Read This Or Else
To Superweed readers who’ve been wondering where I’ve been: I’ve been teaching composition (which takes a lot more time than teaching speech) this term. And — check it out! — my students now have a blog. It’s called OR ELSE and I really do want you to check it out, read it, and link to it. I want my students to reach readers and get feedback from beyond the classroom, so I hope you will help us out. A few essays are up already, more will be posted this week, and then the posts will come quickly and thickly through the end of the term.
I teach at an HBCU (historically black college or university) in rural Maryland. My students come from cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington as well as from here on the Delmarva. My challenge to them all term has been to use words purposefully and truthfully, recognizing writing as a communicative process and grammar as the socially constructed rules we use to make our communications intelligible to each other. I’ve tried to get them out of the high school habit of churning out words for no purpose other than pleasing a teacher. “No more empty sentences!” has been a slogan and, yes, I have made them chant it along with me a couple of times.
I’ve taught the course using the method of writing instruction known as ecocomposition:
The theory for ecocomposition dates back to Marilyn Cooper’s 1986 essay “The Ecology of Writing” and Richard Coe’s “Eco-Logic for the Composition Classroom” (1975). More recently, Dobrin and Weisser (2002) have assembled a more detailed theory of ecocomposition, placing it in relation to ecofeminism, ecocriticism, and environmental ethics. Other scholars (e.g., Reynolds, 2004) have shown its close proximity to social geography. According to ecofeminist scholar Greta Gaard (2001), “at its most inclusive, ecocomposition has the potential to address social issues such as feminism, environmental ethics, multiculturalism, politics, and economics, all by examining matters of form and style, audience and argumentation, and reliable sources and documentation” (p. 163).
…”Ecology,” in the wide sense in which it was used by Coe and Cooper, includes both natural and social relations. Hence, ecocomposition instructors emphasize not only the writer’s relationship to physical place but also the social relations among writers and readers. In the classroom, this translates into pedagogical practices that “emphasize the value of fostering community and collaboration throughout the writing process” (Gaard, 2001, p. 166). As a post-process method of writing instruction, ecocomposition attends not only to the process of writing but also what happens to texts after they are written. Thus, ecocomposition instructors focus not only on the process of composition but also on its purpose, encouraging students to write for specific audiences, adapting their style and content to match their purpose and audience.
In the weeks leading up to the assignment for which many students are choosing to blog (others are writing letters to newspapers or public officials, brochures, or articles for church newsletters), we discussed the idea of standpoint and I asked them to freewrite on questions like “What do you know that I don’t know? What do you know that Barack Obama doesn’t know? What can you see from your standpoint that other people can’t see but the world needs to know?” Some of the pieces that will be posted on the blog will address deep topics; others will be more fun. All will reflect the standpoints of these particular students at this particular time. My challenge to them was to be specific, honest, and clear. My challenge to you is to hear what they have to say. Visit often or subscribe. Read the entries. Leave comments. Engage in dialogue. Or else.