Civic writing course traverses Atlantic; participants from United Kingdom visit SU Nov. 13
Civic writing course traverses Atlantic; participants from United Kingdom visit SU Nov. 13November 09, 2006Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
In the beginning of the Spring 2006 semester, Steve Parks, associate professor of writing and rhetoric in the Writing Program in The College of Arts and Sciences, explored the idea of an international class partnership where students in his course Civic Writing (WRT 301) could connect with others internationally on social politics and language. A partnership soon developed with the United Kingdom’s Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP) in which students in his course undertook the project of developing an online writing group with the FWWCP. The hope was to create a discussion focused on how issues of economic class, educational access and the acquisition of literacy skills interconnected.
The project is now being further developed by students in Parks’ Studies in Language and Politics (WRT 440) class, where students, FWWCP members and Syracuse community residents are developing a full publication focusing on what should be the goals of education. Each week, WRT 440 students meet with Syracuse residents in class and correspond with FWWCP members through a blog, http://www.transatlanticfed.blogspot.com. With the work well under way, members of the FWWCP from the U.K. will be visiting Parks’ class on Monday, Nov. 13, and performing a public reading on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Second Story Bookstore, 550 Westcott St. The public reading will share the poetry, fiction and memoir generated to date.
From the outset of the new partnership, the SU students attracted participants from across the United Kingdom, ranging from as far south as Brighton, England, to north in Edinburgh and Lockerbie, Scotland. Over the course of about six weeks, the writing group of five students produced more than 65 single-spaced pages of writing about education and class, with the impact of disabilities growing as an important thread. Much of this writing was then put on the blog to give more of the FWWCP members a chance to read and participate.
“Civic Writing is a course designed to engage students in projects that directly intersect with public debate and performance,” says Parks. “In this way, the belief is students will come to understand some of the pressures and possibilities of using writing as a way to shift popular debate.”
Based upon the success of the online conversation, the Civic Writing students were asked to develop a performance piece for FedFest 06, the FWWCP’s annual international writing festival in Leicester, England, April 28-30. The students worked with their U.K. counterparts to edit the writing down to a 30-minute performance, followed by a collective writing exercise that would allow the entire conference to participate. On the same evening as the performance, the students also took part in a public reading in front of festival participants.
On the final day of the conference, a special workshop was held where participants from the writing group, as well as the festival, attempted to encapsulate the vision of education developed during this project. The following manifesto was produced:
- Education should teach a global humanity (not the humanities) based on an alternative sense of history where cooperative values and restorative justice are primary.
- Education should take place in a safe environment free from traditional social/economic biases with self-respect for each other as individuals as well as members of different classes, heritages and sexualities.
- All educators must move from subconsciously teaching students to be a Westernized version of “them” to teaching the essential equality among individuals and cultures.
- The conceptual equality taught to students must also be manifested in equal funding and equal access to well-maintained school facilities.
- To base an education system on any other values accepts a fundamental inequity in society and acceptance that not all human potential will be fulfilled.
Published in the FWWCP’s Federation Magazine and titled “The Republic of Letters II,” after the seminal FWWCP work on community publishing, the above points are seen as a guide for the future work of the organization.
The FWWCP asked that the writing group, now called the Transatlantic Fed, continue its work, including a wider range of participants and working on a longer statement of beliefs. To this end, students in Studies in the Politics of Language and Writing continue the online writing discussion project and work to develop a longer publication. In addition, community members representing a broad range of the Syracuse community will sit in on the course and take part in the project. In the spring semester, students in Parks’ Advanced Argument (WRT 200) class will continue to work on the publication, culminating in another trip to the FWWCP Festival, where SU has been invited once again to play a leading role.
“Based upon this work and the participation in the conference, members of the Writing Group have already been invited to attend a similar conference in Atlanta to spread the work of the organization,” says Parks. “Indeed, one student was asked to run for the executive board of the FWWCP, an opportunity he turned down since graduate school beckoned.”
The Gifford Foundation and The College of Arts and Sciences supported participation by SU students in FedFest 06.