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321 Posts authored by: Andrea A. Lunsford Expert

 

Some time ago I wrote about a forthcoming book about a food literacy program ongoing at Fern Creek High School in Kentucky, and about the truly dramatic difference that program has made in the lives of students there. Now, at last, the book is out! Entitled Say Yes to Pears: Food Literacy in and beyond the English Classroom and written by Joe Franzen and Brent Peters (with a foreword by the inimitable Dixie Goswami), this book is now available from NCTE as well as from Amazon and other venues.

 

About this book, I said:

Readers should pull up to this remarkable book as though it were a table, a table laden with mouth-watering savories, with cooking experiments, with homemade donuts, with radishes that pop up “like lollipops,” and with the wisdom of two visionary teachers and scores of deeply committed and imaginative students. Dip in to any page and you will find a story worth listening to and lingering over. You will hear voices that will echo in your ears for years to come. And you will get to know the power of young people with a purpose, who “say yes to pears” and so much more as they become increasingly powerful thinkers, readers, and writers. So turn the page, dig into this feast of possibility, and learn how food literacy has shaped the lives and communities of those you will meet here.

 

In these pages, you will meet Ivy (right), whose grandmother’s 50 pounds of pears provided a way to launch the class, as they made pear butter, pear chutney, pear sauce, dried pears, and pear apple almond muffins and began the series of experiments that would lead to so much discovery and learning.

 

You will meet shy, reticent Milo, whose food map (below) and narrative makes a powerful connection between his dying “father figure I never managed to call Dad” and “the guilt of biscuits and gravy” (20). You will meet Camdan, Pearl, and Don flipping pancakes early on in a Food Lit class, about which one of the authors says:

The students thought they were making pancake batter. What we actually did was break the conventional dynamics of the classroom. I put them in charge. I offered risk with an authentic reward. I made them teachers for one another. Then they defined what the class would be. For the rest of the course, I will be only a guide. (p. 92)

 

As the Food Lit class blossoms into a food club, a garden, and many other activities, the students bring in their parents and friends, the community comes to embrace the program, and the students get better and better not just at gardening, not just at cooking, as meaningful as those arts are, but they get better and better as students, and particularly as writers. As a result, the school, once labeled a “failing school,” began to gain its footing and its identity—and test scores began to rise. As Franzen and Peters put it, “What the food studies program has been able to do is blur the lines between home and school, individual and community, learning and fun, disciplines and reality” (162).

 

Reading Say Yes to Pears has made me think about the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford, with its themed first and second year courses: we can be sure that if we offer courses with themes related to food, they will attract a wide and broad group of students. Now I think we should begin such classes asking students to draw the kind of food maps featured in this book:

We ask students to go to the places in their memories that show their full selves, and we ask simply that they list the ingredients of their memories—the sounds, the people, the dishes, the places, the failures, the lessons, the favorites, the confessions, the gross encounters, the losses, and the celebrations they have had around food. . . . We write the word “food” in the center of a piece of paper and then we list all the things that surround this word. (p. 17)

 

A pretty simple assignment, at first glance. But the explorations it has engendered, the learning it has enabled, the students it has inspired all speak to its power. Might be worth making a food map of your own—I am about to sketch one right now!

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

 

On this Halloween, I am in Lawrence, MA, joining the Andover Bread Loaf group of teachers from Lawrence’s public schools and the students who act as writing consultants throughout the city. Founded, inspired, and led by Lou Bernieri, a genius if ever there was one, Andover Bread Loaf has changed the lives of disenfranchised inner-city students and their teachers, as well as those of students attending the super-elite Phillips Academy (Andover). We are here celebrating the work of these students along with high school representatives from several Next Generation Leadership Network sites, each of which aims to engage young people in taking on leadership roles and in writing and speaking their way into, and then shaping, public discourse.

 

I will write more about this thrilling meeting in a week or so, but right now I am about to ask the students here what or who they might want to “be” this Halloween. I’ve thought a lot about this question this year. Everywhere I look I see greedy, craven, corrupt people: no one out there to emulate. No one to look up to or admire unless I look very locally, to people like Lou or the fabulous teachers he works with. But then I thought again. And I was sure: if I were to “be” someone today, this Halloween, someone who represents the best of us, well, I’d be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “notorious RBG.”

 

In a Times editorial published a few weeks ago, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote of going to the opening concert of the National Symphony Orchestra:

At mid-concert, the chairman of the Kennedy Center, David M. Rubinstein, came out to greet the audience and the V.I.P.s. He welcomed the different ambassadors, then he went through the cabinet members present and then the Supreme Court justices. He introduced Justice Samuel Alito, who got a smattering of applause. Then he introduced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated in the balcony. First many women in the audience stood up to applaud. And then everyone stood up. And then everyone applauded. And then everyone applauded more. And then some people cheered. And then some whistled. And it went on and on and on.

 

It was extraordinary. I’ve been to a lot of Kennedy Center concerts, and a few when the president, sitting in his official box, was introduced. But I’ve never witnessed anything like the reception for Justice Ginsburg. And this was not a totally liberal audience. There were many older G.O.P. donors and corporate types there. This was a spontaneous, bipartisan expression of respect for, and longing for, a national leader of integrity and humility — after three years of a president utterly without shame, for whom no ethical red line has been too red to cross.

 

There is still a civic pulse in this country. (New York Times, Oct. 1, 2019)

 

If Friedman is right, if there is a “civic pulse” in the country and if there is truly longing for a “national leader of integrity and humility,” then I agree with him that Justice Ginsburg is such a person. On this Halloween, she’s my hero and the person I’d most like to “dress up” as. And not just that: she’s the person I want to hold before me as a steady, reassuring force for honesty and fairness and, yes, humility—and then try as hard as I can to “be like RBG.”

 

If you’re teaching today, ask your students who they would most like to “go as” on Halloween and why. This could be a fun writing prompt that leads to an interesting discussion!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1838545 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License

 

I’ve just been reading Nancy Bou Ayash’s Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices (2019). It’s a bit of a struggle for me—fairly dense in places, but I’m very glad I’m reading it. I was drawn to it by the cover (pictured above): who wouldn’t want to turn the page and find out what’s inside?!

 

The case Ayash makes for “translingual realities” is compelling, based on her own research in Beirut and in Seattle; the book is brimming with examples of translingual practices throughout. Because I know Seattle pretty well, I have especially enjoyed reading about the research conducted there, and one paragraph sparked my imagination in all kinds of ways. It’s long, but I think you’ll enjoy it:

On the walls of one of Seattle’s breakfast locations known for its twelve-egg omelets, the decorative collection of illustrations and accompanying textual descriptions patrons have playfully designed while waiting for their food as they mix languages, Englishes, language varieties, and visualization elements . . . portrays the city’s blending and bending of resources and practices. The flow of customers as they come and go, enter and exit that particular space has significantly expanded that canvas all the way to the restaurant’s entrance where the front door is now covered with graphic and textual creations. Bringing southern barbecue and brew to Seattle’s hip Ballard neighborhood, a counter service joint in a former barbecue wasteland is known not only for its smoky fall-off-the-bone-style ribs but also for the availability of writable chalkboard walls in its restrooms, with customers mobilizing meaning and language resources as they move in and out. At another jam-packed restaurant large enough to accommodate only ten tables, its whiteboard side wall is an open invitation to its primarily Spanish-speaking clientele usually on a one- to two-hour wait to grab black markers, search for blank surfaces, write, and draw on that fluid canvas. Covered with dry-erase paint, the interior walls of this Mexican steakhouse are adorned with Spanish, English, and Spanglish used in an interwoven mix to depict local experiences of and connections with the transnational migration of the culinary gene pool of the northwestern Sinaloa region across the US/Mexican border all the way to the Pacific Northwest region. (105)

 

Wow, what a scene! I love thinking about these restaurant-goers becoming authors and artists on the spot, mixing it up with languages, dialects, drawings—expressing themselves with fun and evidently with flair. Now I am going to be looking for examples of these open spaces for writing in public places like restaurants, writing that definitely strays outside the “lines” of a page or screen but is not graffiti (or is it?). I can also imagine sending my students out on field trips to gather additional data first hand: I can see them fanning out across San Francisco’s Chinatown or South of Market, around Oakland’s Jack London Square and other places in the East Bay, in search of “translingual realities” and bringing them to class to examine together and to use as a means of understanding translingualism—and not just understanding it better, but practicing it ourselves. And to go further, asking how these translingual realities relate to the writing they are doing in college and to ask how such realities might work to engage and influence that writing.

 

So thanks to Nancy Bou Ayash for taking me on this ride: I am now looking for “translingual realities” everywhere!

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition

Overview

The idea of using music in my classes sounds simple enough but has had an amazing impact on my teaching over the years. Music and audio are important (often under emphasized) components of multimodal composition and digital content creation. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways I have used music in my classes and describe a particular assignment: The Class Playlist

 

I often ask students to analyze music as literature, look at lyrics through critical lenses, and interpret context, intention, and impact as social artifacts. For example, I have asked students to analyze “protest songs” and look at their place within particular historical and social contexts. With the availability of videos and lyrics online, this project is easily shared with others, so students can not only read the lyrics but also hear the actual music and analyze other components of this multimodal genre.

 

My classes also often involve digital community engagement for real-world projects that promote awareness or advocate for social change. Years ago, I stumbled on this wonderful organization, Playing for Change, who identify themselves as “a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” I introduce students to the organization and present them with one of the first songs in their series, a version of Stand by Me performed by musicians all over the world and then reworked into an international tapestry of their voices – a format replicated by the organization over the years. This song is familiar to most people, has an uplifting melody and message, and demonstrates a great example of the ways we might create engaging multimodal content through and with music.

 

 

By happenstance, I was presenting at a professional conference and had to test my technology before my presentation. I pulled up this same song to test the audio and immediately noticed that it drew people into presentation and that it changed the mood of room, opening up my audience to hear what I had to say in ways that sitting in silence did not. I decided to continue to play it as participants entered as we gathered and set up the presentation. It challenged our notions of what we expect in these settings and used the multimodal component of music to affect the impact of the presentation. Since that day, I have often used this simple technique before I present. 

 

It was this experience that that led to my latest exploration of music in my writing classes – the Class Playlist. I currently teach a course that emphasizes digital storytelling and want to make sure students consider sound and music as important components of their multimodal composition processes. In class, we focus on students’ rhetorical and ethical use of music in digital contexts and the music itself as a storytelling genre.

 

We all love our playlists that allow us to curate songs in different ways. We can organize them around particular events, activities, or themes. In this class, since we focus on digital storytelling, I asked students to choose two songs that tell either a story (through lyrics and music) or that remind them of a story from their own lives (teachers can easily adapt this idea to their own course content). I have students submit songs to a collaborative Google document and then a move them to an online playlist app (Spotify). Each time we meet, I play one of their songs as students are settling into the room and I am taking roll and getting organized. Once the song is finished, I ask the student to explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it for our playlist.

 

Background Readings and Resources

 

Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the importance of music as a multimodal and storytelling component. Present examples and/or have students work with their own examples to discuss in small groups or as a full class.
  2. Discuss ethical and professional ways and resources for using music in multimodal projects including copyright-free music sources and citation practices. (See more about Encouraging the Use of Public Domain Assets.)
  3. Ask students to submit two songs (along with links) for the class playlist – you can organize the playlist around a course theme by content or genre. This gives the playlist a cohesive goal that reinforces class content. 
  4. Move the playlist to an online app (e.g. Spotify) that curates and organizes the songs.
  5. Play selections from the list at the start of each class each day.
  6. Have students explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it and connect it to course content.

 

Reflection on the Activity

The class playlist activity takes a short amount of time and energy to incorporate into my classes. It allows me to focus attention on the importance and significance of music for multimodal composition and has the additional impact of altering the mood of the classroom to open students to a better atmosphere for learning. It takes them away from other distracting thoughts, helps focus attention on the class ahead and provides an alternate way of extending upon and enriching class content. It also provides a sense of ownership and agency in the class, in which students collaboratively create a playlist for our particular situation – another digital literacy skill. Many hear songs they have not heard before and add the playlist to their own collection as a memory of the class and these contributions. It sounds so simple but I am humbly impressed by the impact of this practice. 

 

Ernest Hemingway is said to have remarked that “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Enigmatic, for sure. But also probably pretty good advice. I’ve been thinking about trust a lot lately, since it seems to be in very short supply. Who can you trust? According to pundits, everyday citizens, and lots of students I talk to, the answer is discouraging. Can’t trust the media. Can’t trust the government. Can’t trust politicians. Can’t trust . . . just about any institution or group. The failure of trust is no doubt related to the rise of tribalism, in-groups, be-and-think-just-like-me “friends.”

 

Pretty depressing. Yet I also sense a longing for trust—for true confidence in someone or something (or both). This summer as I was talking with students in several settings, I asked them about trust and who they trusted. Most mentioned a family member or friend first, but when it came to second or third on the list, the name of a teacher came up a number of times. In a couple of instances, students said they trusted a teacher because “he’s always honest with me,” and because “she always follows through; if she says she will do something, she always does it. I like that.”

 

The last couple of weeks I’ve written about teachers who seemed to me to be trusted by students—even those who didn’t always agree with them—and who reciprocated that trust. (Click here or here to read those posts.) I’ve been thinking about how trust arises in a classroom setting, how it can grow from small seeds. So being honest with students and always telling the truth seems like a good way to begin. But right behind that is the kind of reliability and consistency that the student above mentions regarding “follow through.” I don’t think this kind of consistency is what Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In other words, this kind of (non-foolish) reliability or consistency doesn’t obviate spontaneity. Rather, by helping to establish a trusting environment, it makes room for spontaneity.

 

And what else? I’d say giving everyone a fair hearing, listening hard, being able to admit it if you don’t know something, taking time to explain and explain again, and demonstrating care even while holding to a high standard—these are the building blocks of trust. Not rocket science, but hard nonetheless. And time consuming: Teachers instinctively know that this kind of trust isn’t generated in a day but only through persistence and through classroom talk—open and caring talk.

 

That can be hard to come by in these cynical and often hateful times. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. And our students are hungry for such trust, for the safety that it engenders, for a place they can be fully themselves and fully open to learning.

 

Do you have ways you build trust in your classroom? Do your students have insights into what such trust means to them? If so, I would love for you to join me in a guest blog post. Please do!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3470201 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

 

Last week, I wrote about the remarkable work Jeanne Bohannon is doing to help her often deeply conservative students reach beyond their own boundaries and engage with differences. I’m writing today about another remarkable teacher, Maria Roberts, whom I’ve known for a very long time from the Bread Loaf School of English but who also responded to my call to survey students about what they thought helped—and hurt—their ability to engage with people who held differing views than they did. And Maria was gracious enough to speak with me, at length, about her experiences (as a potentially vulnerable but also fearless and indomitable part-time instructor), her students (80% white with small percentages of African American, Hispanic, and international students), and her school (small, and in a rural area of Colorado). The students of color and international students tend to live on one side of campus; the white students on the other side. And last year at Halloween, some white students came in Klan robes and one faculty member in blackface.

 

In this atmosphere, Maria says, being able to speak is “all about courage.” In her classrooms, she strives to create a safe space where such courage can be seen and engaged and rewarded. She says that if she provides a place that is understood to be a safe place to talk, they do talk, open up, and are honest with one another. But doing so requires constant work and vigilance on her part—she must be aware of where everyone is, literally and metaphorically, all the time.

 

For Maria, the connection between teacher and students is key and it takes time to establish the trust that will allow that connection to grow and solidify. Clearly, she and many of her students have such relationships—and she is always reaching out, opening doors, and hoping to reach others. After our conversation, Maria shared a message she had from a former student who was reflecting on her experiences engaging with difference.  Here are some of her extraordinary remarks:

            I’d say in general I was uncomfortable talking to people who “looked” different from me (i.e. minorities) because I really had just never done it before. Our school is pretty homogeneous and a lack of exposure to other cultures puts people at a disadvantage. Mostly, though, I was afraid of saying something wrong or coming off as racist. Now [that] I’ve moved to one of the most diverse areas of the country, it’s gotten easier. I still catch myself being intolerant of other people’s experiences because I don’t understand: like a person of color talking about being treated unfairly, I might think “that doesn’t happen now.” BUT I then try to think from the other person’s perspective and recognize my blatant white privilege. When it is to politics or religion, I absolutely don’t feel comfortable talking about those things to people I don’t know and often not even people I do know. There’s too much hate and intolerance of differing opinions today. I would love to have productive conversations about these topics, but it seems impossible to do so.

For me, it’s a little more complicated because as a journalist I’m supposed to portray a façade of neutrality. I recently was assigned to write a story about comments some parents made during a public meeting essentially saying that Black and Hispanic students couldn’t perform at the same level as whites. Since that story was published, some people said it sparked important conversations and changes, but other people were hurt and offended and mad. Without having these conversations, I don’t think people can understand these are real issues in today’s society. Rather, they assume the issues are just legends and they don’t “happen here.”

 

 

In fact, Maria said, the backlash against this young journalist was severe, requiring her to have protection.  This former student shows the kind of courage Maria described earlier, courage that often or always comes with a cost. But this student knew one safe haven she could always turn to: her former teacher. Hence a lengthy conversation, back and forth, as Maria listens, encourages, and most of all understands.

 

I think of Maria and teachers like her every single day who are slowly but inexorably making a difference in students’ lives. Yes, it is all about courage. But before that, it is all about listening and all about trust. About building a place that is safe.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3488861 by congerdesign, used under the Pixabay License

 

This summer I surveyed students at a range of colleges and universities, asking them to tell me about what they saw as barriers to communicating with people different from them and about what they saw as the benefits of being able to do so. I’ve written a bit about what the students had to say and will write more in time. But this week I want to talk about a follow up to this research with students, because I had an opportunity to interview some of the teachers whose students responded to the survey about these same issues.

 

I came away from these interviews deeply impressed with the work teachers across the country are doing, first to broach difficult and controversial subjects in the classroom and second to help students engage with them—and with each other. All of the teachers I spoke with recognize the urgency of this work; all feel the strain of teaching in a time of intolerance, misinformation, and deep divides. The two teachers I want to talk about today, both of whom have given me permission to quote them and to share their ideas, are heroes to me, courageous and absolutely steadfast in their belief in young people and in their determination to serve them well by, among other things, raising their awareness of—and the importance of—difference and diversity.

 

One of these teachers is Jeanne Bohannon, who teaches at a public university in a bright red state. During last spring term, several events targeted African American students for harassment and threats, acts which led some white students to defend the offenders and to harass anyone who spoke out against them, including faculty. In this atmosphere, Professor Bohannon continued her work: “The kind of work I do is civil rights rhetoric and working with the Atlanta Student Movement. And sometimes it is really tough, so I really started to embed a lot of my primary research with the Atlanta Student Movement into our first year writing courses.”

 

I took a deep breath and then asked, “So how’s that going?” Here’s what she had to say:

I have lost two students so far, and one of the students I lost because she didn’t feel like the work was valid, in her words. Another student I lost because she was afraid that her parents, who were supporters of Donald Trump, would see her work, and she would get in trouble. But everyone else has been wonderful… I have to tell you, this course is drawing students across different majors. I have communication majors. I have English majors. I have STEM majors who seek out this class so that they can work on this civil rights research.

 

Jeanne has been teaching this course for several semesters now, with equally good results. What specifically did she do, I asked her, to establish a classroom ethos of respect and openness?

One of the things I do first off is I talk with the students about how I practice democratic pedagogy, how I do contract grading with students. What that means for me is every semester on my syllabus, I have a community expectation statement that was written by me and students back in 2015 and every semester we tweak it depending on the class. We spend the first couple of days in class with everyone talking through what it looks like to be a part of a community. And we set out the ground rules of what it means to be respectful. And we stress that you can disagree, but you must think of people as your community members. And that is part of the syllabus and that is part of the contract they sign, saying “I’m staying in the class and this is part of what I am going to do.”

 

Here’s a brief description of the research project on which the course rests:

This course engages undergraduate student scholars in public, digital humanities research centered on the roles AU Center students played in the struggle for civil and human rights in 1960-1962. Student scholars are expected to conduct their work based on a contract model, where they will work in teams to produce public texts that they negotiate with each other and the professor.

 

And here’s the community expectation statement that the class co-constructed and revises term by term:

Community Learning Precepts

Writing and learning are methods of communication that are inherently dialogic, democratic, and sometimes digital. We practice democratic learning in our course, as a matter of community-building. What this means for you:

  • You are a vital and respected member of our community.
  • You will participate authentically in our work as a stakeholder in your own rhetorical growth AND the growth of your colleagues in this class.
  • Your voice is important because it drives our interactions as a group.
  • You will design and curate your own learning and work experience in this class as a "contract" with both your colleagues and your instructor.

 

Later in the interview, we talked about problems that can arise as students work together on what to some are very “touchy” subjects and about how they negotiate differences.

I wish I had a more codified, concrete strategy for managing conflict. But what we do when that happens, and it does happen—it especially happens with some of my white male students who really want to engage with the project, but who feel awkward or feel like they can’t join because they feel guilt or they feel some other emotion. They want to engage but they just can’t. And so what is important for me is to pair them up with some of the lecturers who come to campus [to talk about the Atlanta Student Movement] and to make sure that I’m always engaging with them and that their fellow students keep engaging with them and pulling them along. We do a lot of experiential learning. So we’ll take fieldtrips down to different museums and archives. And it is all about inclusivity. This is in our community precepts that we practice all semester. Everyone in the community has value. It is difficult content we work through, but as scholars, as professionals, and as community members we do this together. And that is how I embrace it. I just keep articulating it all semester long to them.

 

What stands out to me as I revisit this interview is that Professor Bohannon—Jeanne—doesn’t have some magic elixir that she uses, or some abstract theory she is working with to help her students engage across difference. What she has is openness to others, the ability to listen rhetorically, the goal of making students full partners in their classroom community, and the time to work through problems calmly and fairly and openly. What gifts! If you’d like to see some of the work that Bohannon’s students have produced during the course of this project (some of which was supported by a grant she won), you can find it here.   

 

I know that teachers all across this country are carrying out similar work in their writing classrooms in which they help students deal with some deep-seated biases and prejudices as they struggle to engage with people who are unlike them in some ways. And I know that the importance of this work cannot be over-estimated. It is urgent. It is real. And we must keep doing it.

 

Many thanks to Jeanne Bohannon for allowing me to share some of her experiences and some of her strategies. I had intended to write about another teacher, but you’ll have to wait for another week to read about her!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3380192 by Fun_loving_Cindy, used under the Pixabay License

 

I’ve recently been working on revisions of some of my textbooks and have been reading more and more about how easily images can be manipulated or falsified. I remember reading Kenneth Brower’s galvanizing essay “Photography in an Age of Falsification” in The Atlantic over twenty years ago, and it’s an essay I often taught for the cogent argument it makes. But that seems like more than a lifetime ago now: I was concerned then about the issues Brower raised (he offered fascinating examples of images being manipulated, even in National Geographic, to make them “better”), but I couldn’t have imagined—and I don’t expect Brower could have imagined—the proliferation of technologies to aid in producing fake videos and altered images of every conceivable kind. It now seems important—imperative even—for us to ask students to examine their own use of images and to talk about and explore the ethical implications of the choices they and others are making today.

 

Among the books and articles I have read, Paul Martin Lester’s work really caught my attention. He is a professor at the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at the University of Texas at Dallas and has written widely on the ethics of photography. In an interview, he says he begins every class by describing what he calls the most unethical photo he ever took: he was assigned as a young photographer to cover a reunion of two long-lost brothers at an airport. He was there, with all his cameras, waiting for the brothers to emerge from the plane when a very famous movie star emerged. When she saw him and the cameras, he says, she screamed and turned her face to the wall before pulling herself together and walking toward him. Stunned, he automatically snapped photos of her in this very vulnerable pose, an action he has regretted ever since.

 

So I ordered his book, Visual Ethics, and have read it with great interest, even though it is intended for students and practicing photographers. In it, he describes what he calls every photographer’s “personal journey” and opens with this question: “How can you possibly be expected to be objective and subjective, impassive and emotional, uninvolved and engaged given the physical constraints, technological changes, and sociological pressures that the mass communications profession offers?” His one-word answer: “Ethics.”

The key to produce work that aids the common good and satisfies your need for storytelling is a continual, inquisitive, and consistent path toward ethical behavior. (xii)

 

Lester uses his own journey as an example throughout the book, but in addition it is crammed with additional examples drawn from his long career in the field, many of them mini-cases that make for challenging class discussion and examination. He also deals with issues of misinformation, focusing in chapter 7 on infographics and cartoons and sowing how inattention to detail, sloppy design, and overpowering “decorations” can mislead and confuse audiences, even if the designers are not intentionally doing so.

 

Lester concludes with a meditation on empathy—the complexities surrounding the concept and its embodiments, the need for more of it in all aspects of our lives, and the challenge to those he teaches. They should, he says, always attempt to 1) be empathetic, and 2) be ethical. The Professional Photographers Association of America agrees, and they have developed a code of ethics as a result. It makes for very interesting reading too—and provides additional material to bring to students, who need to be thinking hard (along with the rest of us) about how their own use of images and visuals follows such guidelines.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1239384 by Robert-Owen-Wahl, used under the Pixabay License

 

During a visit to the Bread Loaf School of English in August, a place I have taught on and off for nearly thirty years and one whose natural beauty (in Vermont’s lush Green Mountains) always renews my spirit, I got to attend a workshop put on by Bread Loaf students. Titled “An Anti-Racist Teach In,” the workshop lasted two hours and engaged everyone in the audience (probably 40 to 45 of us) in a series of activities designed to make us more aware of racist words and deeds and to help us develop ways to combat them.

 

The leaders began by introducing us to their “community contract”:

  • Be willing to sit with your discomfort.
  • Don’t assume. Ask questions to clarify.
  • Speak from your own experience.
  • Remember, impact is more important than intention.
  • Be conscious not to shift attention away from people and situations that are negatively impacted by systems of oppression by focusing on those who are privileged by them.
  • Expect unfinished business.

 

These statements gave us much to think about and to discuss in small groups, which were all, thankfully, diverse. The leaders also asked us to carefully consider some terms and, perhaps, come to a new understanding of their meanings: race, racism, whiteness, anti-racism, postionality, privilege, intersectionality, microaggressions, and white supremacy. While these terms are all familiar to me, our discussion of them added a lot of nuance and what Wayne Booth called “overstanding” so that I came away with new information not only about the terms themselves but about their effect on real people in real places. I was particularly struck by our discussion of “microaggression,” defined as “small daily insults and indignities against marginalized or oppressed people.” What I learned was how such small things always accumulate, becoming overwhelming and intolerable, and how such “small daily indignities” felt to the people in my group.

 

After these discussions, we went outside and paired up in various configurations to do some role playing that involved a LOT of listening really closely to others, a lot of careful observation, and a lot of making a space that was inviting and open. The student leaders (all high school teachers) had worked out every detail and led us in easy yet sure-footed ways. Brilliant. And effective.

 

I came away grateful not only for what I learned but grateful for these teachers, and for those of us attending the workshop, all now back in classrooms across the country trying very hard to implement anti-racist teaching. I’m wondering if readers of this post did any work this summer on anti-racist teaching and, if so, if you would share your experiences with us. We all have so much to learn—and also the responsibility to do so, and to pass it on.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3513653 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

 

On August 31, at about 2:30 in the afternoon Eastern Time, Nancy Johnson, Professor of English at Ohio State University, shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving so very many of us bereft and grieving. Nancy (as I never learned not to call her!) was a great teacher. A GREAT teacher.

 

As I flew to Ohio that day in a futile attempt to be with her, I kept thinking of that part of her identity. Like all of us, she was many things: daughter, sister, mother, partner, writer, reader, researcher, friend, gardener, artist. And more. She was all those things, along with being a magnificent teacher, as legions of her students will testify. I first met Nancy at a conference in 1980, I think, and then I had the great good fortune to be on the hiring committee that offered her a position at the University of British Columbia in 1981, where she taught until 1990. I remember her impish grin, her quick wit, the funny spin she put on almost everything. I remember her kindness, her way of being absolutely present in the moment. And I remember her passion for pedagogy and for students. Her intense attentiveness to students was a gift that kept on giving: I have seen her, patiently and quietly, draw out of students insights they wouldn’t have imagined they could have, ideas for articles and talks and dissertations that they had never dreamed of.

 

So. I’ve been thinking this week not only of Nancy, of her brilliance in the classroom and of her deep caring for students, but also of all great teachers. Somehow, in this time of near despair at a world spun out of control, hovering on the brink of disaster and presided over by a person without a shred of integrity, thinking of good teachers—of those who in Marge Piercy’s words do “the work of the world” and keep on doing it in spite of everything—lifts my spirits and touches my heart. So here’s to all those teachers and to one teacher in particular: Nancy Johnson.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 768458 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many times were you asked to write about this topic when you started a new school year? In my memory, this question came up every single year, and every year I had a hard time coming up with a response. One year I got to go to a YWCA camp, but mostly I reported on what I read. And I guess I’m still at it, since I’ve read some very good books this summer, which I will be writing about in future posts.

 

But in fact, I did some other things besides read. I wrote like a demon, revising The Everyday Writer for its 7th edition [!] and The St. Martin’s Handbook for its 9th, and working on a couple of essays. For one of those essays, I drove from my home on the northern California coast inland to the town of Willets to interview Sally Miller Gearhart, feminist activist for gay rights, the environment, and social justice, at her home. Now 88, Gearhart is renowned for her very early linking of feminism, rhetoric, and environmentalism, a linkage she explores in her groundbreaking article “The Womanization of Rhetoric.” I will write more about this interview soon, but below is a picture of Gearhart, wearing a T-shirt with Wanderground, the name of her most famous sci-fi novel, on it. What a woman!

 

 In addition to reading and writing, I enjoyed working on the board of directors for the Kronos Quartet, the amazing group that has changed the very definition of “string quartet” with their ever-growing repertoire and over 900 commissions. They are now working with third graders in San Francisco, aiming to inspire them to take up an instrument, and are working to complete a huge project called “50 for the Future,” fifty new commissioned works (half by women, half by men) for string quartet that will all be open source, available to anyone anywhere to download and play. For this project, Kronos has partnered with Carnegie Hall, and I and other board members have worked hard to raise the funds necessary to pull this off: it takes a lot of money to make music available for free! You can learn more about this project here—and listen to some of their spectacular music.

 

Finally, I had a week-long visit from my sister and my two beloved grandnieces, Audrey and Lila, now 15 and 12. Audrey was in charge of our schedule, and she had us moving every minute of every day! We went “thrifting” in Gualala and Mendocino (where she bought six pieces of clothing for $21 and was thrilled), fed giraffes at the B Bryan Animal Preserve (pictured above), watched Napoleon Dynamite, which the girls had never seen, took hikes, and every night walked out onto the ocean bluffs to watch the sun set and the moon rise before going back to soak in the hot tub.

 

So, I had a fun and productive summer, and I hope you did too. Now I am nostalgic once again for the beginning of school. This is my favorite time of year, when the new class arrives, and I’m hoping to visit Stanford in a week or so just to meet and greet some new students. My heart is always in the classroom—and I’m wishing you a wonderful teaching year.

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

 

In two days I will be in Vancouver for the meeting of the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing held at the University of British Columbia, where I taught from 1977 to 1987. What a treat it will be to be back in that glorious city! The topic I’m working on is a rethinking of the relationship between speaking and writing, and I have been having a lot of fun tracing this relationship from ancient times to the present. I’ve been pondering the effects that the hegemony of writing has had and the recent resurgence of speaking and orality/aurality as major means of communication, not to mention the importance of sound and soundscapes to understanding, learning, and knowing. (I have also re-read, with admiration, Cindy Selfe’s dynamite article from a decade ago, “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Mjultimodal Composing” in CCC, June 2009.)

 

And I am puzzling over the contrast between Plato’s notion of speech as “the living word of knowledge, which has a soul” and the work of artificial intelligence to bring us talking robots and digital assistants who speak to us and seem, according to my students, “almost real.” What to make of these innovative “speakers” and the voice recognition technology that offers both powerful opportunities and perilous pitfalls. How will teachers of writing and speaking define “talk” now that speech is clearly “post-human”?

 

I will be writing more about these issues soon. But first, I am going to go to Vancouver and immerse myself in its beauty, see old friends, and walk around the campus I once knew so well. And then, I am going to take a bit of a summer break. I’ll be working on writing projects, for sure, but I will also be catching up on the latest Louise Penny books, taking long soaks in the hot tub, and being grateful for all the summers I’ve enjoyed—and hoping for more!

 

I wish you a summer of rest and restoration, and some happy reading and writing!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3076954 by Nietjuh, used under the Pixabay License

Valexa Orelien, me, Autumn Warren, and Vrinda Vasavada at the 2019 Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards.

 

Well, I’ve just enjoyed one of my favorite days of the year—the annual Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards. Now in its 9th year, this award honors the students whose presentations have been judged the strongest in Stanford’s second-year writing course, PWR 2. Students are first nominated by their instructors, after which a panel watches and evaluates the presentations, which have been recorded. The five students with the highest scores—the finalists—then present their research live to another panel of judges from both the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and the Oral Communication Program. As Marvin Diogenes explained, the judges

look first for quality and timely arguments that demonstrate the presenters’ innovative contributions to the research conversation in which they are participating, and that draw on substantive evidence and methods for support. Second, judges are looking for engaging delivery and rhetorically effective use of media that adds clarity and interest to a presentation.

 

The awards ceremony honors all students who have been nominated, so they are recognized and thanked, along with the teachers who nominated them. Then as the five winners are introduced, their instructors take the stage to describe their work and its significance and to present them with several books they have especially chosen for them (the books go along with a certificate and a generous check, which always gets a big smile). This year’s winners included Haley Hodge for “The EPA’s Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Neglect of the RV Community on Weeks Street,” written in her course on “Comics for Social Justice”; Vrinda Vasavada for “Fighting Tech Addiction,” for her course “Language Gone Viral”; Sofia Avila Jamesson for “Murder, Music, and Machismo: Analyzing Gender-Based Violence,” for her course “Hear/Say: The Art of Rhetorical Listening”; Caelin Marum for “Searching for Olivia,” written for her course on “Race, Gender, Power, and the Rhetoric of the Detective”; Valexa Orelien for “Exploring Linguistic Power Structures in Haiti,” written for her course “How We Got Schooled: The Rhetoric of Literacy and Education”; and Autumn Warren for “You Don’t Sound Black: The Connection between Language and Identity,” for her course on “Language, Identity, and Power.” Instructors Lisa Swan, Norah Fahim, Irena Yamboliev, John Peterson, Csssie Wright, and Jennifer Johnson were outstanding in their descriptions and discussions of the student work, helping us to understand the contributions each student has made. The range of topics excited me as I thought of all the research and thinking that went into making these arguments.

 

Finally, two of the student winners gave their presentations for the assembled group of students, friends, family, and instructors crowded into the performance space of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. Vrinda Vasavada, a computer science major, was eloquent on the need to recognize “tech addiction” and to find ways to ameliorate it. Her research shows that 89 percent of students used their phones during their latest social interaction, that 75 percent check their phones within five minutes of getting up, and that this behavior results in distraction, lack of focus, and depression. She offered several suggestions for reducing time on screen and urged that all students adopt them, but she didn’t stop there. She went on to identify the model social media companies currently use to generate revenue and marked this model as one of the major causes of “tech addiction.” She then called on companies to shift from quantity back to quality of communication, to reduce the number of intermittent rewards, and to enable users to take control of their own attention. And, she said, her Gen Z group will be very receptive to such changes, noting that 53% of this group report preferring face-to-face over digital communication. So she ended on a positive note.

 

Valexa Orelien gave another winning presentation on linguistic power structures in Haiti. Valexa is Haitian and so speaks Haitian Kreyol as well as French and English, and she made a very strong case for moving to Kreyol as the language of instruction in Haiti today. In terms of power, she noted the overwhelming dominance of the French-speaking minority. Today, she told us, 90 percent of the inhabitants are monolingual Kreyol speakers and 50 percent of the children don’t attend school. It’s no coincidence, she said, that only 10 percent go beyond grade 1 and that 10 percent speak French as well as Kreyol. Tracing the long and tortuous colonial history of Haiti that resulted in what Valexa referred to as “linguistic apartheid,” she noted that only in 1987 did Kreyol become an official language alongside of French, but even then it was discriminated against; the government provides French textbooks only, for instance. With the funding of the Akademi Kreyol Ayisyen, Michel Degraff began an initiative for “bilingualism without loss of culture” and for the use of Kreyol as the language of instruction and French as a foreign language. Valexa also closed on an optimistic note, hoping that this movement will continue to gain proponents in Haiti. Kreyol is so clearly the language of Haiti—“French in language but African in spirit.”

 

I expect that many if not most teachers reading this post have attended similar celebrations sometime this spring: for me, the season would not be complete without honoring the imaginative and thoughtful work of our students. So congratulations to all of them: they are what keep me going in these very dark days of our democracy. I look to them, their critical thinking abilities, their cogent writing, and their eloquent speaking as the answer we all seek.

 

Most readers are probably familiar with the work of John Duffy—Professor of English and Director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame—in works such as Writing from These Roots and essays in numerous scholarly journals. You may also have read pieces he has written to a broad public audience, such as “Post-Truth and First Year Writing” in Inside Higher Education. I’ve been following Duffy’s work for a long time, always learning from his thoughtful, thorough, evenhanded, and highly provocative insights into the challenges facing teachers of writing today. Throughout his career, Duffy has asked us to examine our motives, our choices, our stances—and to ask how they do or do not help to establish ethical norms for writers and speakers.

 

Now comes his Provocations of Virtue: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing, which is a must-read for all who profess composition and rhetoric. Opening with a series of by-now common yet still disconcerting instances of the “toxic discourse” all around us, Duffy argues that teachers of writing have a special obligation (and opportunity) to intervene in constructive ways:

. . . to say writing involves ethical choices is to say that when creating a text the writer addresses others. And that, in turn, initiates a relationship between writer and readers, one that entangles writers, and those who would teach writing, in the questions, problems, and choices associated with ethical reflection and reasoning.

Recognizing this fact means that we are always already involved in teaching rhetorical ethics, that the teaching of writing “necessarily and inevitably involves us in ethical deliberations and decision-making.”

 

This text goes on to explore these claims in detail, to explore the major moral theories and to propose a new one, which he labels “virtue ethics;” that is, one based on the ancient concept of the virtues and especially emphasizing phronesis, or practical reason, through which a rhetor chooses “the right course of action in specific circumstances.” I was galvanized by chapter 4, in which Duffy challenges traditional agonistic aims of rhetorical practice and refigures as he moves toward an “ethics of practice,” and chapter 5, where he offers concrete strategies for bringing the concept of rhetorical virtue productively into our writing classes. The final chapter, which explores what Richard Lanham so brilliantly interrogated as “the Q question” (after Quintilian, who linked being a good person with being a good speaker/writer) and then offers instead “the P question”:

. . . the better question is what a deliberate engagement with the rhetorical virtues of our classrooms might make possible, our P question, for our students, our discipline, and for practices of public argument. What becomes possible if we acknowledge the ethical dimension of our work? What might be possible if some portion of the millions of students who leave our classrooms and graduate form our institutions do so having learned that writing is an ethical activity, and that their arguments speak as much to their character as to their topics? How might practices of public argument be repaired and reinvigorated if we were to commit ourselves, in our classrooms, our conferences, and our scholarship, to addressing the question of just what it means in the twenty-first century to be a good writer? What knowledge, transformations, and provocations might follow?

 

As always, Duffy is modest in his claims and humble in the face of such momentous questions, but steadfast in our need to ask, and to try to answer, them. So thank you, John Duffy. Thank you.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1052010 by DariuszSankowski, used under the Pixabay License

Dear Bedford Bits friends,

 

Like all of you, I've been reading and talking with colleagues about the all-too-obvious divisiveness abroad in the land today, and especially about the increasing tendency to "stay in our bubbles" in order to avoid confrontations or even discussions with those who hold very different views or come from very different backgrounds. As I talk to young people about this issue, I am more concerned than ever that we find ways to help them bridge such gaps.

 

That said and prompted by the research that other teachers of writing are doing, I'm trying to gather some basic background information about how students are feeling about such issues.  Toward that end, I'm asking for your help: I have a very brief survey I'd love for you to pass on to your students if you are willing to do so. The survey is completely anonymous and no personal information of any kind is involved. The questions ask students to reflect on how frequently and how comfortably they talk with someone with a different political view or with a different background and to share what they feel are some barriers and benefits to more open interactions.

 

If you respond to this brief instructor questionnaire, my editors at Bedford/St. Martin's will share the link to the student survey as well as some wording you might use in an email or spoken message to your students about the project. I know many of you teach the first summer term, and I'm hoping you might be able to fit the survey into your first week of class.

 

As soon as I can, I will write a blog post to share findings and offer some practical strategies for helping young people engage meaningfully with others from a range of language backgrounds, cultural traditions, and political perspectives.  

 

Thank you!

Andrea