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