"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eng. 992: Week 5 Response

This week's readings could not have come at a better time for me, since I had gone looking this week for the theory and critical pedagogy to go along with what we've been reading--and this weeks' readings were full of it, full of names and citations to go track down. Reading about the KCAC project (Keeping and Creating American Communities) was great, from LeeAnn Land's article about her class's project, Sarah Robbins' introduction, and then I spent a great deal of time on the KCAC website and most of the page is now bookmarked on my computer or printed out for inclusion in my growing binder of teaching place-writing resources. Since I posted on "Rosewood Township" a few weeks ago, I'll concentrate on another aspect of the readings. (His last name is pronounce grew-koe, if you weren't sure.)

What stood out to me most was the idea of movement, of active engagement, even of physical movement outside the classroom. I've been trying to incorporate active learning into my classrooms, but only so far in getting my students to be able to talk to the writers they've been reading. I have not done much with physical movement outside the classroom, as a part of active inquiry. Definitely something I want to work on. The website for Nebraska tourism--focusing here on road trips--made me want to pull my Scamp out of its dusty sleeping place and take off for parts unknown. (Won't happen anytime soon, unfortunately.) Someday I'd love to camp the Lewis and Clark route. And someday, as I discussed with a friend yesterday, I'd love to teach a class on the Great American Road Trip. Lewis and Clark will be along for that ride.

When Land writes that her class's "project developed out of my conviction that historians (public or academic) should advance public discussion about the state of their community, nation, or world," and soon after she discusses what information she felt she needed to cover in order to uncover other things, I was right back in Mark Sample's recently posted article on"Teaching for Uncoverage rather than Coverage." The KCAC principles of interdisciplinary work, research based in inquiry, public writing, and active citizenship are, now, familiar concepts we've been discussing so far this semester. The very idea of interdisciplinary work, getting students in our English classes outside the English classroom, is something it seems we're all working towards. We want our students to be able to think outside themselves, which seems to work best when they're physically working outside themselves.

This movement outside themselves helps to facilitate the ideas of global and local, something I started studying for the first time a year ago, reading Ursula Heise and Mitchell Thomashow. I can foresee revising my present syllabus to include a progression of major papers that takes the students from working inside their own local communities to researching how their community functions in the larger global community. It seems like the first step is to teach students the value of their own community, then teach them how they're connected to other communities, that what is now didn't appear out of thin air. It was created, deliberately, for a purpose. And this benefitted some people and destroyed others.

I'm also interested in this idea of diverse local texts (all possible definitions of "text") that "help[ed] construct the frameworks, fashion the metaphors, create the very language by which people comprehend their experiences and think about their world" (Lauter, qtd. in Robbins). This is an area I'd like to explore further, because it's an area I have not done much with and it has a lot of promise. The recent readings we've done about photography projects and such have provided a good beginning for me, as I think about how communities are preserved through various texts and what those texts say about those places. Robbins writes of "uncover[ing] and critique[ing] forces that have shaped their own local cultures, as subcultures in national and international contexts" and one thing I have not done--at all--is do any kind of critique of those forces. We've barely talked about them in my class. We'll probably get to it in some fashion in the second and third writing project, but I see it as a failing of the course right now as it stands. Mostly because I don't have the experience or vocabulary to have these conversations with my students.

I'm definitely intrigued by many of the writing assignments the KCAC posted: "Reading and Writing Poems About Place" (I tend to use prose, because I'm a prose writer); "Something Important Happened Here!" and I thought that using this assignment in conjunction with a class blog might be interesting, if we're exploring digital space as well as other types of place, also something that might go well with Robert's "Vanishing" prompt; "House and Home,"because Sandra Cisneros is awesome; and I absolutely LOVE the idea of student generated writing prompts. So much so that I'm incorporating this into my classes (where appropriate) from here on out.


  1. Karen,
    I think you really make a good point when you say, "We want our students to be able to think outside themselves, which seems to work best when they're physically working outside themselves." But I'd like to complicate it just a bit because I think the my goal is to get my students working both deeply enough within themselves to begin building a certain amount of self awareness and the ability to question their own understanding of the world and at the same time I want them working outside of themselves. I think it can be a hard balance to strike and reading this week really gave me some ideas of how to start working in that direction. Btw love, love love the idea of a "Great American road trip class!"

  2. Karen: You so need to join us for one of the NeWP Writing Marathons, re: your point about getting writers out of the classroom. I can honestly imagine a writing class centered in a sequence of writing marathons in different places (downtown Lincoln, Spring Creek Prairie, Southpointe Mall, Havelock Avenue, 27th St) supported by a set of readings of the sort you already do.

    I also like your move toward the question "what's the function of your place in the regional/national/global system" (however you define system -- cultural, economic, environmental, religious, etc.)? That question gets at the "critique" side of PCT's "celebrate and critique local place" idea. How does the local community function in the global economy? How do we find out, if we don't know?

    I do a wee bit of this kind of thinking every year with my preservice secondary English education students, most of whom believe they'll be teaching high school in Lincoln or Omaha when they graduate. Just to share statistics with them, such as of the half of you who will get teaching jobs, half will be in California and Texas, systems with a chronic need for teachers and which like the work ethic of Midwesterners . . .


  3. Hi, Karen. I'm really intrigued your ideas to get students to be "able to think outside themselves, which seems to work best when they're physically working outside themselves." Nicely put. I think you're right; a hands on approach helps these concepts sink-in and get digested. And how cool would a class on the "Great American Road Trip" be? Within the mobility of a road trip is the idea what surrounds one's home. Flying makes it so easy to leave; you don't have to see the land and towns as you pass by. If anything, a road trip tends to, for me, solidify where "home" actually is.

    And you offer a nice supplement to how engage students in the literature of place. Having the author talk to them about the text's ideas is a great way. I've told you this before, but I think students really gain from having a discourse with author's. That in itself offers a "hands-on" approach.