e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



The weekend brought a little break from my recent 'civic engagement' reading frenzy. Friday night Nicole and I met our good friends Jim and Janice for dinner and then they came back to our place and played cards until one a.m. Saturday Nicole had several client meetings at her office so I tagged along and got some reading done (ok, the weekend hasn't been a total break). Last night we watched the first disc of season two of Weeds, the excellent and often twisted series about a pot-selling soccer mom. Today after church, I've got some vegetable soup brewing on the stove. For some reason, I love soup in the summertime. Probably has to do with all the fresh vegetables that abound. Today's soup boasts carrots, celery, onion, garlic, zucchini, cauliflower, corn (right off the cob), some of Anna's home-dried hot pepper flakes, and a big handful of barley. The barley comes from my new 'stuff to use up before moving' cupboard.


new blog up and running

I've begun posting reading notes over at my other webspace. The site you're on right now will still be my regular, day-to-day blog, but the other site will be thoughts, ideas, and (mostly) reading notes as I start to work on my new project. I just got my IRB approval today for the new research, which will take place this fall in conjunction with the 'Writing for Civic Literacy' class.

Last year, an oral historian at UM-D, Georgina Hickey, and her students completed a Civic Engagement Audit on our campus. One of their findings was that faculty and students had very different definitions of concepts like 'community' and 'civic duty.' Faculty had a lot of misconceptions about student perspectives, according to the audit, including the misconception that students didn't have time for or interest in community service, activism, etc. Students, on the other hand, expressed some level of committment to these things. This disconnect seems to cry out for further elaboration. Hence the present research.

Students in my class are going to be doing project-based community service work, doing professional writing projects for a residential foster facility in Detroit. They'll also be writing reflectively about their experience and analytically about the social issues they engage with at the site. I plan to study the writing they do (especially the reflective stuff), and also to conduct interviews with students throughout the term, to try to understand what students think of notions of civics.

So I've been doing some reading this summer in anticipation of the project. Although the posts at my other site are mostly ways for me to chart what I'm reading, feel free to check it out.


lookin' for a home

Tonight Nicole and I looked at five houses and didn't really fall in love with any of them. Probably a good thing. We fell in love with an old Victorian home in Ohio four years ago and ended up 1) spending more than we should have, and 2) losing money when we sold the place two years later. We're not too picky. A dining room and a decent-sized kitchen are musts, but, aside from that, we're open to possibilities. Nothing in a subdivision! Nothing in a neighborhood where you choose from three or four different stepford wife floorplans! You can find some nice colonials from the 1920s in Royal Oak: nice woodwork, maybe some built-in bookshelves. Our realtor is surprised that we *prefer* such homes. Little did he know that every article of clothing I was wearing tonight, aside from the ratty, six-year-old Converse all-stars, came from garage sales. What a shame that, as a culture, our wastefulness has even made its way into the real estate realm. Even with the sorry state of Michigan's economy (thanks W!), older homes seem to mean "starter homes." As in, "this is a nice place to get you guys started." Sigh.


Anton Corbijn's 'Control'--a biopic about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis--got a lot of attention at Cannes. Wish there was a U.S. release date for the film.


tentative syllaus for Composition 364

Composition 364: Writing for Civic Literacy
(Cross-Listed: Communication 364, English 364)

Required Text: Donald Lazere, Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy

“Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” –Marian Wright Edelman

Welcome to Writing for Civic Literacy, a course designed to empower you to use high-level literacy skills to become more engaged with the world around you. You will study how politicians, members of the media, and critical citizens use language to inform others, advance agendas, and promote social issues. You will learn genres of writing—including semantic analysis and argument—that will help you become a more active citizen. You will perform community service in Metro Detroit and use that experience as an object of analysis, researching the social context in which community agencies operate and critically situating your observations of the work sites. Finally, you will collaborate with your classmates and with community agencies on real-world writing projects.

Academic Service Learning

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse writes, “Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Students in academic service learning courses perform hands-on work at non-profit agencies like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other sites and connect that experience to concepts they are learning in the classroom. Academic service learning is not volunteering; rather, students learn by doing and gain a more sophisticated understanding of academic concepts by applying knowledge in a real setting. Further, service learning instills a sense of civic duty in students by providing you with resources, confidence, and a knowledge base for engaging with pressing community needs.

This course has a service learning component. You are required to spend ten hours during the course of the semester engaged in direct service (i.e., performing hands-on work) for our community partner or another community agency of your choosing. If you opt to serve a site other than our community partner, I ask that you have your agency approved by me as early in the term as possible. In addition to the ten hours of direct service, you will collaborate with your classmates and with the agency in project-based work—completing a meaningful writing project that fulfills an agency need. You may complete the project-based work with our community partner or with another agency of your choosing. If you choose to complete a project with an agency other than our community partner, please have the project approved by me as early in the term as possible.

Community Partner

St. Peter’s Home for Boys — http://www.sphb.org/ — is a residential foster care facility where teen-aged boys live and, in some cases, go to school. Located on Joy Road on Detroit’s southwest side (about a ten-minute drive from campus, north on Southfield and then east on Joy), SPHB provides a residence for about 25 wards of state, many of whom come from abusive or neglectful homes. Some go offsite to public schools and some remain onsite for GED and/or basic skills courses. SPHB relies on public and private sources of funding and also on the services of volunteers who tutor residents, organize programs and activities like golf and chess, and maintain the facility.

SPHB has graciously agreed to partner with our class, providing a real-world laboratory for learning about how social service agencies meet community needs. SPHB will also provide students a forum in which to complete writing projects, thereby aiding in your ability to become more literate and giving you valuable experience that you may put on a resume or graduate/law/medical school application. The writing that you complete will also become a valuable addition to a portfolio, an invaluable component of job applications in fields like public relations, journalism, publishing, and education.

Ethical service learning relationships rely on the concept of reciprocity. In other words, the relationship works both ways. SBHB provides you with many valuable opportunities for meaningful learning as well as professional growth and advancement and you reciprocate by provide them with labor. Both your direct service and your project-based service must be meaningful and substantial. You should make good faith efforts to meet the needs of the agency and, by extension, the boys they serve and the broader community.

Assignments/Grading Scale

Your workload in Composition 364 primarily consists of three sets of tasks:

1. Completing assigned readings and preparing for class discussions
This should be self-explanatory. Read critically and be prepared to discuss readings from our course text.

2. Performing community service and completing your Real-World Writing Project
Complete at least ten hours of direct service at SPHB. This might include tutoring, cleaning up the ground, or any other tasks. You may perform this service individually or in groups. Maintain a community service journal in which you record experiences, observations, frustrations, and victories as a volunteer. I’ll collect your journal periodically during the term. Further, in consultation with the SPHB staff, plan and carry out a writing project that will be of use to the agency. This might include a series of articles or other content for the SPHB website, a SPHB newsletter, or a legislative advocacy plan.

3. Complete a semester-long inquiry on a social issue of your choosing
Do some research on an issue related to the work you are doing at SPHB. You might want to research the implications of non-profits shifting to a business model. Or you might want to look into changes in state funding to social services. Other issues might include problems with foster care in Michigan, the racial dynamics of the foster system, violence and “boys culture” in contemporary society, and so forth. Gather research materials and maintain an annotated
bibliography of your sources. Analyze those sources in two mini-papers (‘Semantic Analysis’ and ‘Political Bias Analysis Paper’). Complete a researched argument of your own by the end of the term.

Grading Scale:
Reflection Journal 5%
Real World Writing Project 30%
Semantic Analysis 15%
Annotated Bibliography 10%
Political Bias Analysis 15%
Researched Argument 25%


keeping current: Teaching About Writing.

I do a fair amount of skimming of journal articles. Necessity, I suppose, but then I feel guilty when I read Entertainment Weekly cover-to-cover. I mean, if a journal article takes up issues related to class or race, critical pedagogy, open-admissions teaching, material rhetorics, civic rhetoric, or service learning, I'll almost certainly give the piece a thorough read. And I always at the very least familiarize myself with the arguments of articles in the journals I subscribe to (Rhetoric Review, jac, WPA, College English, TETYC, and CCC). But that familiarizing process sometimes involves the S word: skimming. However, the new issues of College English and CCC have a read 'em cover-to-cover appeal. And, in between grading OWP portfolios (I have one more to go!), I've worked my way though both (go me). Some thoughts:

Downs and Wardle, "Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning 'First-Year Composition' as 'Introduction to Writing Studies.'" CCC 58 (2007): 552-584. This one's getting massive amounts of attention on the WPA list. Downs and Wardle propose teaching comp as an intro to current research in the field of comp studies, and report early data from a series of pilot courses that do just that. Interesting stuff, but I wonder about the (too easy, too pat) analogy the authors make between comp and other introductory courses. The piece implies that introducing students to research in a given discipline is standard and/or default practice in 101-type courses. Not so in a lot of "foundational" type subject areas. Math and foriegn language courses seem comfortable (though I'm not aware of disciplinary debates in those worlds) with workshop and even how-to pedagogies.

Not that the analogy between comp and these courses is a perfect one, but, still, I think it's important to acknowelge that intro courses do a wide variety of things. And very few intro courses ask students to conduct primary disciplinary research in those fields (one of the big things that Downs and Wardle propose). Natural science courses, I suppose, do something like this in labs, but that kind of work seems more like kinesthetic strategies to illustrate scientific principles or do a scaled-down version of what chemists do. And social science courses, too, sometimes assign mini-ethnographies, for instance. So I see the analogy, to a degree. But my point is that the purpose of intro courses if often highly contested. Some intro psych courses have a humanistic pedagogy (let's read Man's Search for Meaning and talk about esoteric concerns) while some have a primary research pedagogy (let's get IRB approval and conduct experiments). Intro philosophy courses, I suspect (and I'm guessing here), are as varied as any disciplines' intro courses: some foreground argumentation, some foreground moral dilemmas, some take a literary or historical or survey approach, etc.

The piece offers a nice overview of misconceptions about writing, too, notably the mistaken notions that Academic Writing means something univeral or monolithic and that "skill" automatically transfers from a semester or two into other courses/contexts. Yes, these are misconceptions...but I don't know how the switch to "intro to writing studies" will fix this problem. I don't know if a switch in pedagogies will have such a seismic cultural (or even campus) impact. Especially given the unlikelihood (impossibility?) that this new curriculum will be universally adopted.

Finally, I question adopting this pedagogy as a means for improving the status of the field. A lot of folks don't understand or take seriously research in the field. True. And Downs/Wardle give some good instances of this, from goverment reports to for-profit standardized tests, both of which ignore our research and its implications. Yes, we all know colleagues on our campus who don't acknowledge disciplinary authority of rhet/comp (I've heard several people on my campus disparagingly say this about a rhet/comp person who used to work here: "she thought she was some kind of expert on writing"...DUH!! SHE WAS!!). We've got a p.r. problem, a political problem, and an authority problem. But I worry about changing teaching methods in order to 'send a message.' I'll speak out on committees (moreso once I have tenure). I'll urge my elected representatives to support education policy that's consistent with what we know about literacy. I'll criticizde standardized tests that are reductive and that hurt students. But I don't think I want to make curricular decisions for reasons aside from what I think will challenge students and benefit them in a variety of contexts. I don't think Downs/Wardle are against any of these things. On the contrary, I think they've developed strategies that are interesting and challenging. But the point remains: there's an ethical question here (one I would have liked to see the article contend with) when we're 'teaching to legitimize.'

Finally, and I'm going to reveal my own expressivist tendencies here, I'm not sure how these strategies get at the magic of language. I'm fresh off of my Writing Project work right now, so I'm probably allowing the expressivist side to speak more loudly than usual, but I do feel strongly about devoting some fy comp time to dealing with voice, expression, and, yes, creativity. I know this isn't a language that's widely accepted, but, I guess, at the end of the day, it's (part of) how I roll.

Would like to say more about Shannon Carter's piece on teaching in the Bible Belt in the new CE which is interesting, but time's short. Also highly recomended: Chaput and Powers on academic freedom, which is in CCC. Cathy Chaput's an old grad school mate of mine and does great work using marxist theory to look at the political economy of higher ed. In fact, U of Arizona's well-represented in the new CCC (go RCTE!).

another call to end the Iraq war

Look at the U.S. Catholic Bishops doing the right thing:

The U.S. bishops have agreed to meet with a group of Catholic House Democrats to
discuss how to pursue the goal of a "responsible transition" to end the war in

They also reiterated their call for members of Congress and the Bush
administration to break the political stalemate in Washington and "forge
bipartisan policies on ways to bring about a responsible transition and an end
to the war."

"The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable and unsustainable,"
wrote Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the bishops'
Committee on International Policy, in a July 17 letter to Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio.
A copy of the letter was released July 18 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic

Not big news or anything. Though extremely conservative (the Catholic church's leadership and rank-and-file is much more liberal virtually everywhere else in the world, especially Europe and Latin America), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been extremely critical of the war, and of course the former Pope condemned the invasion--a condemnation that was mostly ignored by both the media and by U.S.American Catholics. But it's reassuring to see these kinds of statements, though I wonder how much moral authority and credibility U.S. Bishops have in many people's eyes, especially on the heels of the L.A. settlement.


the abuse scandal

The Catholic Church's ongoing struggle with abusive and predatory priests returned to the news this week, as the L.A. archdiocese agreed on a $660 million settlement. By virtually all accounts, the diocese decided to settle because Cardinal Roger Mahony was about to be called to testify under oath. The diocese allowed the case to stretch on and on and on until faced with the inevitability of its leader being compelled to tell the truth in public. Mahony's involvement in covering up abuse is well-documented in the incredible film Deliver Us From Evil, one of the saddest pieces of work I've ever seen. It's difficult to watch, but I highly recommend it.

Time and again, the pattern in these cases is cover up the abuse, smear the victims, and claim anti-Catholic sentiment and anti-Catholic media are to blame. I've followed the abuse stories very closely in large part because my high school (a seminary boarding school) was at the center of one of the highest profile sex abuse scandals. We even made the cover of Time Magazine. The story broke in December of 1992, just six months after I graduated from the school. I was home from college for the holidays when a friend called and told me to put on CNN. A rather large group of former students brought pedophilia charges against several priests and brothers from the seminary, including a teacher who I had for U.S. History and Sociology and another teacher I had for Algebra 2 and Calculus. I was shocked, never having witnessed anything suspect during my time at the school.

So pervasive and systemic was the school's covering up of information that eventually the administration faced racketeering charges. Most of the charges ended with settlements in which all court records were sealed and all involved were put under gag orders, but some court documents eventually saw the light of day, revealing familiar moves on the part of administrators: granting dispensations to priests they knew were abusers, moving them around, etc. A psychoterapist who directs a victim survivor's network wrote a comprehensive report on the whole mess and one of the things in his report that's most distressing is news of a "seminar" on clergy abuse at the school in 2002, ten years after the school's own abuse broke and as high-profile cases in Boston and L.A. were first coming to light. At this seminar (which no victims were invited to be part of), according to the report, one of the school's attorneys told students:
  • "[Clergy abuse] isn’t worthy of being talked about."
  • "The media has exaggerated stories about the priests because it hates Catholicism and doesn’t understand us. So they make each story more gigantic than it should be."
  • “[The] tiny [number of abusers] said they were sorry and have gone on to live better lives.” While “most people have much to answer for when they face God in the afterlife,” he was “confident every priest would be asked very few questions.”

The hypocrisy is astounding--at my old school in Wisconsin, in Boston, and now in L.A. I can't recommend Deliver Us From Evil highly enough. The film is an opportunity to hear terrible stories that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has paid astronomical amounts of money and taken extreme measures to squelch.

this and that

In the last two days:
  • responded to one-third of my OWP portfolios
  • peer-reviewed an article
  • wrote letter of rec. for a Who Says? contributor
  • brought a boatload of stuff I had taken to Ohio back to my campus office
  • registered for this Friday's 'Forum on Community, Culture, and Race,' a symposium happening in conjunction with this weekend's Concert of Colors
  • figured out which bands at the Concert of Colors I don't want to miss...Black Bottom Collective and ?&theMysterians are at the top of that list
  • worked out
  • realized there are a bunch of articles in both the new College English and the new CCC that I need to read
  • read a manuscript for my pal Steve Climer
  • set up a new blog for my Rhetoric of Civic Engagement research project...bookmark it and watch for posts to begin in the next few days



Nice to get back to real life in the motor city after four weeks in Oxford (Ohio, not the U.K.). As always working with the Ohio Writing Project was a pleasure. I learn so much from the teachers who complete the project and admire their energy and creativity...not to mention the numbers: the number of students they teach every day, the number of hours they're in the classroom every single day. It's permissable and commonplace in many contexts to badmouth the work of public school teachers. The myth of laziness: they get out of work at three (ha!), they only work nine months a year. The myth of ineffectuality: those who can do... I always think of Mike Rose's great book Possible Lives when I meet OWP associates who give so much. Trekking down to Oxford feels kind of like summer camp, complete with walks in Western Woods and life in a dorm room.

It's fun, but can't beat getting back to real life. This weekend, Nicole and I worked at Caribou Coffee, she working on cases and me grading owp final portfolios (which I must mail out this week complete with my comments and feedback). We went to church. We ate at the lazy j ranch...details here at the new and improved lazy j blog. Normal stuff, which feels pretty good.

Much to do. That is, after getting these portfolios done. I teach two classes this fall (thank you, gods of the pre-tenure course releases!); I'm ready to roll in Advanced Exposition (planned that syllabus down in Oxford) but have a new syllabus to prep for the new Writing as Civic Literacy course. (If you're keeping score at home, that means this will be the third semester in eleven years (!) in which I'm not teaching a section of first-year writing.) And I'm planning a classroom research project for the WCL course that involves collecting data on student attitudes toward community and civic life. The proposal is before the UM-Dearborn IRB right now (finished that down in Oxford) but some details of the project still need worked out. And I've got a boatload of research I want to read on the rhetoric of civic engagement and service learning before September hits. I'm probably going to start a companion blog this week to respond to some of that literature, so stay tuned for that.

Anyhoo, I'm glad to be back in Detroit. Hopefully, regular blogging to follow...



Last week I found a copy of Chipmunk Punk on vinyl at the Brass Armadillo Flea Market, one of my favorite record-hunting spots in Ohio.
I had this record when I was seven and must have spun it a thousand times. The title may seem like a stretch, in part due to the selection of songs that Alvin, Simon, and Theodore tackle. "Refugee" by Tom Petty and "You May Be Right" by Billy Joel stand out as two of the particularly questionable choices. You won't find any Ramones or Dead Boys covers on the record, but, out of fairness, a Blondie song--albeit disco-era Blondie--appears ("Call Me"). The Chipmunks perform three songs by The Knack and the suggestiveness of all three is a bit creepy in the whole cartoon context of the songs. But as a whole the album really works, especially the opening track, "Let's Go" by the Cars, where the synth but simple sound of the song meshes well with the high-pitched voices of the 'Munks.
Elementary school strikes me as the most punk thing in the world. Hence my new favorites the Muldoons capture the primal, unadorned possibilities of rock and roll better than any other band in Detroit right now. And like the Muldoons, the tracks on Chipmunk Punk sound like a playground. Not rope jumping, so much. More like a game of dodgeball or keep-a-way. Aggression, sweat, skinned knees. And most of all the alienation subtext each of those games represents. Chipmunk Punk recognizes the barely there line between rage and the melancholy of exclusion. The record walks that barely there line. Punk rock understands that somebody screaming might be the most senstive person in the world.


Paint Valley Jamboree

"Family Oriented, Concession Stand, Alcohol Free, Smoke Free, Drug Free"

Live from Bainbridge, Ohio, it's Saturday night. So the show--whose motto might be the phrase above which comes from the jamboree's website--starts at 7:00 and long before the curtain's up, the place already feels like a time capsule. The building looks like a Grange Hall with tattered, theatre-style seats. In the lobby, pies in plastic wrap sell for six dollars and big sacks of popcorn for fifty cents. The seats fill with senior citizens as well as a few families and, oddly, four high school kids. Mostly folks from Bainbridge and surrounding villages in the crowd, but I've traveled from Oxford, two hours west of here, with my visiting parents.

Bainbridge sits in the middle of southern Ohio, hours east of Cinci, hours south of Columbus, a good ways north of the river. The town is home to the Paint Valley Jamboree. Nine dollars gets you three hours of entertainment. Curtain goes up at seven and the show is kind of like what I imagine the Carter Family's traveling show was like in the 1930s. At Paint Valley, a house band provides back-up all night and a series of singers (mostly singer-guitarists actually) takes the mic one-by-one and performs two songs each. First, the house band. Steel guitar, bass and drums, a multi-instrumenalist who mostly does piano duties, a fiddler, and an electric guitar player who might be well into his 80s. Just unbelievable musicianship.

Most of the singers are older guys, though a few women of various ages take their turns too. Some old-time gospel. A little rockabilly (the band's mostly electric) and a little bluegrass. A LOT of old country standards. Mostly the kind of songs that have been in the public domain for generations. It's like a punk rock show in that the band races through song after song after song and not a one goes on for more than three minutes, tops. One of the high school kids gets up and heads backstage. I figure she's probably one of the band member's grandkids but she walks out onto the stage and belts out a few numbers, including "Stand By Your Man" (certainly the only song performed that was written in my parents' lifetimes).

One singer--one of the older gentlemen--refers to being eight months cancer-free. The emcee joshes afterward that he thought the guy was going to say he was eight months pregnant, and then immediately apologizes for using a word that would have gotten him slapped by his mama when he was growing up. One of the singers immediately exits the backstage area after her set and tells my dad there's a hot dog with her name on it back at the concession stand. During intermission (a quick affair during which fifty-fifty raffle tickets are sold), the emcee reminds everyone that the concession stand offers "miracle salve" (good for "new hips, joint trouble, and the carpal tunnel").

After intermission, the same line-up. This time, one song only. Not a sour note all night. Not a single weak or even average musician in the house band. Not a bad song all night. I know I'm going back before the end of this summer. It makes the most sense to go there while I'm in Oxford for the Writing Project, but it's well worth the drive from Detroit (and farther). If you saw Walk the Line and thought about how cool it would have been to see those tours with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, miscelaneous Carters, etc., then get you to Bainbridge.


fourth of july

Growing up, I don't recall doing many patriotic things. Actually I can't recall doing *any* patriotic things. We didn't have a flag. We didn't sing patriotic songs or say the Pledge of Allegiance. And when we had picnics on the 4th of July, the food tended to be ethnic: zucchini-parmesan bake, pasta salad (the kind with olive oil, not mayo!), sausage sandwiches, fried hot peppers. I recall that my grandfather had a flag at his house that he would raise on nice mornings and then take down in the evenings. He was a veteran of World War II and I remember figuring that most vets probably had flags but normal civilians didn't. I have no idea whether this experience was an anomaly or not for kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate world.

The greatest memory I have of Independence Day was 1985. I was eleven. My parents, sister, and I went to see a matinee of "Back to the Future," that all-time classic summer "event movie." We never went to the movies and I bet my mom and dad can count on one hand the number of movies they've seen at a theater since July 4, 1985. My dad took me to see "Stand by Me" a year or two later, mainly because I was obsessed with Stephen King books at the time and positively elated at the thought of seeing an adaptation of his work at the movies. But going to the movies as a family? That never happened.

We all loved the film. A Huey Lewis theme song? The kid who played Alex P. Keaton on the bigscreen? What's not to love. I remember kind of identifying with the storyline, too, and reading myself into the plotline as kids (and adults) tend to do. My parents, like the McFlys, were high school sweethearts in the 50s. I was always kind of fascinated about whether their lives matched pop culture representations of their generation, though for some reason I never really asked them. Did you go to sock hops and drink malts? Did your teachers think rock and roll was evil? I think I got my answers to these questions from Back to the Future and took some kind of comfort from the answers that the film provided. Yes, your parents got into trouble too. Yes, your parents were awkward too. Maybe that's why this is my greatest 4th of July memory. Maybe it's got less to do with how cool and rare and fun it was to go the movies with my mom and dad and more to do with what I learned about them from both the fictional world on the screen and the imagination in my head.