Every writer, at one point or another, feels silenced. The classroom should be a safe place that promotes the growth of creativity, not work against it.
There have been times when I’ve felt “silenced.” I took one class, for example, where some of the other students were (or seemed to think they were) too advanced for the class. I felt intimidated and mocked by their comments and while this pushed me to toughen up and expand my knowledge, I struggled and even felt afraid to share my “lesser quality” work. In this particular case, the teacher added to the problem by constantly putting those students on pedestals and ignoring others.
In chapter four of “What Our Speech Disrupts,” Haake tells the story of a time when she was silenced by her own insecurities. She says, “Now, under the spell of Melville’s prose and genius, my future, stark as destiny, seemed clear to me. I was neither smart nor talented enough to be, as I had dreamed, a writer.” She gave up writing for four years. Looking at this in a classroom setting, a student could easily feel inferior to other students, the teacher and even famous writers and their works (like Moby Dick in Haake’s case). The feeling of inferiority can silence a student and even halt creativity. Later Haake goes on to say, “For most of us, by the time we lapse into silence, we are past the point of caring.” No matter the size of the dream or aspiration, just as we can be held back by physical issues and threats we, too, can be held back by mental and emotional ones. Creativity is both powerful and delicate in that in can move mountains but something as light as a feather can disrupt or destroy it.
An open, nurturing, non-competitive environment is necessary in preventing this. Much like a mother loves all of her children unconditionally, with all their unique qualities, a teacher must create a similarly supportive, safe environment, where students aren’t afraid to share their deepest thoughts, fears and dreams. Additionally, it’s important to make sure students know there are no “stupid” questions or “bad” writing and that everything they say or share is valuable, valid and good. Validation and grading are, of course, necessary but should be done in an honest, constructive and positive way. No student should be put above or below another student. The class should feel like a team with everyone working toward the same goal.
Since creativity is subjective, who is to say what work is “better” or “worse” than others? For this reason, students should be primarily graded by their own growth and how they express their point of view. A good argument, especially one creatively expressed, is worth more than perfectly regurgitated information. Much like it’s futile to compare apples to oranges it’s also futile to compare creative writing students to each other.
Creativity needs room to grow. It also requires time and inspiration. By providing a time and place where students feel safe, they can be free to be inspired.
I believe failure often lies in generalization. It seems to me that different approaches work for different people, so why not create a model that does, too? Much in the way kitchen cabinets can be “custom” built to meet individual needs, why couldn’t a workshop? I’d propose different classes to target specific qualities, rather than a broad range of “everyone.” Unique class descriptions, for example “workshop for beginner romance novelists” or “workshop for advanced comedic storytellers” or even something as simple as “critical creative boot camp” or “friendly feedback for all” might help people choose where they believe they’d fit, feel most empowered to participate and safest to share.
In chapter nine of “Colors of a Different Horse,” Sarbo and Moxley say, “Our current understanding of creativity shapes and limits the ways in which we can effectively intervene in our students’ creative process and leads inevitably to a clarification of our role as teachers. Familiarity with creative research increases our sensitivity to the negative effects of external evaluation; fortifies our tolerance for each student’s unique personality style, work habits, and writing process; and prepares us to supplement these preferences appropriately.”
If each student is indeed unique, then the fruit is found in unique approaches which would allow students to feel safe and really dive deep into their creativity without concern of being unfairly compared to other writers, by others or by themselves, like apples are to oranges.
Bishop, Wendy and Ostrom, Hans. Colors of a Different Horse. Chapter 9.
Haake, Katherine. What Our Speech Disrupts. National University. Chapters 4 and 6.