As I note in Conversations, my students are working on formal argument essays, for the unit required by my institution. However, as a National Writing Project teacher, I teach that argument is a conversation. My goal is for my students to consider an issue that is important to them, urgent in their community, and offers room for conversation. The idea is to explore and consider possible solutions rather than attempting to score points in a debate. This to me is the most important and often ignored role of rhetoric in our society. Before my students embark on drafting their essays I ask them to consider who they want to invite to the conversation and use the metaphor of setting a table for the conversation they want to have about their topic. For this week’s jam session we drew inspiration from The Wings of Daylight by W. S. Merwin.
Some lines that particularly speak to what I want my students to hold as they write:
- the world’s shadows mingle with our own
- the shadows carry the whole story
I love how that first line connects our shadows with the shadows of the world, past and future, neighbors and strangers. It is all too easy in our frenzied silos to forget how our shadows mingle. It is also far too easy in today’s black and white world to forget the stories that shadows carry. I know I am never at my best when I forget to search the shadows for the whole story.
Shadows carry a heavy burden of suspicion and fear, but in truth humans do some of their best work in the shadows and I continue to believe that society would be better if more of us concentrated on the shadows rather than the spotlight. Certainly considering the many facets and potentials of shadows can offer fruitful writing.