Friday, August 15, 2008

note to self

Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a follow-up to Samara O’Shea’s first book, For the Love of Letters. In both, she argues for a brief return to solitude, the very thing William Deresiewicz argues we’ve lost in “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” Unlike Deresiewicz, her thesis about the loss of this personal quietness isn’t linked to classist and sort of racist assumptions about who’s going to college. I actually had a great debate about this with some of the new Ron Brown Scholars, who quite rightly pointed out that Deresiewicz’ argument doesn’t allow for students attending elite colleges who are first in their family to go to school, attending on scholarship, or are people of color accustomed to having to be bilingual and bicultural because of their region, their social class, and the social class of their other family members.

Basically, what Note to Self does is provide a primer on keeping a journal. It’s a general primer; O’Shea offers writing prompts, topic suggestions, examples from her own journals (she’s been keeping one since she was 16), and examples from other authors (including Anaïs Nin, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, and Joyce Carol Oates). She suggests that journaling provides a way to know the self more intimately, to enforce personal honesty (one of her cardinal rules is that you should never lie to yourself), and to work through issues or concerns that are upsetting you. What I found especially interesting is that she argues that journaling provides a way to construct an empowered understanding of the self. In Chapter 5 (“Sense of Self” – I think this would be a particularly great reading for teachers) she argues that stream of consciousness writing in journals allows students to explore their own selves and voices, so that they can become more solidly realized individuals.

Note to Self struck me as an incredibly useful pedagogical tool. I’m envisioning using the examples described here as a way of developing and then reinforcing agency by free-writes and journal entries, particularly in math and science classes, where describing one’s own actions in problem-solving could make students feel more ownership over the subject. I wouldn’t assign the book (the entries on love and sex are deliciously salacious but perhaps not appropriate for the younglings) but I could see it being a useful book for developing a lesson plan, or using it yourself to keep your own awesome journal .

Cross posted from my book blog at Hathor (

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