Posted in Undoubtedly

Connecting to Community Issues

The readings this week left me with so many ideas for projects to incorporate into my future teaching.

First, I was intrigued by the concept of social action. While I’m not sure how much I would want students to set the course agenda, I do think they should get a say in it. I like the idea that all people take part in working towards creating social change. I also like the idea of the teacher as a guide through the social action process. Many of the concepts in “What is Social Action” are ones I hope to incorporate into my teaching.

Next, I found the different pedagogies discussed in “Toward a Sustainable Citizenship and Pedagogy” also gave me ideas for things I’d like to do. One of the stories that stood out to me most was that of Kim’s husband’s bad first impression in this classroom (Donehower, Hogg, and Schell 160). I felt like his “mistake” is one I could easily make. Similarly, I would like to have students look at media representations and engage with them to learn what’s out there, or rather, what the media wants viewers to think about various locations/types of people. Stereotypes all come from somewhere, right? I think looking at media representations would be an interesting way to look into some of these place-related viewpoints.

I think the above pedagogy could also easily incorporate some of the websites we looked at this week to show some of what is being done and pave way for new ideas to be thrown into the mix.

I was also interested in the “Status: Or, Should Farmers Read Plato?” essay mentioned in Donehower, Hogg and Schell’s piece (163). The description of the piece reminded me of a play I was in in the 8th grade “Shakespeare meets the Hillbillies.” The premise of the play is that a the grandmother in a family of hillbillies has one dying wish: “Before she departs for the Promised Land, Granny wants her hillbilly family to learn and understand the words of William Shakespeare – the true sign of an “educated person.” The fact that learning the words of Shakespeare are what she believes makes a person truly educated makes me think about hillbilly and other similar stereotypes. Why is it assumed hillbillies would specifically be the people who would not be educated about Shakespeare? Granted, I don’t know much about “hillbilly history,” but this thought is what came to me when reading about the farmers reading Plato piece.

The Pittsburgh course described in Susan Swan’s piece was one I would like to incorporate in some future syllabi. I particularly liked how she began with the workplace autobiography as a way to understand the “curricular melting pot” of her classroom. I think it is important for us to know something about our students and where they are at personally before we begin our teaching. It’s good to know who you are working with so that you can figure out what his or her interests and beliefs may be and watch him or her develop or change over the course of your time teaching the student.

Throughout this week’s readings, I also liked the various definitions for rhetoric and what these classrooms should be doing, but they all seemed to boil down to same word: change. To me, teaching students composition and rhetoric is a means to helping them inquire about why things are the way they are and work towards making a positive difference in their communities and beyond. As Jeffrey T. Grabill says in “On Being Useful: Rhetoric and the Work of Engagement,” “when we teach students to be rhetors, we are teaching them to speak or write purposefully” (193). Again, I firmly believe in teachers being guides towards these inquiries rather than forcing our own beliefs upon them.

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9 thoughts on “Connecting to Community Issues

  1. Ashanka,

    I appreciated everything you had to say. I loved your story about Shakespeare Meets the Hillbillies—truly reminded me of the Bryson essay. I thought about Swan’s “marginalized experts” and Fleming’s statement, “Professionals often make ill-informed or inaccurate assumptions about people’s lives. . .”

    I loved your comment, “Throughout this week’s readings, I also liked the various definitions for rhetoric and what these classrooms should be doing, but they all seemed to boil down to same word: change. To me, teaching students composition and rhetoric is a means to helping them inquire about why things are the way they are and work towards making a positive difference in their communities and beyond.” I think most or all teachers want to make a difference, and I felt like teaching English, I could promote and teach writing skills, inquiry/speaking skills, reading skills that would last students their lifetimes. These skills would be skills students could utilize whatever occupation they ended in—these skills would serve them in all areas of their lives. I felt like these readings this week demonstrated just that!

    You are right, I do not want to tell anyone what to think—but rather teach them how to inquire.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Judy. I agree with you entirely. Teachers are there to help students inquire and build skills that can easily be applicable in “the real world.”

  2. Thanks for the great thoughts this week, as always. I agree with you; I think students would benefit from watching media representations of a certain place. I think we learn a great deal about ourselves and the world around us by seeing how others view a said place. I would like to incorporate/examine more media representations into my classroom as well. Actually you and I had a lot of the same thoughts this week. You mentioned the Pittsburgh article and how the students started with a workplace biography so that the teacher could get to know the background of the students in the classroom. I also like this idea, but I believe this activity will do even more than that. I believe students will gain great insight into their family’s background and even their “place” by examining the work background of three family members. Actually, I feel almost any “place” activity results in a variety of positive outcomes, including both personal and community awareness.

    I loved your “Shakespeare Meets the Hillbillies” connection to Donehower, Hogg, and Schell’s piece. It is so true that we cannot take it upon ourselves to judge what makes others educated. I wish I could have seen the play; it sounds cute yet insightful. I enjoyed reading your thoughts; it’s as if we were on the same page. It sounds like you enjoyed the readings as much as I did. Shari

    1. Thanks for your response, Shari. I’m glad we were on the same page for it helps reassure that I’m not completely insane in some of my thought processes, if you get what I mean. I’m glad you enjoyed my “Shakespeare meets the Hillbillies” reference. I linked the play in my blog entry if you ever want to read it. It was rather amusing rereading it/reliving my 8th grade memory.

  3. Ashanka, I understand your spooked response to letting students have too much say in the course agenda, I must admit that I do allow students to have influence over certain aspects of some of my elective courses. When they take it seriously, it can be a very enriching and energetic move to create a solid community. I usually allow topics to be chosen, or projects to be created (within certain guidelines of course). I usually have a map for the course, and how we get to the end can take many paths. The control I give over to the students is fine as long as we hit the main points I find to be important to the arc of the course. For what’s it’s worth. ~Bill~

    1. Thanks for your response, Bill. I agree that it would be both enlightening and beneficial to have students contribute their own thoughts on papers and course work, though I agree certain guidelines would need to be put in place for obvious reasons.

  4. Ashanka, I wanted to respond to your interest in Swan’s article on work histories. Her progression is one Cathie English at Aurora used recently to great advantage. Cathie’s sophomores collected three-generation work histories, and found that they could see collectively how the nature of work in their mid-sized town was changing. Grandparents had to work (depression era), and were mostly agriculture. Parents often split work lives between farm work and new forms of city work, both in Aurora and the micropolis of Grand Island. And Cathie’s students themselves now found they were almost all working in the service sector — esp. the shops and fast foods servicing the interstate traffic on the south end of town. Following this work history, Cathie had each writer create a digital story about the work life of one community elder (usually a family member), and then had the digital stories available to the community through the school website. That kind of assignment progression makes a lot of sense to me — and clearly does more than just “get to know” students. Cathie’s class got pretty deeply involved in pondering the shifting challenges to their community, just from the economic history.
    ~Robert

    1. Thanks for your comments Robert. I am definitely interested in Cathie’s work as you described, and I would be interested in trying to get that type of impact out of a future class. I like the idea of students creating a digital story about the work life of a community elder. I think digitizing stories is the way to go in today’s digital-heavy world. I imagine scholars a hundred years from now will be looking through web archives more so than books and papers, so I think that’s definitely a way to contribute to that scholarship.

  5. Hi, Ashanka,

    Thanks for sharing! I appreciated that you’ve also been picking up on the importance of starting with students’ knowledge as a foundation… like you said, it’s a way for educators to engage a little more personally with their students, but it also puts the students in an empowering stance. Sure, it can be risky “turning over” all the control of the course, but letting their experiences guide the inquiry makes the process more meaningful and acknowledges their value as citizens and as makers of knowledge.

    It was interesting, too, to hear your comment about the unwittingly stereotypical comment that type of situation could happen to any of us! And, yeah, working with a group that’s primarily from a different part of the country (or globe!) as oneself could make that challenge to remain aware of backgrounds that much more difficult. It’s a good reminder to unpack the offhand comments and perceptions that are so easy to make.

    Thanks again,
    Caitie

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