“Teaching Writing with Global Issues: Why and How (part 2)” by Soni Adhikari

Join our Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Soni Adhikari as she shares part two of her two part piece on the importance of emphasizing global perspectives in her students’ writing! Click here to read part 1!

Teaching Writing with Global Issues: Why and How (part 2)

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts and strategies about using literacy narratives of transnational scholars/writers to foster our students’ interest in the larger world. Here I will discuss how (beyond reading and discussing stories about people who cross cultural and geopolitical borders) can further help our students research and write about global issues or at least use transnational perspectives when writing about local issues. My key message in part 2 is that cross-cultural and transnational/global perspectives can help students generate new ideas and develop more sophisticated arguments about issues, whether transnational or local.

To start with an example, students in my current first-year-writing class write about global issues such as world water shortage, refugee crisis, terrorism, one child policy in China, free trade, conflict in South China Sea, and so on. I find that students are generally more interested in their writing (as well as research, learning, and making arguments) when working with global issues like the above. In fact, even when they write about local issues, which they can do by comparing them with issues elsewhere or bringing perspectives from discourse or research abroad, my students write more engaging papers overall. For example, some students have written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and in states like California while comparing the local issues with global or transnational ones. Being able to bring new perspectives and more sophisticated understanding of the same problem from different places allows students to look beyond local debates on the issue. They are able to add whole new dimensions to their arguments.

Additionally, borrowing perspectives from other cultures and contexts can help students stop considering their own local ideas and perspectives as universal, logical, or valid while missing important aspects of the topic. Reading about social issues from around the world can provide them with lenses with which they can rethink their experiences and examine social issues that they had never thought about.

Using global issues and perspectives in the writing classroom is, however, not easy. So, let me discuss a few challenges and share how to overcome them.  

First, students may be daunted by the fact that there are too many things going on around the world and that many of those things do not affect them directly. If we introduce them to various global issues through readings (instead of simply demanding that they write about them), we can help them choose what they are most interested in.  

Second, students do not know where to look for sources and how much they need to know before they can take an intellectual position on a subject. This challenge can be overcome by providing students not only a list of topics and information sources but also annotated bibliographies and sample essays (that students can donate for future classes), class discussion of samples, one-on-one feedback, and support of librarians.

Third, when it comes to unfamiliar or complex global issues, students may find information but they may not know how to analyze it, whose perspectives are relevant, and how to detect bias. As a result, they often write superficial arguments and even reinforce bias and stereotyping about other cultures and people. I address these challenges by providing students a set of critical questions and asking them find and use sources from the part of the world where their issue is about.

In short, if we can facilitate the process of reading, researching, and writing about the larger world, we can help our students develop a sense of global citizenship and find greater opportunities for learning and personal growth in the increasingly globalized university and beyond.

Have thoughts of your own on how to foster these types of thoughts and writing within your own classroom? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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About josephtlabriola

Joe Labriola is an author, blogger, and lecturer of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. He enjoys writing, swimming, and cooking crazy Joe-coctions. His more eccentric hobbies include collecting beach glass, reading great books at bars, and describing himself in the third person when writing "about me" biographies. Please visit some of his very professional social media sites for more info!
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