After the Virginia Tech massacre, much of the public conversation focused on the tension between community safety and individual privacy. We heard from members of the university’s English department, who referred Seung-Hui Cho to counseling after reading his disturbing creative writing assignments. Could they–or should they–have done more to prevent the shootings?
Writing in Academe, Monica Barron addresses a more fundamental, less-discussed question: long before a creative writing teacher has to decide whether to call the counseling center or the police, how can she be attentive to the emotional realities of writing and reading–and in a way that both attends to safety concerns and honors the vocations of writing and teaching? For Barron, a professor at Truman State University and an editor of Feminist Teacher magazine, the answer lies in cultivating within the writing classroom an emotionally sensitive community that is itself capable of authorizing certain readings of its shared narratives, de-authorizing others, and discerning boundaries.
One highlight is her brief recounting of the Virginia Tech tragedy itself:
One April morning in Blacksburg, Virginia, a young man packed up his guns and went to school for the last time. He was done struggling to be part of any community of readers or writers. He was entering the community of killers. His fellow writers had noticed and remarked that he wasn’t simply retelling the stories of the tribe or trying to scare peers with over-the-top, out-of-control representations of experience; he himself was scary. His teachers were faced with a kind of reading they were unequipped to do: reading as diagnosis.
Our national community of readers is familiar with this narrative, with the riveting blow-by-blow of a shocking event. Barron retells it from a perspective few understand–that of the people charged with nurturing creativity, thought, and community in young adults.