competing values of modesty and humility in expression vs. the desire to take strong and vigorous positions on issues of educational best practice.
Tom Whitby, the founder and moderator of the highly popular Twitter #edchat, wrote last week a fascinating reflective post, To Blog or Not To Blog. In it, he calls upon educators to become practioners of what they preach:
A key factor in teaching is having the teacher model the skills being taught. Getting teachers to put themselves out there and blog is the challenge. Too many of our educators believe in “Do as I say, not as I do” teaching philosophy.
Wholehearted agreement here: Â for educators to be effective teachers of the use of contemporary digital tools for creativity, production, and publishing, I think they should be effective users of such tools. Let’s teach what we know.
In his post, Tom wrestles with explicitly and implicitly with the tensions identified above, but rather than shrinking from the inherent conflicts, he seems to embrace them without apology:
If you want to know where I stand on education and teaching, you need only to read my blog. You will have no doubts. But then again, I believe in blogging as a tool for learning; my learning.
Brian Barry, the Nunavut Teacher blogger, published on the very same day as Tom’s post a stirring call to arms for blogging, entitled 11 Reasons Why I Blog. As with Tom, Brian doesn’t shrink from the multiple and potentially conflicting goals of his practice, he revels in them:
I blog to discover a deeper understanding of why I feel the way I do about a topic.I blog to keep thinking and reflecting about educationI blog to be heard
In Sunday’s New York Times, historian of philosophy Anthony Gottlieb has a brilliant piece about French essayist Michel de Montaigne, about whom “it’s been said…was the first blogger.” This designation (such high praise!) is derived from his literary innovation in the “‘Essais’ meaning attempts or trials.” They were a “meandering collection of thoughts,” intended only “for a few men and a few years.”
Montaigne’s favorite subject, it is said, was like that of many bloggers, “himself,” and, like many bloggers, he “meant to leave nothing out.” Gottlieb even makes reference of accusations of a kind of narcissism in his practice, which is fascinating to me because the fear of the perception of narcissism was brought up last month during an NAIS session I co-presented on Blogging Heads.
Montaigne’s example offers this blogger some reassurance to be unafraid to share my developing yet not fully developed thoughts and thinking. Via Gottlieb, Montaigne also informs those of us who blog on the second inherent tension:
the distinctive mark of Montaigne is his intellectual humility. Like Socrates, Montaigne claims that what he knows best is the fact that he does not know anything much…Montaigne does often state his considered view, but rarely without suggesting, explicitly or otherwise, that maybe he is wrong. In this regard, his writing is far removed from that of the most popular bloggers and columnists, who are usually sure that they are right.
My own blogging, upon reflection, careens back and forth on this question of tone: in some posts, it is marked by inquiry, skepticism, and learning: like Brian’s first and second points above, I blog to discover, to think, to reflect and to keep learning. In this mode, I might “state my considered view,” but even as a I do I acknowledge its limitations and the notion that I am still growing in my understanding.
Other days, however, I find myself carried away with a gusto to assert and declaim; my passions arise and my ideals assert themselves, and I let my rhetoric rise to herald the new age in education or to decry vehemently what I view a backwards argument about teaching and learning. Montaigne’s example gives me pause and impels me to seek to reconcile better these competing voices: the one of intellectual humility and acknowledged uncertainty and the one of passionate idealism and vigorous advocacy for educational transformation.
I’d be delighted if readers shared with me their thoughts about blogging, and in particular their thoughts on the tensions inherent in the craft of blogging.
photo credit: Tom Spitz; courtesy of St. Gregory College Preparatory School.