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 Pedagogy, Philosophy, and Nonsense

The Identity Skin by Forrest D. Poston

     We talk about having an identity, but we each probably have more identities than the government agents in whatever spy thriller is hot this year.  We shift and mix the identities almost without thinking, depending on the location, situation, and company, and we develop and refine identities as we grow.  However, since we do so much of that unconsciously, the way we seem to do most of our living, we don't get the most out of the identities.  Like clothing, we borrow one from a friend or family member and forget to return it, or we keep wearing an identity when it has become several sizes too small.  Certainly, some of our identity needs to be hand me down and off the rack, but we also need to make a point of making alterations, even creating some from new cloth.  I've watched the problems arise time and again in college, both as a student and even longer now as a teacher.

     Most college students go through identity issues somewhere in the first two years, and many of those who avoid it probably need the crises just as much as the others.  We grow up surrounded by expectations, what people expect and what we think people expect.  Some are spoken, but most are in actions and in the air.  Our bodies adapt to atmospheric pressure, and in many ways, our identities react to the psychological atmosphere in much the same way.  I'm not talking particularly about peer pressure but about a much more generalized effect built up by everyone around us, including the larger social pressures generated by the media.  This pressure is absolutely crucial to us, as crucial as our skin, because it gives us definition at a time when we have none of our own.  It holds us together until we can develop a more consciously created sense of self that can stand with little or no outside support.

     Unfortunately, we do almost nothing to help develop that self-sustaining, internally generated identity, doing much more to restrict development.  Then students go away to college.  Even if they stay in town or go to a school with several high school friends, there's a change, often radical.  For the first time, there aren't enough expectations in the environment to hold the old identity skin in place, as if atmospheric pressure were stripped away, maybe not deep space vaccuum but certainly a significant drop.  You know how to act around your parents because you have ideas about what they expect. Whether you react in agreement or rebellion, you're still working with particular expectations.   Now, your parents aren't around very much.  Some, most, or all of your friends are going through a similar experience, even if at different speeds and in different ways.

     Some pull themselves inward, holding tighter than ever to the familiar skin, shrinking themselves and their world.  Others explode.  Some become desperately afraid of an imminent failure; some lose all motivation.  I managed both of those in my first semester.  Some throw books, glass, and apples around the room. That was on my second time around.  I began finding a balance at that point.  Others go on to throw furniture out the windows, spend their rent money at the bars, or find assorted diversions they would never have tried in high school.

     And I've known some who come out of college untouched.  Those are the ones that I really feel sorry for because I've never known anyone who didn't need to do identity renovations.  The trick is learning how to do them in your way.  I won't say in your time because the universe has a tendency to decide when the time is right.  Your job is to get together with the universe and work in harmony.

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Home

 Pedagogy, Philosophy, and Nonsense Home 

Essays and Links

Autobiography Challenge       Considering Conclusions   and   Considering Introductions     Four Meanings of Life     Godot and the Great Pumpkin

CHOOSING A MAJOR: A Major is More Minor Than You Think  

Thoughts About Picking a Major

Quick Points   Quick Points About Writing  Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching

Revising Revision,     Reviving Experience     Reviving Symbolism

Using an Audience    What Makes a Story True    What's the Subject of a Class?     Why Write? Legos, Power, and Control     Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma

Writing Yourself Into Being:  The Online Textbook to Come

CREATIVE NON-FICTION (Essays not directly related to education or writing)

The Blessing and the Blues     The Hair Connection

My Other Related Sites:

Showing Class: Writing by Current and Former Students

Poems, Essays, Drafts, and Scraps

Links to Other Sites