On the first day of classes at the University of Portland, I routinely asked my freshman students to free-write about a series of questions. Before I gave them the list, I’d ask the class just the first one:
What is your relationship to writing?
Our class was an introduction to college writing, yet despite this emphasis students were often surprised by the question. I’d give them a few minutes to take out their paper and pens, before I invited them to begin. Most first days looked like this: two students furiously writing, a few whispering for more instructions from a peer, half of them staring at me in bewilderment, and one student bravely raising her hand for clarification, “You want us to write about what exactly?”
If I knew this scene was likely to replay, semester after semester, you might be wondering why I continued to let...