Citizenship, the Narrative Imagination, and Good Writing

February 1, 2001

The purpose of this course is to develop further your writing skills and to prepare you for the academic writing assignments you will encounter in courses over the next four years. We will attend closely to writing as a process that involves reading critically and actively; developing ideas from the service learning projects and in response to class discussions; clarifying ideas and arguments through pre-writing worksheets; and shaping them into rhetorically effective formal texts.

For each unit in the course, we will follow the same trajectory: you will do lots and lots of informal writing in response to readings, projects, and class discussions, often shared with others. There will be reading logs and pre-writing worksheets. You will complete a full draft of each formal essay that will go through peer review and copy-editing processes, as you polish a final text that presents claims and arguments to readers with force and clarity.

The writing always takes place within the public space of the classroom. You will share your own writing as well as read the texts of your peers. Your writing skills will improve by seeing how others write, by locating your ideas against or alongside theirs, by analyzing rhetorical contexts of writing, and by getting direct feedback from readers about how your text are/are not working. Some of this informal writing will take place electronically on a class listserv.

Course Rationale:
To set up the context for this course, here are some quotations from the Syracuse Post-Standard from August 12, 1999:

“State police are still investigating another Woodstock incident in which some troopers posed with naked women in the festival campgrounds while their colleagues quelled a riot several hundred yards away.”

“India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers for the past year, have fought three wars since they won independence in 1947. The second of these conflicts, in 1965, began in the Sir Creek area with both sides claiming that the other was intruding. Recently, the two nations seemed on the brink of yet another war as Pakistan-backed infiltrators seized mountaintop positions within the Indian state of Kashmir.”

“The Protestant group Apprentice Boys received approval Wednesday to hold a controversial march this weekend past a Catholic district in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.”

“Russia intensified its air and ground offensives Wednesday against Islamic separatists in the southern Caucasus Mountains, and the rebels said two Chechen warlords were leading their campaign.”

“A controversy over a gay Eagle Scout in Rhode Island has prompted a local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America to acknowledge publicly that a Scout can be a homosexual – as long as he doesn’t advertise it.”

“Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr., 37, said he wanted the attack [on a Jewish Community Center in L.A.] to be a ‘wake-up call to America to kill Jews,’ said an anonymous FBI source…. Asked what might have motivated Tuesday’s shootings, [Aryan Nations founder Richard] Butler replied: ‘The war against the white race. There’s a war of extermination against the white male.”

“There is a new impetus for a federal hate-crimes law in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Jewish day-care center shootings. The suspect, Buford O’Neal Furrow, Jr., 37, reportedly sympathizes with white supremacists. The incident is the kind of crime envisioned by supporters of hate-crimes legislation to permit wider federal prosecution of such acts.”

These news stories raise all kinds of fundamental questions that we will address together in this course about how we can come to know others who differ from along all kinds of lines, such as race, gender, class, sexuality, age, and disability.

How do we recognize differences, while still respecting others as capable and contributing people? In an increasingly segregated society, how do we meet or get to know others? How do we address the fear and anger that acknowledging difference may produce? In what ways do we move beyond us/them binaries as a way of organizing the world? Are the representations of others available in the media and in popular culture useful or reductively stereotypical, as when figures like “the welfare mother” or “the Islamic militant” or “the violent teen super-predator” serve as our only reference points? In an SU classroom, where we seem to have so much in common, how do differences emerge and get represented? How do we communicate effectively with others, recognizing differences yet working collectively toward a more just world and a more workable democracy?

[1] Relating to and Representing Others

The first hypothesis for this course is that fundamental to questions of citizenship and to good writing is respecting others as capable and contributing members of a multicultural society. Then we work toward seeing significant differences among people while not denigrating those differences or reducing others to caricature. For democracy to work and for real communication to occur, I am suggesting that we accord the status of person to all others:

“It matters greatly … to whom we, as members of this society accord the status of person. I mean by that: Who do we, as members of this society, see and act toward as capable? Who do we see and act toward as contributing? Who do we know to have, as we know ourselves to have, hopes and fears, joys and struggles? Who do we recognize to have, as we know ourselves to have, the strong desire to have our lives mean something, the deep desire to add some measure of worth to the world? Who do we recognize to have, as we know ourselves to have, the urgent hope that we can shelter and protect and make opportunity for those we love? Who do we know to be, as we know ourselves to be, vulnerable to loss and grief, vulnerable to pride and shame, vulnerable to the extremes of our own passions?”
-Patricia F. Carini, “In the Thick of the Tangle What Clear Line Persists” in Schools in the Making (in press)

When we accord the status of person to others, we recognize their legal and ethical rights, and see them as fellow-citizens in our collective struggle toward a more just society. We become a better democracy.

When we accord the status of person to others, we deliberate with them with respect, we listen with care and concern, we speak openly and honestly and directly, without reducing others to stereotype or caricature or abjection. We become better speakers and writers.

[2] The Narrative Imagination

The second hypothesis for this course is that the basic way that we understand ourselves and others is through the act of narration. We construct and reconstruct the story of our own lives from the particular standpoint and through the particular discourses we have been born into and come to assume as natural or given. We tell and retell that story, to ourselves and to others, as we make sense of the world and as we participate in it in meaningfully ways. We also engage and come to know others through the acts of story telling in fiction, film, poetry, anecdote, memoir, interview, oral histories, family stories, and memory. Within communities, we tell larger stories: what it means to be Native American or Italian, what it means to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, what it means to be g citizen of a first world country like the US, or what it means to identify others as allies or enemies or threats.

But there is a danger to stories. They can and often do become reduced to ideologies, or official narratives, that reduce a complex world to simple tales of good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. Then stories can be used to perpetuate hegemonic power relations, social injustice, and material inequity, and to shield us from important realities.

For democracy to work and communication to occur, we must open up new imaginative possibilities and recharge desire:

“This book is about desire and daily life. I began it because I needed a way of thinking about poetry outside of writing poems; and about the society I was living and writing in, which smelled to me of timidity, docility, demoralization, acceptance of the unacceptable. In the general public disarray of thinking, of feeling, I saw an atrophy of our power to imagine other ways of navigating into our collective future. I was not alone in this perception, but I felt it with a growing intensity, especially as the Cold War, which had occupied so much of the political horizon of my life, began to unravel. It seemed that a historic imaginative opportunity was passing through and that, in the stagnation and dissolution of public life, it might be grasped at weakly, if at all. Some people, indeed, spoke of claiming a ‘peace dividend,’ of turning the billions of Cold War dollars toward curing the social lesions within our borders, even toward creating, at last, a democracy without exceptions, that was really for us all. But the major (in the sense of the most visible and audible) conduits of public dialogue in the United States have had little aptitude – or use – for framing such visions, or the policies that might emerge from them. I knew – had long known – how poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire.”
-Adrienne Rich, Preface, What is Found There (xiii-xiv)

Over the semester, in this course, we will use the act of storytelling and stories to disrupt those official narratives, to open us up to the viewpoints of others and to perspectives that widen our sense of possibility. We will write stories, interview others to understand and to be responsible for representing their stories, and read stories together, as the basis for writing formal argumentative essays. In this way, stories — and the ideas and claims they raise — can deconstruct narrow us/them binaries and decenter our own narratives by engaging us imaginatively with others. By exploring and writing and analyzing stories together, by moving these ideas into formal essays, we can become better citizens and better writers.

[3] Service Learning and Citizenship

The third hypothesis for this course is that service learning, in conjunction with course readings and class discussion and lots of writing, is one way to accomplish the civic learning necessary for a multicultural democracy.

“The literacy required to live in civil society, the competence to participate in democratic communities, the ability to think critically and act deliberately in a pluralistic world, the empathy that permits us to hear and thus accommodate others, all involve skills that must be acquired.”
-Benjamin Barber, Prologue, An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America (p. 4)

The purpose of the service learning is not charity, but citizenship: it is about learning the skills and knowledge important for all of us in our collective struggle for a more functional democracy and a more just society. The purpose is also to provide real-life rhetorical situations in which to practice the writing skills important for producing clear, effective, and responsible texts.

You will all be required to complete 20 hours of community service over the course of the semester. Pam Heintz and her staff at the Center for Public and Community Service (CPCS) will work with us to set up placements and help arrange for transportation, when necessary. The CPCS will work with your interests and skills to ensure the most rewarding community-based learning experiences for you.

Course Readings:
course reader under my name at Marshall Square Copy Center
A Pocket Style Manual, 2nd ed. by Diane Hacker

Writing Assignments and Grading:

reading logs (10 at 2 points each) 20 points
?site journal (and listserv) 10 points
Formal Essay #1 (3 pages) 15 points
Formal Essay #2 (5 pages) 20 points
Formal Essay #3 (7 pages) 25 points
Reflective Essay (3 pages) 10 points

Other Requirements:

This course involves a lot of talk and collective work, so your attendance, preparation, and participation for each class is required. I expect you to be in class, ready to go, every class session. If your attendance or participation begins to lag or fall off, I will lower your final course grade accordingly. Plagiarism, obviously, will not be tolerated and could result in your failing the course.

If you have special considerations, please see me right away, so we can accommodate them. If you have questions about your grade in the course or other concerns, feel free to set up an appointment with so we can discuss them.

Schedule: This schedule represents my best guess at how the semester will go. If, as a class, we decide to take some other turn or if the sequence/timing doesn’t work out, we’ll discuss and agree on changes in class together.


8/31 (Tu): course introduction; student introductions

9/2 (Th): discuss the SU recruiting video and aims of the course

Unit #1: Relating to and Representing Others (Syracuse University)

9/7 (Tu): map the campus (what’s here, who’s here)
set up class listserv
visit from CPCS representative

9/9 (Th): view/discuss “Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti” and “Fast Food Women”
DUE: service learning choices and learning goals

9/14 (Tu): set up observations (sites, strategies, texts)

9/16 (Th): discuss “Portraits of People with AIDS” by Douglas Crimp in Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to AIDS edited by Domna C. Stanton (pp. 362–388)
DUE: reading log

9/21 (Tu): set up interviews (people, questions, texts)

9/23 (Th): discuss excerpt from “Challenging Orthodoxy and Authority” from Culture and Imperialism by Edward W. Said (pp. 309-325)

DUE: reading log

9/28 (Tu): DUE: worksheet for Formal Essay #1

9/30 (Th): DUE: full draft of Formal Essay #1 for peer review

Unit #2: The Narrative Imagination (service learning sites)

1015 (Tu): share stories about sites
DUE: Formal Essay #1 (3 pages) (on disk for class magazine)

10/7 (Th): discuss “In the Thick of the Tangle What Clear Line Persists” by Patricia F. Carini from Schools in the Making [add some poems and short stories too]
DUE: reading log

10/12 (Tu): analyze stories about sites

10/14 (Th): discuss “Ideological Analysis and Television” by Mimi White from Channels of Discourse (pp. 120-148)
[add some poems and short stories too]
DUE: reading log

10/19 (Tu): chart patterns/differences about sites

10/21 (Th): discuss “The Gift Community” from The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde (pp. 74-92)
DUE: reading log

10/26 (Tu): DUE: worksheet for Formal Essay #2

10/28 (Th): DUE: full draft of Formal Essay #2 for peer review

Unit #3: Service Learning and Citizenship

11/2 (Tu): begin unit
DUE: Formal Essay #2 (5 pages)

11/4 (Th): discuss “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Contract” by Robert D. Putnam in the Journal of Democracy 6:1 (1995) 65-78
DUE: reading log

11/9 (Tu): discuss Introduction from The Call to Service by Robert Coles (pp.?-?)
DUE: reading log

11/11 (Th): discuss “Democracy and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery Store” by John Mueller from Critical Choices for America reader for MAX 101 (1994) (pp. 13-29)
DUE: reading log

11/16 (Tu): discuss “Teaching Democracy through Community Service” by Benjamin Barber from An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America (pp. 230-261)
DUE: reading log

11/18 (Th): discuss materials on service learning from CPCS at Syracuse
DUE: reading log

11/23 (Tu): no class; student conferences

11/25 (Th): no class; Thanksgiving vacation

11/30 (Tu): DUE: worksheet for Formal Essay #3

12/2 (Th): DUE: full draft of Formal Essay #3 for peer review

Final Week
12/7 (Tu): final class discussion
DUE: Formal Essay #3 (7 pages)

12/9 (Th): DUE: Final Reflection Essay #4 (3 pages): assess the three organizing hypotheses of this course (see course rationale)

School: Syracuse University
Professor: Margaret Himley
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