I’m just back from ten days of team teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont’s Green Mountains. With legendary teachers Dixie Goswami and John Elder, I’m teaching a course called Writing and Acting for Change:
This course will explore ways in which learning about both writing and acting can enable students to work for equity and sustainability in their communities as well as in the larger world. The class will begin gathering writing (by themselves and their students or communities) that makes something good happen in the world, writing that will eventually comprise a portfolio of such writing/acting that can be taken back into classrooms or other organizations. Our goal will be to learn how the power of language and rhetoric can shape learning and affect public policies through effective advocacy. We will start with a study of rhetoric, as reflected in the writing of Ida B. Wells. We will then focus on environmental writing and action that emphasizes health and equity, looking closely at questions of food justice and security as well as climate change. Among the writers and activists whose work we’ll look at will be Ladonna Redmond, Winona LaDuke, Gary Nabhan, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, and Laurent Savoy. We will also read Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’. The course will involve a team of Bread Loaf faculty, plus guests, including Jacqueline Jones Royster, Bill McKibben, Oskar Eustis, Brian McEleney, and Laurie Patton. In the final week, students will present the projects they have developed to the entire Bread Loaf community.
We came up with the idea for this course nearly a year ago and were delighted when sixteen students (fifteen teachers and one employee of a children’s book publisher; and we limited the class to 16) signed up as soon as the courses were advertised. Clearly , we had hit a nerve as these students recognize the perilous times we live in and want—along with their students—to tackle some very big challenges in their schools and communities. Like hunger. Like diabetes. Like poverty. Like school policies that do nothing to help kids really engage with learning.
Our discussions of Ida B. Wells’s Anti-Lynching pamphlets (edited by Jackie Royster) were animated and intense, with class members analyzing Wells’s brilliant rhetorical strategies and then connecting her work to the Black Lives Matter movement and to many pressing racial issues in their schools and communities. Is it any coincidence, asked one participant that the states with the highest number of lynchings are also the states with the highest number of executions — often of Black men? Our blog space quickly filled with postings and responses, and responses to responses, as we explored the need to write and act for change to racial, economic, and educational injustices close to home.
The blog, as well as Twitter and email, are helping me keep up with the class while I’m away. This week Dixie, along with Shel Sax and Tim O’Brien (both of whom work in educational technology), will be meeting every day (no holiday on the 4th for them!) with our class, listening to a talk by Royster and reading parts of her Traces of a Stream, and fashioning the projects they will take back to their schools at the end of the summer.
Then John Elder will return to lead the class for two weeks, focusing on environmental and food justice, with a visit by Bill McKibben and a skype session with Laurent Savoy (check out her latest books). Along the way, Oskar Eustis (Director of the Public Theater in NY) will lead a workshop for our class on hip hop as acting for change (Oskar developed the mega-hit Hamilton at the Public). And Brian McEleney (from Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company and the artistic director of the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble) and members of the ensemble will work with our class to prepare for four joint presentation/performances they will give on the last two days of class. Acting for change indeed!
By then I’ll be back on campus to rejoin the class in real time and to learn from all of the work the students have done this summer. I’ll be reporting on these events here, so please watch this space!