Re: investing in writing and revision

Beth W. Baldwin, Ph.D. (
Mon, 19 Aug 1996 12:23:42 -0400

On Sat, 17 Aug 1996, Marcy Bauman wrote:

> Beth's ideas for how to transform the "tired old topic" of "crime" into
> something "real" strike me as positively inspired. But I have one small
> point to make (and Beth, please correct me if I'm wrong). Beth presents
> us with this description of her experience as if she were giving us a
> recipe -- but this isn't a recipe that can be followed; we can't all take
> her tried-and-true steps and expect this sort experience to come about.
> I suspect that what _really_ happened was that somebody thought of crime,
> and Beth thought "oh, no," and they more or less improvised together from
> there.

You are right, of course, Marcy. I presented my response to
the issue of "tired old topic" in such a form because I've lately been
challenged by others on the list to present things in more of a
recipe form ("please send a syllabus," etc.).

The fact is that my syllabi aren't terribly revealing. Attempts at
"over-engineering" the classroom (to borrow from Eric) seem to foreclose
my options as a teacher. Structure is a very useful thing for many
teachers and students alike, but for me too much structure (in terms of
detailed syllabi) put a real damper on creativity and the freedom to take
advantage of the emergent occasion.

The course in which we did the "crime" topic is a case in point. My
syllabus for the class covered only those non-negotiable items such as
attendance and "weight" for writing/participation tasks. The rest was
pretty general so that we had plenty of room to move.

I had a textbook -- lots of topics covered -- too little time for all.
So my students first task was to "write an argument" (on computer,
text-sharing) in which they chose *one* topic and convinced the class that
their choice would be a good one.

Based on the arguments, we chose two topics for the semester -- already
something I could not have done if I'd had a detailed syllabus.

Obviously, one topic was "crime and punishment." Since I was unhappy with
the limited scope of what the textbook had to offer (many positions, but
all from a "law-abiding citizen's" point of view), I went to work to
locate other sources and to figure out what I could do to "make it real."

I used the net to locate prison ed teachers and queried in general about
the possibility of an inmate with whom to work -- and came up with one who
sent a long document he was working on (about prison reform) and who asked
my students to help by giving feedback (he wanted to publish this). I
also located _The Angolite_ and _Prison Life_ and sent for copies which I
placed on reserve in the library.

So, when you say:

> In other words, if I'm right, this "real" writing came about because [a]
> the topic was initiated by the students; and [b] the teacher was smart
> enough to capitalize on their interest, and creative enough to figure out
> how.

. . . that's exactly how it came about.

Now, what _I_ want to know is, how do I learn to be that smart and
> that creative? (And that's a serious question.)

I don't know how I learned. I'm a strong ENFP? But since on this list,
we're electronic rhetoricians, let me just say that the net is a great
resource. If you have even an inkling of an idea, be brave and ask some

Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *