e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


the local

Today I work my way through two stacks of papers from my two sections of Comp II. Students have been researching local issues all semester, blogging about those issues, creating visual representations of those issues, conducting interviews, and writing in a variety of genres about what is happening in their neighborhoods. But the final papers, and the assignment that they answer, take a relatively traditional approach, adopting the genre of the academic essay, citing sources, making an argument.

Some write about blight and public school closings in the city. Some write about art and culture, tackling graffiti and the Heidelberg Project. Some stay very close to home, offering analyes of preservation efforts at Lake St. Clair and the quality of recycling programs in various suburbs and the need to clean up the Rouge River. Some are interested in state-wide concerns like shifting policies in the high-stakes world of standardized testing.

Of course I'm disappointed in some of the papers (with one more round of revision, this could have packed more punch, I sometimes find myself saying), but I also see some effective rhetoric. And I've also learned a few things about what's the haps around Metro Detroit. I'm interested in the topics that students choose to write about and the ways that emphasizing "the local" creates more personal investment. "News," to many first-year students at my institution, usually means some kind of abstraction, something happening in a distant place. Distant, that is, from their own urban or suburban communities. I'm glad that the students have been to school-board meetings (including the one in Detroit where an outraged citizen pelted board members with grapes) and interviewed persons on their city councils instead of just pulling articles from the library's databases.

I've never been a big believer in The Research Paper, at least when the term references a genre invented solely for the classroom and a process that involves index cards and ProQuest and lectures about plagiarism. But I've gotten more confident in the value of *using* research for broader purposes: namely, mapping and writing one's community, and intervening in local "issues."

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