Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Green Writing

In his book, Sustainability and Composition: Teaching for a Threatened Generation (2001), Derek Owens writes about the absence of sustainability discourse in composition and writing studies classrooms (and in many other academic fields, as well). Composition courses often allow space for consciousness-raising; however, more of than not, the consciousness-raising pertains to what Owens calls "the triad of race/class/gender." Sustainability-- one of the biggest issues we face in the modern world-- is missing from the curriculum.

I am often intimidated by notions of "green" or "ecofriendly" because as a middle class consumer, I feel hypocritical talking about "tree-hugger" issues, but Owens really puts the power for change in the hands of the teachers and students. He reminds us that to take some action is better than to take no action at all.

Owens believes that the absence of sustainability, both in academia and the world at large, has the potential to be devastating, if it hasn't already done irreversible harm. A society that does not plan for the future cannot expect to survive for long. The problems of unsustainable culture can be seen every day. Aside from the scientific evidence of global warming, the harmful effects of pollution and overcrowding, our consumer culture (consumer being a word that suggests a lack of sustainability) suffers "workpain" and "hyperboredom." We hate our jobs, and yet, we want to work. Furthermore, the lack of social space created by poor city planning creates extreme ennui in teenagers and seniors, who need "common space" most (and, I would argue, in adults and children, as well). According to Owens, in general, we are both unhappy and not meeting the needs of the future. We are creating an impact with no regards for consequences. In effect, we are destroying our world and ourselves.

Some of the pedagogical practices Owens suggests for composition courses that deal with sustainability are:
  • "lower education": writing about the material or from the ground up, rather than only in or about abstract concepts
  • local/location-centered and ethnographic writing: writing about the places and communities from which students come
  • future-oriented inquiry: students literally write about the future as they instinctively believe it will unfold and are conscious of the future
  • interdisciplinary work
  • an appreciation for the work of generalists and specialists, not just the latter
  • collaboration
  • "think globally, act locally, and plan regionally"
Overall, I actually found Owens' book to be a page-turner, which rarely happens with book-length works of theory. My post probably does his work little justice. Whether an English teacher or not, "green" or not, I'd recommend that every teacher read this book (or at the very least, the first two chapters)! It will truly make you reconsider the world and the classroom.


The Torg said...

Yes, I liked this book a lot too. At the moment, I'm remembering about Owens talking about how much he liked his job and what a novel idea that was to so many of his students, that someone would like their work.

I'm also thinking about all the student voices in the text. Readers/Teachers so often respond to student voices. Put them in the texts you write about teach. Not that you need to be told that.

The Torg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NP said...

It's going to be a terrible world if everyone picks jobs that they consider simply "work" and find it neither enjoying nor fulfilling. Personally, I love both of my jobs-- teaching and tutoring.

How do you keep students' voices in the texts you write about?