While my research focuses on how writers engaged with and responded to the ideas circulating within the early modern public sphere, my teaching flips this around. In the classroom, I use authentic encounters with an extracurricular public to enhance my students’ engagement with the course material – helping them to engage with tangible audiences both on campus and in the world beyond its borders. Focusing on the practical arts, I have found that students value an approach rooted in genuine opportunities to apply the material learned in class.
To this end, I design lessons and develop assignments that require engagement with a larger public. This approach forces my students to consider how to craft an effective argument that meets the needs of their audience – not the requirements of the assignment. In the literature classroom, they enter thriving academic debates as novice scholars with innovative takes on well-worn classics (or modern texts), and in the composition classroom, they learn how position their argument to effectively reach extracurricular auditors.
Each project that I assign addresses a central concern – Praxis enables Phronesis. In other words, an assignment should promote “practical wisdom.” For instance, literary studies can seem frivolous unless you are able to explain why a novel or poem matters in the modern world, and this is the task I assign students throughout my Introduction to Literature course – connect your reading to larger trends in the culture. In the first-year composition classroom, my students are asked to develop an issue-oriented website that joins a contentious public debate occurring on campus. This complicated task promotes rhetorical awareness, compositional techniques and an awareness of the community that they will be joining for the next few years. And students in my technical writing course are asked to directly integrate their current research project (or professional ambitions) into an effective and highly-targeted informational report. These assignments provide students the opportunity to write for a concerned public about a topic in which they are personally invested.
Thanks to these projects, students have connected Christabel to modern concerns with the eroticized male gaze, weighed in on the University of Kentucky’s tobacco policy, and obtained funding for a wind-tunnel lab on campus. Through a practical approach, students can thoroughly engage with course content and, more importantly, apply what they have learned as thoughtful and fully engaged citizens.