If Public Isn’t an Option, Then It Isn’t a Choice

The title of this post will likely bug some folks because it’s a fairly obvious statement. Except I see plenty of teachers, well-meaning and kind-hearted every one, requiring students to post work they do in class online. Without exception or choice in the matter. 

They require this work to be posted publicly for a number of reasons, but they all seem to involve the power of authentic audience, and the sense that students putting their words in public will magically create citizens who get the power of civic discourse. 

The thing is, there’s nothing authentic about being forced to speak in public. 

No one attending a city council meeting is forced to speak during the meeting. Folks reading newspapers never find themselves compelled to write letters to the editor.  

The power of public is in the choosing of it. There’s no agency in required speech. 

Writing in public is hard. Really, really hard. And it requires a mix of bravery and determination and gumption and a sense that the words one is about to share are IMPORTANT.  It also requires the ability to walk away and abandon the words at any moment. 

You don’t just shout to the world because your teacher says you have to. Or you shouldn’t find yourself in that position, anyway. 

If you’re in the business of helping children develop their public voices, then I sure hope you’re giving them choices about when and how and what (and IF) to publish. And sometimes, “I choose not to post today,” is the most important choice you can offer. 

Otherwise, I’m thinking you’re doing it wrong. 

35 thoughts on “If Public Isn’t an Option, Then It Isn’t a Choice

  1. Hello, Bud,

    Yeah, the idea of agency including the right to participate or *not* participate often gets lost in these conversations. I really like how you frame it.

    That’s one of the things that’s always bugged me about the “all students should blog” approach – it implies that validation only comes with an audience.

    Writing can be about finding audience, but it’s also about finding voice – and a personal voice is a necessary precursor to a public voice. You can’t force the timing on these things.

  2. Good point. Many teachers might also require since it’s probably pretty rare that students don’t want to post something publicly. I think most students don’t really differentiate between public and private; a difference they do need to think about more.
    Charlie´s last blog post ..Thoughts on How To Improve Homework

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