There’s more to the South than yummy grits…

Last week, I attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication in beautiful downtown Atlanta, Georgia.  Aside from the pleasure of having grits at every meal (buttery grits, cheesy grits, fried grits, plain grits), I also had a great time at the conference.  I met with colleagues from former universities where I taught, made new contacts, networked, looked all over for Stuart Selber, whom I have never met in person, but greatly admire his writing, ran into Kaplan colleagues (Melody Pickle, Teresa Kelly, and Sheryl Bone), and attended some pretty interesting panels.  One panel in particular intrigued me and it got me thinking about our WAC program here at KU. 

The paper was titled “Contesting Global Neoliberalism with Transnational Independence” by Jessica Ketcham Weber from Cascadia Community College.   I was a bit overwhelmed with the title, but the entire panel looked promising and I was not disappointed.  I cannot do justice to Jessica’s paper if I tried to summarize it here because, for starters, I have to look up the terms neoliberalism and transnational independence; however, I took copious notes about the ideas she shared in her paper.  She talked about students writing about world issues, causes, using an international lens.  She is a composition instructor who is trying to counter the apathy that some students feel about national, but mostly international, issues.  When something happens somewhere, a war, a conflict, a disaster, there is distance between “us and them.”  I think we all feel this; this is not unique to our students.  The question is what do we do?

Jessica took the idea of writing “about” causes and made the activity in her class more proactive.  Instead of asking students to write or reflect on a cause, why it is an issue, who it affects, etc., she helps students research ways that they can actually write alongside others who are engaged in the issue.  It’s not essays in our classes that make a difference to these students, but it’s letters and blog posts and writing for all types of media that genuine (as opposed to hired) activists engage in that make the issue real.

National and international issues are prevalent in every profession.  Students should be made aware of issues that affect their profession, locally and internationally.  By bringing causes or issues into any classroom, composition or discipline specific, students learn valuable writing skills like research, audience, purpose, form, and a sense of satisfaction or frustration that then motivates them into critical thinking activities. 

Writing across the curriculum is an effort that seeks to make writing more meaningful to students in all of their coursework during a program.  As I listened to Jessica’s paper and then the next paper about using travel in the classroom, I was stunned by how this topic was truly interdisciplinary and could make for incredibly meaningful writing no matter what class this activity was used in. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend these conferences.  I love to travel, I love Atlanta, and I love grits, but even more importantly, I love to be inspired.  This presentation was exactly the kind of inspiration that I look for at these events.

I’d really like to see this post turn into a conversation about the issues that affect different professions and a discussion about how we can inspire genuine activism through effective communication by our students.


1 Response

  1. Teresa Kelly says:

    Dianne – It was go great to see you!!! I have a couple of grits recipes I will share since I am a genuine GRITS member (Girls Raised In The South)!

    You bring up a topic that is very similar to one that came up in our session. We had a participant raise some very interesting issues about how we as composition instructors help our students think about and talk about the issues of privacy, intellectual property, and other critical debates going on in the software development community and how these relate to much larger issues of freedom of expression.

    On one level we are trying to counter levels of apathy and raise social conciousness. On another, we are also trying to teach our students – and in some cases ourselves – to engage in civil conversations. I’ve been reading some of the work of the Kwame Anthony Appiah and thinking about how it relates to teaching writing and to professional development. He gave a wonderful interview on NPR a couple of weeks ago about Siddling Up to Differences.

    It all has my brain working overtime!

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