An Adjunct’s Thoughts on Voice

It’s not just who the student is in that paper, the strength of argumentation, or the structure and paragraph balance, but the impression of character.  The impression they provide of their character as well as the impression that’s left on our character, as readers.  It shows us how much we should care about the topic, which in my class is always elected, never enforced or prescribed.  Voice is urgency and the connection to a topic.  You could say “passion”, sure, but voice, true voice, or ‘Voice’, has to be felt.  It’s more than something just quantified in a rubric.  It’s more than a piece of the grading criteria or some requirement.  It shouldn’t have to be required.  The student should want to be heard, read.  Should demand it!  I understand that in the context of an assignment being an assignment the Voice can be compromised, or rehearsed, or tailored.  But, students shouldn’t let themselves do so.  The instructor of record shouldn’t allow it, should go to exhaustive lengths to prevent such!  As educators, we should advocate Voice above even mechanics, or some patterned “balance” the course outline says we should embrace in our pedagogies.  If a student doesn’t have a Voice, they don’t have a written identity.  They’d just be reciting and regurgitating “facts”.  That’s not writing, at all.  That’s recycling.  Encouraging Voice is prompting students to be more thoughtful with their work, to be more self-aware and selective with their word placement and sentence construction.  Yes, finding your own Voice much less being aware of it is challenging.  All the more reason to stress it in class sessions, throughout the semester.

Caring about a topic…  Expecting students to care about their work.  How is any of this possible without the accentuation of Voice?  Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Students come to the JC “taught” to write a certain way, to have this cozy and predictable structure to their writing.  This detracts from Voice, and does not help them establish any identity neither as a student, human, writer or thinker.  The academic world is always, and I do stand by “always”, trying to force students to write a certain way, never meeting students where they are.  Why?  Why the obsession with structure?  Why not the equal preeminence of the student’s own thoughts and experiences, how they see an issue?  Why not hear what they have to say, how they connect to text?  Five-paragraph essays…  Summary then analysis…  That’s formula, that’s anecdote.  There’s NO Voice in that.  That’s assignment.  An assignment of Voice, antithetical teaching.  Students are more than what they paginate, what they submit.  They came to the class with a life, and they’re still living that life, developing that story.  Let them tell it.  With their own patois.  This will coax more candor from what they submit, and strengthen them for the next class, be it 1A, or 1B, some Critical Theory course or Lit survey.

A radical idea, I know, enlivening students to think for themselves.  But, just try it.  You may just be impressed.