UNC faculty member Richard Krawiec is the author of two books of poetry, a collection of short stories, four stage plays, and a pair of critically acclaimed novels. He founded Jacar Press, a publisher of poetry collections and chapbooks. With that kind of resume, students should be able to simply soak up his wisdom, right?
Krawiec says that’s baloney.
“Learners should be actively engaged in their own education, not depending on some ‘genius’ tossing out pearls of wisdom,” Krawiec said.
He takes this learner-centered approach seriously when teaching online courses for the Friday Center. His classes depend on debate between students, and on the democratization of opinions that are only possible online. “Online discussions are far better than the ones in class. In any classroom, there are four or five students who dominate, a bunch who never say anything, and a few who come up for air once in a while. Online, students are required to respond. Awkward students have no problems posting online because they’re not self-conscious. In person, students’ thoughts might be downgraded because they’re not cool, they don’t dress well, etc. Online, it’s only the quality of thought that matters.”
By expressing themselves more fully in discussion forums, students discover they have things to say, and find the courage to say them. “In public schools, students hate writing assignments—to them it feels like it’s a big opportunity for teachers to tell them what they’re doing wrong. Even letter grades can be harmful because they make students censor themselves—if they’re afraid to take risks or fail, they’ll severely limit themselves as writers.”
Those risks don’t just come on the page. Through writing exercises, Krawiec has seen his students discover new possibilities for themselves as people, not just as writers. “Giving yourself permission to think about yourself in a different way, and that you have different facets—not just a soccer player or engineer, or even just a writer. A student a couple years ago learned her voice was important, that she had ideas, perspective, and she applied it by standing up to an overly critical mother who’d been telling her what she couldn’t do in her life. Another student was on the US Under-20 women’s world cup soccer team. She discovered there was a whole other person she could be off the field.”
Krawiec’s students have gone on to win awards and grants, enter prestigious MFA programs, found editing businesses, and make $500-$1,000 a month by publishing science fiction ebooks. Lest anyone suggest that he can take some of the credit, Krawiec is quick to point out that in his class, students learn the most from one another.