“so many of the technologies that suggest to us that we are perfectible, that intensify our dedication to norms, have been invented specifically because we are not perfect or normal”


Disability Rhetoric  page 2


I took a look at Dolmage’s article “Framing Disability, Developing Race: Photography as Eugenic Technology. I had to stop. I had to stop reading, I had to stop listening to a past that seems to relevant.

I’m not sure how to deal with it. Not as an academic, not as a teacher, not as a father, husband, or neighbor. I just can’t deal with it.

But we have to.

The Election

The recent election has many of us concerned. I am not so much interested in talking about policy difference as I am the ways the campaigns leading up to the election normalized ways of thinking that I thought we had inoculated ourselves against over the past century.

The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality in public political speak represents an ideological infection that has had devastating consequences. This strain of nationalism is so closely tied to ideas of segregation, exceptionalism, and inevitably racial superiority.


My closest mentor in my career so far teaches about the holocaust. Occasional posts on her Facebook wall keep lessons from the past in my mind. The threats against the media, the emboldened white supremacists (those re-branded as the alt-right) are so alarming, and yet I do not know, in practical terms, how to adjust in my own life. I do not know what to do in the face of such hate. I do not know how to deal with a public discourse that entertains conversations about white supremacy and accepts stereotypes based on gender and disability.

My entire career in education (from preschool through today) rejects the notion that any person is more deserving than any other to the rights enumerated in the constitution (or in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for that matter).

Establishing Heirarchy

The function of early photography at Ellis Island comes as a horrifying shock. But not a surprise.

Dolmage begins to explain the history of Ellis Island by explaining the ways photography allowed for a type of classification system to be developed. Based on photographs, people were categorized. This combined with literacy and I.Q. testing allowed officials to make decisions.

Dolmage suggests in the end “that we all carry Ellis Island and this history with us today. We are subject to the same gaze, governed by the same rhetorical vision”

I am sickened by the thought.

But what bothers me more is the possibility that we don’t carry enough of it. We are subject to the gaze, but we have forgotten what it means.

I cannot bring myself to think about this more. And I can’t bring myself to stop. What the hell is going on?


“These constellations of value and their variable gravities are exactly what we should be looking for–and we should be asking questions not to set the universe in order, but to better understand ourselves by locating those things we disagree, worry, and wrestle about most vehemently”


Disability Rhetoric  page 16

Literary Studies, Identity, and Listening

In light of the recent election results, there could not be a more timely text than Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening. Bryan Lutz’s talk last week was particularly insightful as we discussed the ways listening has been important in his reflections and activism. I appreciated hearing about the ways Lutz has navigated a series of complicated relationships between himself, the groups he is working with, and the power structures he is working within and against.

I have, at times, wondered how much I identify with a particular identity, and I think that the fact that I have not had to think about my racial or gender identity shows that I have been privileged. And yet, I know that there is a frustration that comes from being told that you are privileged when it doesn’t feel that way. It is very difficult to get someone to listen when they do not feel understood, when they do not feel like the conversation has a place for them.

But my investment in communication and rhetoric comes from the belief that representing ourselves is an important step in entering into productive social relationships. If we want people to take our ideas seriously, then we need take the time to understand how communication is operating within a social context so that we too may be heard.

Clearly this is not the whole picture. My experience listening to marginalized narratives throughout my college career I have read a broad range of authors including African-American, Asian-American, Columbian, Puerto Rican, German, Middle-Eastern, and French writers (certainly more). I have been particularly moved by the writings of Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Franz Kafka. In some ways, the diversity of perspectives has prompted me to see histories as complicated, but I also know that I have not entirely heard these texts as well as I should like.

See some of my previous work in literary analysis:

Apocalyptic Endings, Rosario Ferré and Magical Realism

The idea of eavesdropping seems particularly interesting as I think about studying literature. Ratfliffe offers us a view of eavesdropping that “signifies an effective rhetorical tactic…a rhetorical tactic of purposely positioning oneself on the edge of one’s own knowing so as to overhear and learn from others and, I would add, from oneself” (104-5). Reading literary fiction is one way, I think, that I have been able to expand my world view. Reading the texts wasn’t always enough, as I noted, because in my role as a student I would often read because I had to. But those texts that stand out in my memory, those texts that left a lasting impression because they revealed more that I could have anticipated, should act as reminders that I have more listening to do (I am thinking about Octavia E Butler’s Kindred and Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman).

 ­­­Ratcliff explains early that “rhetorical listening is defined generally as a trope for interpretive invention and more particularly as a code of cross-cultural conduct” (17). She goes on to differentiate listening and reading by noting that “when listening…we do not read simply for what we can agree with or challenge, as is the habit of academic reading” (25). As I read for my coursework I am more often looking for ways to write about and use the text, and at times this need to write comes at a price. The texts that have moved me most were successful in luring me into a deeper mode of reading, a mode that prompted personal attachments and reflections with the narrative.

When people see me, they see a white man. When people get to know me, I am not sure to what degree I confirm there understanding of white men and to what extent I complicate it. But I do know that the initial impression has benefited me in many ways, and as I work towards making sure that my classroom and curricula are as social responsible and aware as possible, it will be important for me to continue thinking about the ways I am listening to conversations that may not have had me in mind.

Development and Systematization

I have been thinking about the difference between top-down and bottom-up design. These two design processes approach problems in very different ways, and the processes is relevant to classroom strategies, communication problems, and social justice.

Top-down design is a way of encouraging efficiency by predefining an organizational scheme that will work for the entire problem. In essay writing, this would look like following an established template, and in social justice it would be the difference between local laws and national laws. Top-down writing strategies are great ways for planning out a paper, but it can also be restrictive. In more complex systems, like government, the tension between top-down and bottom-up solutions strikes me as important.

Social justice strives to address problems that are systemic in nature, and when addressing a system it is important to understand how that system operates. Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier de Schutter talk about the need for national policies that regulate the food industry. They outline reasons for doing so, reasons that range from environmental impact to the health of our children, and they explain some of the goals of such a national policy.

And they are right, there are substantial problems that we are facing that need to be addressed. Childhood obesity is a big problem. Climate change is a big problem. Food safety is a big problem. Wages for workers and farmers are big problems. And addressing our food system from a national level may be a way to address many of these problems, but I am wondering how such changes require a fundamental shift in the ways businesses and communities operate. The top-down regulation here is a way of establishing efficiency and oversight that would be beneficial. So why would it be difficult to implement?

Bottom-up organization does not worry about ‘the big picture,’ but instead focuses on addressing needs at the local level. In this model of design, we look at the parts and maximizing the potential of parts in the belief that the whole will emerge stronger in the end. They explain,

“Our food system is largely a product of agricultural policies that made sense when the most important public health problem concerning food was the lack of it.”

Bottom-up, and pieced together policies, have been the regulating process for the food industry, and we have established a system that ensures food is widely available (although not everyone can afford it). Allowing the industry to develop without a central food policy, like the one Bittman et al. advocate for, has been beneficial in many ways. When does the bottom-up strategy collapse under new pressures?

Capitalism is a bottom-up organizational strategy, and it comes with the strengths and weaknesses of thinking locally. Our model of government uses bottom-up organization in many ways by relying on local communities to maintain their own interests. In many cases, this works well because local governments are more likely to understand the particular needs of the local population, and they can allocate resources accordingly.

Our history seems to be written in the tension between national and local government.

The cinematic masterpiece Biodome highlights the issue of climate change and sustainability. A line that sticks out from the film, and in some ways represents its theme, is something like: “Act locally, think Globally.” Finding ways to encourage people to see the way their interests are better served by thinking about their place within a larger system of work is, perhaps, one of the ways we should be thinking about activism.

In the end, I think that this problem asks whether or not we should believe it is better to work for our own interests and hope that we are bettering each other by striving toward success, or if we privilege the interests of the system, and accept limitations as being beneficial.

As an aside, I would like to note that this blog represents the tension between bottom-up writing and top-down writing. It functions as a site to develop ideas around individual readings or groups of readings. Being able to take on small issues in this way allows for (and encourages) an exploratory type of writing. Eventually, it will give way to a larger project though, much like the way the localized and pieced together policies must eventually be rethought on a national and systemic scale.

Social Media, Public Participation, and Rhetoric

As I have indicated in previous posts, I am always looking at research through the lens of my role as a teacher. I am very interested in thinking through the ways a text can be useful as a site of discussion or the ways it can be useful as a way of informing the communication practices that we are practicing.

This week, I am thinking about the ways social media can be brought into the classroom as examples of rhetorical concerns. In particular, I am interested in the ways social media represent both private and public concerns. Social media, in some ways, represent our interest in creating our selves and controlling the ways others perceive us, and in other ways social media has created opportunities for us to engage in public discussions on a scale that theorists are still trying to deal with.  
Stephanie Vie’s “In Defense of ‘Slacktivism’” is a great example of rhetorical theory and social media being brought together, and the analysis she provides can be very useful for teaching students about the possibilities and limitations of participating in social media rhetoric. I would be interested in having a unit of class where we looked at Vie’s piece alongside Penny and Dadas’ “(Re)Tweeting in the Service of Protest” because of the ways they conceptualize the types of communication that we can engage in using common social media platforms.

Vie’s piece would also help by providing some ways to talk about memes as serious rhetorical devices. The use of Burke’s concept of identification alongside the theories defining the qualities of memes helps to establish a validity to what students are seeing and producing in their online activities. Vie’s analysis could be useful for helping students see that the ‘share’ function and the ‘like’ button on social media platforms are not meaningless, or they do more than make us feel good—but they allow us to connect and “have the power to impact lasting material change in the world” (Vie). This type of argument highlights the ways language in any form are essential for helping us make and remake our social realities.  

Ellen W. Gorsevski seems to be discussing a related idea in Peaceful Persuasion, as she examines the significance of rhetoric and media for social movements. In Chapter 2 of her book, she starts by highlighting the binary of forceful rhetoric and peaceful rhetoric, in which rhetorics of force (violence/war/military) are privileged. Gorsevski goes on to write, “One suggestion here is that if media-savvy rhetorics are used to advantage, peace activists can more fully participate” (20). A better relationship with media, it seems, could result in peaceful rhetorics having a stronger role in public discourse. While Gorsevski is talking about media and controlling appearance, it is also worth thinking about social media in this way. It is not as easy to dismiss rhetorics of peace when such a large population can so easily show their support for a cause. The ease with which people can show their support, to identify with a movement, is worth paying attention to.

My interest in multimodal curriculum overlaps with theories of social media because of the affordances of the web. As I think through the ways social media have been treated in textbooks and by my colleagues. So far, I am not sure we have been fully covering the significance of social media, and there may be many reasons for this—primarily related to the types of writing that have the most social currency.

An Invitation to Participate: Student Centered Pedagogy and the Rethinking of Rhetorical Theory

My posts seem to be taking on a theme. My interests seem to come back to questions of practice and how I can integrate the ideas from these articles into my own teaching practices. It reminds me that teachers and rhetoricians have a lot in common.

The role of a rhetorician is to craft ideas and convince others of their value—and the same can be said of a teacher. As teachers, we play the role of persuader. We persuade our students that the ideas we are sharing with them are valuable and worth learning. And this can be difficult at times, but if our students are going to trust us enough to do the difficult work of learning, then we must take the responsibility seriously.

So as we think through the strategies and implications of rhetoric, we should also be thinking about how we can apply these ideas to the classroom. Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin suggest that we should adjust our views of rhetoric to include an invitational rhetoric, which they set in contrast to a persuasive rhetoric.

They explain that the goal of invitational rhetoric is to create a space in which marginalized voices can be expressed and heard. They go on to explain, “Although invitational rhetoric is not designed to create a specific change, such as the transformation of systems of oppression into ones that value and nurture individuals, it may produce such an outcome” (16).

An invitational rhetoric, as Foss and Griffin explain it, appears to be deeply humanistic (It also seems to relate views supported by the first sophists). Treating students like equal participants in the meaning making process of the classroom is much different than the model of teaching that places the teacher in the role of persuader, indifferent to the values, perspectives, and identities of the audience. .

When we invite students to take on a more active role in their own education through the use of student centered pedagogies, we are asking students to participate in the existing intellectual communities that make up a university. We are asking our students to try to understand the perspectives and roles of various intellectuals even though, for many of them, academic culture is very different from what they are used to. And we are validating the backgrounds and knowledge that students bring into the classroom.

The more different academic life is from their lives outside the university, the more difficult the transition is likely to be. Yet, we know, that if our students are going to be ‘successful’ in the university system, they need to find ways to become a part of the academic community.

One questions that is likely to come up if this line of thinking is continued is whether or not the university system as an established institution with existing interests and values can ever fully accommodate an invitational, or student centered approach.

The protestors described by Kevin Michael DeLuca, in particular the Earth First! Organization, highlight the importance of rethinking entire organizational structures:

Dave Foreman explains ‘We felt that if we took on the organization of the industrial state, we would soon accept their anthropogenic in paradigm’(9).

While DeLuca is discussing the “power and possibilities of bodies in public argumentation” (10), the ways in which existing organizational patterns of the education system operate may lead to an inevitable paradigm of the educator as authority and the student as receptive and subordinate. Invitational rhetoric and student centered learning require us to not only rethink our approach to teaching content by asking for student participation, but it may also require us to rethink the spaces and hierarchies embedded in our institutions.

Given social constraints and a lack of resources, working within the existing framework may be the only option available. So my question then becomes what are the practical, everyday changes that I can do to promote a participatory, invitational, socially aware and fair classroom or program.


So here are a few ways that I may already be working in that direction:

  • I favor discussion over lecture and questions over answers
  • I avoid making definitive assessments of meaning when discussing texts
  • Content is selected that represents a wide set of perspectives (not just privileged voices in privileged positions)
  • I invite critique of classroom activities, readings, and policies while encouraging students to imagine better practices.
  • Whenever possible, I enact the suggestions of my students by introducing new readings or tailoring activities to their interests.

Some of these things I do well, some I could do better. One of the difficulties of these strategies, however, is that students have expectations of what a class is supposed to look like and supposed to do. Some students rely on those expectations. Changing the rules of the game can frustrate players, and changing the expectations of the classroom is likely to encounter resistance. What happens when students don’t want to discuss or ask questions? What happens when students want firm answers? They have learned the role of a teacher, and if I complicate that role…

Perhaps that’s the point of education though, in an invitational sense. We are inviting our students to move beyond their roles as learner and become a participant and an equal—a process that is, and will continue to be, difficult.

Scholar-Activist or Activist-Scholar?


This week I am thinking about the perspectives of scholars engaged in activism and social justice. I am wondering what the impetus is in their individual and collective lives, and I wonder how their backgrounds influence their perspectives. Personally, I have struggled with the lines of power that are represented by universities. I am a first generation college student from a low socio-economic background—meaning that I did not know a single person who had been to college outside of my experiences as a student until much more recently.

As I think through what my experiences mean for my academic interests, I also am thinking about how my academic interests may shape my perceptions of my experiences. It is not until I actively began considering graduate school that I really began to understand how my background impacted my experiences as a graduate student. It was through my pursuits in education that led me to better understand how people with different backgrounds experience systems of power in fundamentally different ways.

So I wonder, how does this impact the way we research, teach, and become active members in our communities.

Dana L. Cloud gives a nice overview of how her ideas came to action, and how she uses her position of power to be an activist. She writes:

I began my scholarly career a structuralist, emphasizing the role of ideology in maintaining social stability (“Limits,” “Hegemony”). Now I have learned, through involvement in political activity, that the struggle for hegemony is never one-sided. Ordinary people come to a sense of themselves and their own agency in spite ideological and institutional forces arrayed against them.

What I find interesting about this moment in Cloud’s writing is how it represents a scholar applying her knowledge, and everything she encounters in her activist life is filtered through her scholarly ideologies. But earlier in the text, she says she is “a longtime socialist” (13), and she recounts many movements that she has supported. But Cloud became an activist as a result of her academic pursuits: “I began my political life as a feminist at Penn State in the mid-1980s” (12).

Lee Artz offers interesting insight into what it is like to come into academia already rooted in social activism. His years of experience as a laborer and rights activist seem to be what led him into the academy, which seems to be a very different path than those of other social justice authors we have been reading.

Increasingly, I am interested in not only understanding the arguments being made in scholarly writing, trying to see how they fit in with other scholars to map ideas, but I am also actively thinking about the application of the ideas. I wonder how could I put these ideas into action and what would be the result.

So, I am thinking about how my previously existing views impact my academic work and how my academic work now changes the way I see the world.

Since I am interested in pedagogical concerns, I am reminded of the different ways I have thought about the classroom in my life. Now, as a teacher, I see the classroom as a complicated nexus that is the manifestation of many different perspectives coming together (multiple sites of power—the teacher, the department, the discipline, the administration, and the expectations and evaluations of students). Each of these perspectives inform the way the classroom is constructed before the semester begins.

But the classroom did not appear that way to me as an undergrad. There was little complexity at all. The classrooms were a series of challenges that were designed by individual teachers who knew more than I did. They were places to collaborate and compete with my peers.

And before college, the classroom was an entirely different thing. It was the place where I had to spend my time, and was glad to. It was a place of structure, order, and fairness that I did not have in my home. School was a place where people acknowledged each other, supported each other, and worked toward bettering themselves.

What I am seeing is a complicated overlap in the classroom that functions as a site of power while also inviting criticism of power structures and encourages students to take ownership over their lives and communities by empowering them through the development of social awareness, tools, and skills. The classroom can be many things, and again I wonder, how does the background of the teacher and of the scholar overlap and conflict with the many backgrounds and personalities of the students–and how should this play a role in the development of socially responsible research and teaching practices?


For now I will keep pondering these questions because I do not think that these questions invite simple answers.


In the introduction, Riedner and Mahoney recount a standoff between protestors and various forces of the government during an IMF meeting in April of 2000. This particular incident that they focus on, among the many that they mention, resulted in a moment of triumph for peaceful protestors as the riot police and national guard backed down—they did not deploy tear gas or disperse the crowd by any other means (2-3). The statements made b y the student afterwards are of particular interest to me.

Reidner and Mahoney recall that the student “talked about his years of cynicism, that nothing could be done in the face of the global march of capital. But that feeling changed for him during the standoff. That moment on the corner of 21st and G Streets, he said, was the first time that he felt part of something in his life” (3).

Part of Something

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for students, in the writing classroom, is feeling like their voice matters. This is a point well made by Peter Elbow and David Bartholomae in their own ways.

The problem comes down to a feeling of meaningful inclusion. Writing in a classroom can seem directionless, purposeless. Teachers don’t always seem to take the ideas seriously, and students learn that the ideas are not what matters. Students learn that the only thing that matters is that there are words on the page that satisfy the grading criteria, whatever that may mean.

But what does it mean to validate student ideas. What does it mean to acknowledge and celebrate ideas as valuable contributions—especially when those ideas have the appearance and perspective of inexperience?

Later, in the same chapter, Reidner and Mahoney explain how their book fits in with rhetoric and composition as well as cultural studies. They explain that cultural studies is based on “everyday practices of social change within local and situated conjectures” and that they contribute to composition pedagogy by focusing on “strategies of learning that emerge from contingent moments and situated rhetorical exigencies” (8). In other words, their project works because it places learning in context of meaningful action.

What their project means, and what I strive to do in my own class, is that students are invited to participate in the processes of critically examining a real problem that is relevant to their lives. For me and my students, focusing on Technology allows us to examine our own engagement with the world, our own assumptions, our own biases, and those of others to find our own ways into meaningful conversations.

In a sense, we are not looking to go out and join any large social movement, but we are interrogating texts to see how they fit into our lives.

Does the text belong?

“In academic institutions, there are spaces…for dialogue, critical thinking, discussions of power and difference, and where dominant rhetorics are critiqued and re-imagined” (67).

In the end, I fully support this sentiment. I am curious about my role as a teacher in facilitating this process, and I take the responsibility seriously. If I am the person responsible for selecting the texts, selecting the topics, guiding the conversation, and evaluating outcomes—then I face the most difficult of challenges: which problem is most pressing that is relevant, engaging, inspiring, and helpful for my students?

Developing Perspective

We need more from social movements than the clarion call to fight. We need opportunities to organize inquiries into those social problems dividing us. –David Coogan

This semester, the textbook I am using to teach second year composition students is called Technology. So far, when questions are centered around understanding the text, some students start checking out. When I ask students to return to what was said in the text, how it applies in the author’s views, or what the author would think about an issue—I notice a reticence to answer. But the classroom blossoms with valuable contributions and surprising insights as the students engage each other and analyze the world around them when the topic is allowed to wander, when we generalize the text and apply it to our lives in a variety of ways.

When we use the texts to talk about their lives, students come to life. And this isn’t really a surprise.

More than a Push

In the introduction to his article, David Coogan calls critical pedagogy a “university-led social movement.” Our students are made up of a diverse group of individuals that are more likely to hold the common beliefs of a wider culture, and the critical perspective is asking them to change their minds. It creates a contradiction in which the university pushes students to critically engage with the dominant ideologies that many of them hold even as many of the students are expecting to build a better understanding of the ideology. There is a conflict in perspectives, and more importantly a conflict in goals.

Both teacher and student, in this view of critical pedagogy, wind up occupying the same space without quite understanding the other in much the same way Coogan explains that college students do not know the local population “beyond the abstractions of ‘race.’”

When the university is pushing a narrative, students feel the pressure to accept views that do not match their own. Learning and being empowered involves a process of development and reflection. Getting students to open up about their own lives and their own views is the great task of critical pedagogy.

There seem to be no limit to the ways can get our students engaged in their communities. Gwendoly D. Pough offers us insight into her approach to teaching literacy skills to her students. Her students, she explains, were not only more engaged in the class, but “they actually moved to social action after taking the course” (467). A class that inspires in such a way is certainly worth examining, and is likely worth emulating. But I want to think it through some more.

For Pough, brining in consequential and powerful material, like the documents related to the Black Panther Party, creates a space in which the content being discussed represents the community. This certainly works to complicate the view that Ellen Cushman has of the community and the academy as distinct spaces, as Pough points out (468). The open and passionate forum that we create in our classrooms can be a space where we are engaged in consequential actions—speech acts are, after all, acts. But even so, our students may not be so ready and willing to accept our view of the world.

As I think about the powerful and controversial material that I have read in my own education, I can’t help but think about how much of it was lost on me. Fredrick Douglas went through hell, and I skimmed over his story between classes. Martin Luther King had a dream, and I had a snack. War crimes filled the news while I found my first job washing dishes in a family owned Mexican restaurant. Gabriel Garcia Marquez highlighted the constant state of civil war and the influence of corporations on local communities while I marveled at his combination of the magical and the real.

Coogan tells us that just because “social movements can sponsor dialogue across difference does not mean that they will. Students need more than a shove toward the street. They need task-oriented projects that center on writing and the relationships that writing can form with community partners.” This emphasis on relationships helps us see that what we are wanting for our students is the opportunity to encounter more perspectives in meaningful ways. It is not enough to tell our students about the world, they need to see it.

Help them See

As writing instructors, we ought to be very interested in the ways we empower our students. Anne Marie Todd ends her essay by reflecting on what it means to our students to include activism in our pedagogies. She writes, “activist learning is more than service: it is asking students to find their own mode of active civic engagement.” It is not enough to tell them what projects to work on, what problems need solved, what solutions they should try, how they should think about power, or any other plain statement of our own perspectives. Our perspectives are hard earned, earned through our own experiences and educations; we owe it to our students to ensure they have the opportunities to develop their own relationships with the world so that they too may own an informed perspective. What matters in this is that students understand that they have the power to be involved. What they are involved in, and how they view the problems they face, is for them to figure out.

What it Means to Teach August 31st

One of the first classes I taught, which was a freshman level composition course, involved a series of readings that focused on ethical questions. The syllabus had been established for me by the program administrator, and the readings had a few different themes running throughout them.

Race was one of the themes. Education was another. The relationship between the two became part of the conversations we were having in class, and I had not decided that these were topics I would be talking about. The choice was made for me. I was an apprentice, and this is what teaching was supposed to be like according to the program director.

I wonder if I would have made a similar choice for myself. I wonder if I, as a white man, would have chosen to have these conversations with my student. And I don’t think I would have. I was worried about being an effective teacher, and in an attempt to control the learning environment, to avoid unnecessary complications that I was poorly equipped to handle, I likely would have avoided talking about race, gender, power, education. I must admit that I would have avoided these topics, and I would have made a terrible mistake. In avoiding these topics, I would have been avoiding talking about life—there would be no substance.

Conformity and Rhetoric

What I learned about teaching from those early classes is that the diversity of perspectives that students have on controversial topics is a resource for educators and a boon for everyone in the classroom. While the texts that we studied were eloquent and profound, it was student responses that were eye opening.

In “Vernacular Rhetoric and Social Movements: Performance of Resistance in the Rhetoric of Everyday,” Gerard A. Hauser and erin daina mcclellan suggest a theoretical framework for analyzing the rhetoric of movements through multiple voices, not just through leaders and privileged voices. They explain, “a mature understanding of movement rhetoric must take into account the nature and persuasive powers of its vernacular rhetoric.” Movements are not homogenous, and thinking about what a movement wants is, in this way, flawed. Thinking about the many motives and perspectives that lead individuals to join in collective action seems very closely related to the way we should be thinking about our students.

The classroom is made up of many perspectives temporarily brought into alignment based on a shared goal. That goal is similar enough to constitute a cohesive action, but in many respects, the multivocal nature of the classroom is important to understand.

As educators, we may find ourselves tied in with a dominant narrative about what it means to be successful, what activities should be encouraged, what ideas are to be valued—but if our goal is to ensure each student is capable of pursuing their own interests, then we need to validate and value divergent, and at times contradictory, perspectives.

Sharon McKenzie Stevens highlights this tension in the next chapter, “Dreaming to Change Our Situation: Reconfiguring the Exigence for Student Writing.” Stevens explains the tension between inviting participation and setting boundaries that place “locate students at the margins of the university community.” The view of the university as a place that generates high quality research and scholarship leaves us with the perception that our students are not yet achieving what the university is designed for. Our students need to train and come into the work of the university. This is a flawed view.

If we see the university as a place of learning, then students are no longer on the edge, they are the center. Our students are engaged in the act of discovery and knowledge creation in the same ways that a veteran researcher is if they are invited to participate. Steven’s view of universities as places that “foster the emergence of new collectives” relies on the ability of universities to evolve based on the efforts of its members—it undermines the view of universities as focusing on prescribing norms.

Why teaching matters

Now, years later, I am interested in empowering my students. In part, I want to encourage them to take ownership over their own lives, but I also believe that teaching students about communication requires it.

The lofty goal of teaching students to communicate better is admirable and, in a sense, impractical. Communication does not follow a single set of rules that can simply be received and put into practice. If my students are going to be more successful communicators in the future, then they need to take ownership over the process from the beginning—which means everyone must listen a little more.