Recently, I had a chance to visit with colleagues and students at the University of Oklahoma, where the writing program, with the leadership of Roxanne Mountford, is implementing a new curriculum that they have worked long and hard to develop. Indeed, as I travel around the country, I am seeing more and more writing programs engaged in similar exercises, and for very good reason. As the U of Oklahoma group realized, while they have been working on this curriculum for some time, it is particularly pertinent—indeed kairotic—at this moment in time, given the new administration and its programs.
At Oklahoma, the new curriculum focuses on understanding and interrogating values in its first term course, “Principles of English Composition I.” In this course, students work through a sequence of four linked projects. The first asks them to identify a value that is important to them, to define that personal value and to show how their personal history/experience led to the articulation and evolution of that value. After this deeply self-reflective assignment, students move on to analyze a “group value,” by identifying a campus group that they do not belong to and then identifying a meaningful value that group members hold and how they put that value into practice. Students then conduct research in order to understand the group value as thoroughly as possible. In the next assignment, students explore a text that “offers a point of view that differs from your own on a current social or political issue.” As you may imagine, this assignment draws on Ratcliffe’s work on rhetorical listening that leads to understanding first, analysis second. The goal of the assignment is not to argue for or against the values represented in the text but to explain “why the author of the texts holds the position and what values connect to that position.” The final assignment asks students to write a reflective essay on their term-long interrogation of values and the representation of values. The entire sequence then leads into the second-term course, which focuses on values-based arguments of their own, delivered in both written and spoken forms.
I very much admire the way such sequenced curricula guide students in the practice of critical inquiry and analysis, but without prescribing either what they can write about or the position they should take. This slow and steady approach to becoming critically aware seems to me especially effective with students who may be wary of what they’ve been told is the liberal agenda of higher education in general.
This curriculum is already being tested in the crucible of the classroom, and it will be evaluated and refined and revised as the group works to make it engage with all students. I look forward to learning more about this evaluation and about student response to it.
While at the University, I also had a chance to visit the Writing Center, directed by Michele Eodice, and to meet a student working away there. And to have a reunion with Roxanne Mountford and Susan Kates was, as always, pure pleasure.
Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford