Visit the new home of Bedford Bits to find recent posts from our growing team of Bedford authors and top scholars: Andrea Lunsford, Nancy Sommers, Steve Bernhardt, Traci Gardner, Barclay Barrios, Jack Solomon, Susan Bernstein, Elizabeth Wardle, Doug Downs, Liz Losh, Jonathan Alexander, and Donna Winchell.
Bedford Bits is now part of The Macmillan English Community, a new professional development community where you’ll find an expanding collection of additional resources to support your teaching:
Read Bedford Bits blog posts
Sign up for webinars
Download resources that support your teaching– titles like Beth Hewett’s Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach, and Tara Lockhart and Mark Roberge’s Informed Choices: A Guide for Teachers of College Writing
The other week I wrote about the murders in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and about the urgent need for writing teachers everywhere to engage students in both the active pursuit of understanding, peace, and justice—of making something good happen in the world through their own writing and speaking—and in rhetorical analysis of the context and discourses surrounding such events.
Then came the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and President Barack Obama’s eulogy, at the conclusion of which he sang “Amazing Grace.”
If you have not watched the funeral and the eulogy, I urge you to do so now. I expect that teachers and students will be watching this eulogy for a long time to come: it is arguably one of Obama’s most powerful orations ever.
And then came many commentaries on and responses to the President’s eulogy, including that of writer, journalist, and correspondent forThe Atlantic James Fallows, with an analysis entitled “Obama’s Grace” (June 27, 2015).
Fallows’s analysis, along with President Obama’s eulogy, makes the beginnings of a terrific lesson in rhetorical power and rhetorical performance. As Fallows says, students need to watch and hear Obama’s oration rather than read it: here, the spoken word is crucial, allowing us to follow the oral rhythms, the pacing, the pauses, the crescendos, the depths and pinnacles of tone the President achieves. As they did in ancient Greece, the performative aspects of the eulogy—which are very strong and very instructive—link perfectly with the President’s message; in fact, they deliver that message as much as the words themselves, and perhaps even more.
As Fallows points out, Obama chooses grace as the unifying motif and theme of the eulogy, a “stroke of genius” on his part. In his analysis, Fallows traces the use of that word and allusions to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” showing how Obama carefully frames his remarks, even on policy, in light of that concept (rather than “justice” or “equity”). “We don’t earn grace,” said the President; “We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway.” Thus Obama gestures toward the act of forgiveness the survivors offered, rather than rate or hatred. “God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.” (Indeed, Obama uses what comes after those words in the hymn—“but now I [or we] see”—as a drum beat throughout the eulogy.
Fallows also attends to the cadences of the President’s speech and especially to the way he switches registers, or code-switches between African American and white ways of speaking. As Fallows puts it, “Sometimes he spoke almost as if he were an A.M.E. preacher, . . . [and sometimes as a] neutrally professional-class-white-American,” shifts that “illustrated his own bridging potential” for bringing people together.
What I’d like to do is work with students to listen and respond to Obama’s eulogy; then to read and respond to Fallows’s essay; and then to go back to the speech, listen to it again, and carry out their own rhetorical analysis. They can begin by looking closely at the elements Fallows discusses: the theme of grace, the shifts in register, and the use of religion, which Fallows says may open even those who hate him the most to the “grace of such a presentation.” But as teachers of writing and rhetoric know, there is so much more to be noted in this speech: the use of anaphora and other figures of speech; the bringing together of emotional, logical, and ethical appeals in connecting not only to the congregation in the church but to people around the world; the power of orality/aurality throughout, and especially in the conclusion, as he pauses long—and then begins to sing, slowly, “Amazing Grace.”
So, out of the horror and tragedy inflicted on the Emanuel AME Church, the Black community of Charleston, and throughout the country, this eulogy offers students of writing and speaking an opportunity to see how an attempt to change the national discourse actually works, and to examine their own discourses as well. That is one of the ultimate gifts of rhetoric: the ability not only to analyze the words and acts of others but to turn that same analytical power on ourselves and use what we learn to become better writers, better speakers, better people.
Now that my grandnieces Audrey (11) and Lila (7) are out of school for the summer, they are engaged in all manner of activities: Camp (the sleepover kind!), hip hop and tap, volleyball, and, of course, reading. Their school has a voluntary summer reading program, and for the last few years, Audrey has been one of the top readers, gaining mysterious points for every book read. This year, Lila will be joining her, and she’s reading up a storm too. As near as I can tell, their public school offers suggestions, but pretty much lets them read whatever they want. They both love the Dork Diaries books, and Audrey is deeply into The Babysitter volumes while Lila any books about animals. [read more]
Every week, I read Andrea’s Multimodal Mondays blog. I am as much a consumer of the amazing material posted by colleagues as I am a producer of my own content. Now that summer is upon us, I would like to use my space on the blog to explore expanding examples of multimodal composition, to ask “what counts,” as lessons, assignments, and writing opportunities for students. I also want to investigate how students themselves perceive their learning from multimodal compositions. [read more]
In the days that have passed since the murder of nine worshippers at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have been able to think of little else. Nine lives offered up to white supremacist hatred. I will not write or say the name of the murderer. He doesn’t deserve the distinction. [read more]
Last week, I proposed a compass-based activity for Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing classes. This week I’m sharing ten scenarios to use with last week’s ethical compass. Most of the scenarios have alternative solutions or choices that you can discuss beyond the simple choice of where the situation falls on the ethical compass. [read more]
We value collaboration in our classes and with digital tools we can involve students in meaningful communication and community building activities. With the support of digital tools and spaces, teachers can draw upon collaborative theories and practices to design engaging assignments and involve students in participatory learning. Google Drive and other online spaces allow students to communicate, manage teamwork and collaboratively revise documents and presentations. However, like all multimodal platforms, it is not enough to have the tools, we must teach students how to use them effectively and articulate their group processes for future successful collaboration. [read more]
I first met Brent Peters, English teacher from Fern Creek Traditional High School in Kentucky, when he was pursuing a Master’s degree at The Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, and I knew at first glance that I was talking to someone very special. As I got to know him better, I learned about the food literacy initiative Brent and colleague Joe Franzen were undertaking at their school. [read more]
Last week, I posted an activity where students compared codes of ethics from different disciplines. Today, I’m sharing an activity that asks students to apply those codes to some simple scenarios. It’s a bridge activity between examining the codes and discussing more detailed and complex case studies. Like last week’s post, this activity grew out of the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education. [read more]
For the last couple of years I’ve posted during late May or early June about “why I love spring term.” And now even though I am officially retired, I still love spring term, because it’s the time of so many celebrations of student accomplishments. A couple of weeks ago, Stanford had four celebrations for student writing—one for outstanding writing in the first-year course, one in the second-year course, one in the Writing in the Major course, and one for writing of students in the fairly new Science Writing notation program. In my view, we can never give too many awards, can never celebrate too much for the work our terrific students are doing. [read more]