Writing for Justice, Writing to Resist Power


Course Description

The American writer and educator J. Mitchell Morse observed: “To the extent that the establishment depends on the inarticulacy of the governed, good writing is inherently subversive” (The Irrelevant English Teacher, pg. vii, 1972). The first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, argued in his most famous essay that the power of the powerless is to live in truth. In this course, students do two things: 1) act as a voice of witness by writing the story or stories of injustice and 2) practice the art of self-expression through writing in order to live in truth—in other words, to use writing as a way to confront, resist, and subvert power.

 

Composition courses focused on academic and public discourse grant students access to power by teaching them how to participate within existing discourse communities. However, because such courses focus on how to work within existing institutions of power, they do not question or challenge the nature of those institutions. In stark contrast, this course is not about solving problems or even argumentation—it is about writing in order to speak truth to power and act as a witness to injustice. 


Assignments

The assignment trajectory quickly leads students to begin writing personal essays and narratives on a public blog. As they blog, readings and classroom discussions examine the genres of the personal essay and narrative and how contemporary and past storytelling from slave narrative to the Voice of Witness series to blogs like "The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez" give witness to injustice.

 

1.  Identify Injustice - students brainstorm and identify injustice or abuse of

     power that exists in their community, city, or state

2.  Research the Issue - students reserach and identify the causes and other

     circumstances surrounding their issue. Is the general public misinformed

     about the issue or is it invisible to them?

3.  Create a blog - students create a website where they write about the injustice or

     abuse of power by documenting their experiences or the experiences of others


Readings

Required Texts:

1.  A book of the student's choosing from the Voice of Witness series.

2.  Crafting The Personal Essay  by Dinty W. Moore. Writer's Digest Books, 2010.

3.  The Elements of Style  by Strunk and White (any edition)

 

Additional Readings:

1.  "The Power of the Powerless"  by Vaclav Havel

2.  "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"  by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

3.  How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York  by Jacob

     Riis (1890)

4.  "The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez" by Emily Bonderer Cruz

     http://therealhousewifeofciudadjuarez.blogspot.com/

5.  Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 

     by the Works Progress Administration (WPA)


Writing for Justice and to Resist Power

The American writer and educator J. Mitchell Morse observed: “To the extent that the establishment depends on the inarticulacy of the governed, good writing is inherently subversive” and the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, argued in his most famous essay that the power of the powerless is to live in truth. In this course, students practice the art of self-expression through writing in order to live in truth—in other words, to use writing as a way to confront, resist, and subvert power.   read more