Katrina, Blogday and a Handful of Students

When BLOGDAY came and went without my posting links to five blogs I read, it crossed my mind that I was, indeed, a contrarian who liked blogs as long as no one else liked blogs, or that I only liked serious blogs. Fortunately although perhaps that describes the way I was at sixteen rather all too well, thirty years further down the line, I really don’t think that’s it. Although I was interested in seeing blogs linked to from around the world–the little blogs rather than the same old A-list blogs–I found myself feeling that it was a bit of a chain-letter moment that would vanish as soon as it was done. After all, tagging and bookmarkingfolksonomies— already offer interesting and connected ways of finding out who is blogging about things that might interest me. I follow the trails through del.icio.us, for instance, or Bloglines or FLICKR, and most of the time, the journey is well worth the time. I appreciate the threaded texture of a readership that responds, blogs and links, as well as the opportunity to discover blogs new to me as I also see old favorites, on someone else’s blogroll or via feeds. Often I click on a story as much to read into the links, well past the original blog, sometimes even forgetting altogether where my reading originated. The out of the blue listing of five blogs lacked the kind of depth of contact that I have come to value and expect of blogs. I’m not really interested in blogs-as-diaries, truth be known. (Not with the many books waiting by my bedside for me to read!)

So, I didn’t connect to five blogs, and I’m okay with that. Call me curmudgeon. At least it’s got me wanting to blog ever better…

The maelstrom, the tragedy, of Katrina, too, makes me want to blog more carefully and yet boldly–to encourage my students to dare speak out, repeatedly, when things go awry in the world and when something touches them, or inspires them. A story on NPR tonight covered a blog set up as a forum for victims of the hurricane and those in search of the missing. Apparently some people were rescued as a result of the postings coming via text-messaging from those trapped in attics who still had cellphone battery life and coverage. Who would’ve thought… Of course, a blog, in this case Doc Searls’ Weblog pointed to Nola Blog right from the start as covering the hurricane far better than some traditional news sources.

Forging connections with one another and the world. Communicating the news and insights. Creating knowledge. Collaborating. This is what we work on in my classes with the blogs. And at the opening of this fifth fall of classroom blogging, I aim to urge my students even more to write to effect change, to call out to the world, to articulate a response to what others have to say. Perhaps that’s all we have–connections to one another–reaching out beyond ourselves in authentic ways. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll save ourselves or someone finding our blog along the way.

Of course all this blogging talk leads me right back to the f2f world. Take my students–those here before the start of the school-year for the Middlebury College program I direct, The Project for Integrated Expression,, a one-week intensive workshop about community and activism and making the transition to college life. One of our program assistants hails from New Orleans, and as we watched her city battered first by wind, then water, then human incompetence, she threw herself into the work. Each day she worked a little harder than the day before, and grew quieter. On the final day of the program we heard that the state of Vermont would be gathering provisions, that day only, to send down to the gulf states.

Eight of us hopped into cars which we filled at our independent grocer’s and our natural foods co-operative and then headed to our county’s drop-off spot. As we reached the end of the long line of cars waiting to enter the high-school parking lot, our Louisianian smiled– from deep down into herself she pulled about as big a smile as I have ever seen. Car upon car, trucks, vans–even a motorcycle idled patiently, waiting to move to the stations set up to unload, sort, pallet and load the cans, boxes, bedding, toys into tractor trailers. People worked quickly and quietly, together.
And we had no camera. With my trusty cell phone I snapped a few bad shots of the remarkable outpouring from this small state.
These students had been on campus for all of seven days.

The following day I took a look at the blogging my students are doing, from abroad and was struck by how they are all reeling from the initial shock of the experience abroad. And how alone they feel. Blogging might relieve some of that feeling of being set adrift, especially when they receive thoughtful and thought-provoking responses from such bloggers as Ewan McIntosh,an edublogger from Scotland (whose summary of Katrina wiki and blog coverage is excellent and comprehensive)–as they try to sort out the bombardment of sensations they are experiencing in Russia, Brazil, Italy and Germany. I hope they realize that they aren’t just blogging into the wind!

Here blogging makes considerable sense– my students, even in these early days, find comfort in putting into words, for their readers to take in and respond to, the disorientation they are feeling, the first tentative explorations of who they might be in another place. Instead of blogging-as-diary, the students are trying to lift their heads from the moment to see if others are sharing their sense of the experience. The blogging asks them not to privilege their own experience but to contextualize it and connect it.

And so I move into the fall semester–and yes, the first leaves have turned–

I’m determined to remember these lessons: whether in a high school parking lot packing boxes with tins of tuna, or hearing about bloggers from New Orleans trying to lend a hand, or watching my students exploring the disequilibrium of leaving our home communities.

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