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Teaching after Hurricane Sandy

posted: 12.3.12 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

Many years ago, while I was working on the third edition of Teaching Developmental Writing, I used to write in a now-closed coffee shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Jonathan Alexander. Jonathan was working on Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies. We would write intensively for several hours, then head across the state line to a taqueria in Kentucky. In the midst of those long and precious writing days, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, places where Jonathan grew up and still had family. Jonathan headed home with the photojournalist John Hughes, and the two of them created an article for the local alternative weekly newspaper. The following spring, Jonathan came to speak with my students about his experiences in the aftermath of Katrina, and we also spoke about our experience of writing together, of the significance of building a support system for the writing process. One of the students had taken part in the Ohio National Guard cleanup efforts in Mississippi and created her own photo essay, which she shared with the class. In those moments, we experienced the profound sense that we were living through history.

There was no coming to terms with what happened in New Orleans, neither the destruction, nor worse still, the abandonment of the city’s people to Katrina’s aftermath of toxic floodwaters and oppressive late-summer heat and humidity. I will never forget what Jonathan told me when he returned from New Orleans. The destruction of the city was beyond description and co-existing with that fact was the peculiar feeling of returning to Cincinnati where all seemed “normal.” Normalness, Jonathan suggested, now seemed an illusion, strange and temporary. Our surroundings could change at any time, with no notice, with the power of nature over which we had no control. The material world we took for granted could be swept away in the blink of an eye. [read more]

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