As the semester moves toward its final month, students have asked for a final writing project that would allow them to choose their own topics. They wanted, they said, a chance to show their creativity and to find a subject that would inspire passionate writing.
Although students had been required to analyze and synthesize ideas from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave for most of our writing projects this semester, Allegory would not be required for the final project. Nonetheless, the project ought to evolve out of significant ideas from Allegory.
I was unsure how to write this final assignment. For weeks, I wrote and rewrote, thought and rethought.
Then, on the last Saturday night in March, I had emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder and spent the night in the hospital. Even after a few days’ rest, it was difficult to return to school. I could not stay on my feet for very long and, worst of all, my brain kept stopping. I would have a sentence neatly in my head and could speak its first half, but by the second half the words would fall away. Healing felt overwhelming and impossibly slow.
Fortunately, I had scheduled an open writing workshop for my first day back to class. Students could consult with me and with each other and could have in-class writing time. This workshop turned out to be just what was needed. As students worked on a project with an approaching deadline, I worked again on the final writing project. I reread my weeks-old draft and gained a bit more clarity from the processes of tweaking, deleting, composing, and revising.
The next week, I shared the assignment with students:
Propose a project to be supported by the foundation “Make the World a Better Place or Else (MWBPE),” Dr. Susan N. Bernstein, CEO. Our brand is human rights and our slogan comes from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”: “they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life.”
Realize that MWBPE receives many proposals every year and its CEO needs to be very discerning in selecting proposals to support. You must write your most persuasive essay of the year to convince the beleaguered CEO that your proposal is appropriate for MWBPE support.
As the project develops, students are beginning to imagine possibilities for a better world. Their proposal topics range from creating first-semester peer learning groups for new first-year students to improving foster care; from stopping human trafficking to supporting women who are interested in STEM majors.
From an internal focus on becoming better writers, the students moved outward in their discussion and engagement with each other and the world beyond our classroom. My gut still sore and my brain still slow, I felt grateful that the students had found resilience in their struggles toward academic agency.
Even as Plato’s Phaedrus examines Socrates’s troubles with writing, this truth remains: Writing heals. From the shadows of pain and frustration, writing holds potential to release us into the light.