A bit about the National Day On Writing at EMU

This is kind of quick and scattered, because as a result of the stuff I helped out on doing for the National Day on Writing here at EMU on Tuesday, I am woefully behind on dealing with the writings of my students– blogs, online postings, wiki entries, “essays,” etc.  But in brief, it was quite the event.

Linda Adler-Kassner and Cathy Fleischer (the two folks who were the leads on this here) estimated that about 1700 students participated, and we (meaning me, Derek Mueller, and Steve Benninghoff, along with some great help from reps from Apple) uploaded about 400 things to the web site– pictures of hand-written activities, blog entries, and YouTube videos.  It was a tremendous amount of fun, but it was a huge amount of work and I still kind of feel like I am physically recovering from being that “on” for pretty much 12 hours straight.

Now, the NDoW was/is one of those kinds of events that is really easy to be cynical about. Someone– it might have been Clay Spinuzzi too– said having a National Day on Writing is sort of like having a National Day on Hygiene.  I don’t completely disagree with these sentiments.  As we were talking about the various activities for the local NDoW at different meetings, there was not an insignificant part of me that was thinking “this is all pretty goofy.”   Or worse:  how is the (capital D) Discipline of Composition and Rhetoric (or maybe more specifically, just Rhetoric) ever going to be taken seriously if we present it to the rest of the academy and beyond as merely Freshman Composition, or, as one of my students described the NDoW,  as the “Writing Carnival?”

But you know what?  We do every once in a while do need to celebrate things that are  mundane and something we all (should) do, like writing or hand-washing, simply because it gets little recognition and it’s simultaneously important.  What I saw on Tuesday was a lot of college kids having fun doing activities where they thought and wrote about writing, sometimes in surprisingly profound and interesting ways.  And I think it turns out that “goofy” and “interesting” are not mutually exclusive.

As one of the uploaders, my job was to take pictures of things written by hand or to upload videos that people took with flip video cameras.  Most of the students were at the event as part of a class or to get what we call at EMU “learning beyond the classroom” credit, but there was no requirement to upload anything.  These students, mostly college freshman, who came up to the upload station were usually rolling their eyes when they held up their work or handed me the video camera, a smirky and often not at all concealed “OMG, this is so stupid” look on their faces.  But then, after I uploaded the artifact and showed it to them on the web site, they inevitably let their guard down a bit and showed a little pride and pleasure that their thing– a movie, a six word memoir, a “PEOP,” whatever– was up there for the whole world to see. Given that the site had 28,000 hits on Tuesday, I think it’s fair to say that the stuff done at the NDoW has reached a broader audience than your typical academic essay, which makes me think that maybe serious academics ought to pay attention to some of the less than serious NDoW projects to get the word out.

And God forbid we do things that allow our students to associate “writing” with “fun.”

Anyway, go check stuff out at the EMU National Day on Writing site. As someone really interested in this idea of how people perceive themselves as writers (or not), I think there’s a goldmine of stuff there.

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