Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing the Word and the world

Morrell, E. (March 2003) “Writing the Word and the World: Critical literacy as critical textual production.” Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (54th, New York, NY, March 19-22, 2003).

Summary: Ernest Morrell is an associate professor of Urban School at UCLA where he focuses on literacy theory and cultural and ethnic studies. His thesis is that writing critical text (i.e. persuasive or informative research texts) is an act of resistance and a tool for social change. He argues that teaching writing should be more than just teaching essay structure, grammar, etc. It’s about empowering and preparing students “for writing lives as engaged citizens and not just university students or future professionals” (7). He argues that “writing can be about re-making and re-articulating reality,” agreeing with the long-held belief that “those who have the power to manipulate language have the power to rule the world” (7). In other words, he advocates using composition classes as a way to produce critical texts for social change. Drawing from the work of Freire, he offers some core tenets in achieving this goal grounded in student experience, real world problems, interaction with real people, a confrontation with social injustice and oppression, and a plan of action. He has used these tenets in the creation of a summer program for incoming West Coast University students from underrepresented schools in Los Angeles where they research and write about various social issues that they feel compelled to advocate for. He provides an outline of the writing assignment as well as a reflection on some of his struggles in implementing this course (for example, finding the right balance between control and freedom/spontaneity for the class) . Finally, he notes how invested the students become in their research when the topic is something they feel strongly about, staying up until all hours of the night during their summer vacation to complete this assignment : “They are not writing for approval or evaluation. They believe, and rightly so, that their words matter” (24).
Response: I feel like Morrell articulated everything I’ve been thinking and my whole approach and mission in teaching writing throughout the years. He just took it a few steps further. The whole focus of my curriculum this year is to look at how language is used as a tool of oppression and rebellion – and this is exactly what he’s talking about, but just on a larger scale. In addition, I noticed that there are several elements in his approach that support HTH design principles – making the work relevant, presenting to a larger audience, connecting to the adult world through interviews and lectures, etc.
This is a source that I plan to follow up on – both in finding some of his publications and in contacting him to see if he can offer any guidance. I think that he could be an invaluable resource for me as there are so many similarities in our approach and mission in teaching writing.
Relevant quotes/concepts:
• “There can be no liberation of self or other without tools or language to perform counter-readings of dominant texts that serve the interests of power” (5).
• “Critical literacy instruction needs to be fundamentally concerned with the consumption, production, and distribution of texts; counter-texts that…serve as the manifestation of an alternative reality or a not-yet-realized present that only enters into the imagination through the interaction with new and authentically liberating words that are created by writers as cultural workers” (6)
• “Students do not only need the tools of writing, they need a purpose for writing that extends beyond scholastic or professional success on the one hand, and a better understanding of themselves on the other hand. What students need is an association of composition with advocacy, with activism, with empowerment, and with revolution” (22) (YES!!!)


Stacey Caillier said...

I love the connections you made in this between a critical literacy approach and the HTH design principles and project-based learning. I don't know that anyone has written publicly about the connections in this way (and they should - maybe it will be you!)

Stacey Caillier said...

Also, some of the key folks I mentioned who are in New Literacy Studies are James Paul Gee (Speaker Series last year), Brian Street, and many more. I have a great article I'll bring you tonight!

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