Throughout the semester I remember struggling students who I used to advise in my old job. One student was struggling with trigonometry but majoring in computer engineering. Her academic adviser was telling her she should quit; if math is hard for you, engineering is not the path. I confess, I agreed with his sentiment but I was in the business of believing in people and empowering them to come to their own conclusions. And, I confess again, that she was one of my favorites that I’m not supposed to have. “Just because something is hard,” she told me, “doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.” Indeed, when something is hard in epic stories, usually that means it is worth doing; everything from taking the ring to rule them all to be destroyed in lava to standing up for equal rights among our fellow men. Conciliation with difficulty for me, finally sunk in this semester when I looked up Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori, recommended to me after one of my discussions with Professor Mike Edwards.
Salvatori was recommended to me actual for some of her pedagogy work. The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty is a collaborative work with Patricia Donahue. In the “Preface for Instructors” they talk about the importance of read into student texts and reading student texts closely, “yes, we do read into student texts, the same way we read into established literary texts, with similar pleasure, and for similar reasons: looking for clues, directions, signs of work begun” (xii). This is important and a sentiment that came up in a graduate course for teaching composition, but it is the next part that blew many of my preconceived notions out of the water, “When students realize that their teachers ask the same questions of student texts that they ask of the texts they have assigned for class reading and when they understand that those questions are asked not to punish or slight them, but to foreground their work of reading, they begin to take tremendous pride and great pleasure in the kind of inquiry” (xii). It never, ever occurred to me that I could reproach printed “legitimate” texts in the same way I have with grading students’ papers or with tutoring. In our society of hierarchies, it didn’t seem allowed. On the one hand, I tend to look for the positive in students’ writing, so I think that tendency would transfer over to reading scholars anyway. I have noted by compared reading styles with one of my cohort that she latches on to what she disagrees with or doesn’t understand (clearly, she gets that difficulty isn’t a bad thing) whereas I latch on to what I agree with and/or understand. But I know it is more than this tendency, it is also a belief that struggle was bad and difficult meant I was inept. It was assuming that even though scholars have biases and errors, noticing them for my own benefit was not the same, not at the same level as ‘correcting’ biases and errors in students writing.
This informs both my future teaching and my future learning. As this project is focused on my learning rather than my pedagogy, I won’t wonder-wander into pedagogy. Instead, I move into confounded or difficulty viewed as wonder, and wonder, as Delegrange posits, as a very good way of learning indeed. “[T]rust,” Salvatori and Donahue write, “that when [you] experience difficulties, there might be good reasons for it” (xxii).