Rachel Carson~

If the world ever needed a Rachel Carson, it is now. Why do I say that? Because Rachel Carson witnessed environmental degradation in her lifetime and took action at great risk to herself, both professionally and personally.

Rachel Carson is my next Rhetorica Heroica!  

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was an American marine biologist, ecologist, and nature writer. After 15 years working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Carson retired to devote more time to her writing.

What twists and turns in life took this little nature-loving girl from Pennsylvania to wage one of the nation’s fiercest battles? Carson endured harsh criticisms, not only for being a whistle-blower, but for daring to engage in the male-dominated world of the scientist in the 1950s and 60s. She was trained as a scientist, yes, but what really kept her on task were the ingrained values of Courage, Determination, and the firm grasp of Certainty!

Carson wrote stories from a very young age, first to acquaint readers with the wonder of the oceans and rivers, and then as a conscientious scholar when she wrote her magnum opus, Silent Spring (1962), which shook the nation with its strong environmental message.

The use of DDT, the savior of the agricultural science business, was killing everything in its path, all life, including humans. Her awakening came when she realized the waters near her home, once alive with chirps and squawks of birds, was now silent. She searched until she found the source of such silence. What she found traced back to chemicals in the air and water. Carson’s cry was “what kills the birds will kill us” and she was right. As a scientist she knew how to back up her claims-with empirical data.

Carson’s book warned humankind of the destructive path they were on in their use of pesticides and insecticides in agriculture, like DDT. DDT, (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), according to U.S. Geological Survey, is an “insecticide highly toxic to biota, including humans…a persistent biochemical which accumulates in the food chain.” Imagine airplanes circling your neighborhood and outlying countryside spraying DDT down in a fine mist, covering everything. Soon birds are quivering, shaking uncontrollably, then falling from the sky. People are eating local foods, drinking the water, and getting sick and dying from strange cancers. Think of a myriad of respiratory illnesses plaguing young and old….all the while chemical companies denying any connection of sufferings to their products.

And what about now? Almost 50 years since Carson wrote Silent Spring, the earth is ailing, in need of aid more than ever, inhabited by threatened species, including humans.  It seems incomprehensible to think we will survive at the current rate of annihilation and apathy regarding our planet  that has seized the earth’s human inhabitants. We humans have certainly had our harbingers, our oracles, our soothsayers, who have heralded, and warned us…and these warnings only cause a pause in the march of “progress.” Where is our Rachel Carson? Muzzled by government, lobbyists and big money?

Rachel Carson was one who tried to halt the destruction against all odds, in the face of ridicule and opposition. She risked humiliation from the highest levels of national government. She dared to play hard ball with the Big Boys, and she won. The chemical companies retreated after her ally, President John F. Kennedy, took notice, read Silent Spring, and launched a full-scale congressional investigation. Soon Carson was called to testify against the chemical companies.  All told, “the President’s Science Advisory Committee issued a report in 1963 largely backing Carson’s scientific claims. By 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established as a cabinet-level position and, in 1972, DDT use was banned…the publication of [Silent Spring] is credited as one of the most influential events in sparking the environmental movement” (see fws.gov below).

Below is an excerpt from Silent Spring, Chapter 12, “The Human Price”:

As the tide of chemicals born of the Industrial Age has arisen to engulf our environment, a drastic change has come about in nature of the most serious public health problems. Only yesterday mankind lived in fear of the scourges of smallpox, cholera, and plague that once swept  nations before them. Now our major concern is no longer with the disease organisms that once were omnipresent…Today we are concerned with a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment–a hazard we ourselves have  introduced into our world as our modern way of life has evolved. (187)

In tragic irony, while Rachel Carson was battling for the environment’s health, her own health was in decline as she fought the losing battle with cancer (no implication of DDT poisoning), succumbing in 1964, less than a year after the congressional hearings. Rachel Carson, true Rhetorica Heroica, in the face of her own mortality, fought for change through her writings.

For more detailed information on this courageous woman rhetor, please access the following links:

Rachel Carson: rachelcarson.org

Information on DDT: http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/ddt.html

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:  http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson/carsonbio.html

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~E501 Post~ Andrea Lunsford on Gloria Anzaldúa- ¡La Libertad!

In my Intercultural Communications class we talk about social identities and the tentative negotiations of those identities within cultures and languages. In these class conversations we focus on awareness of the cultural “rich points,” moments of confusion or conflict between cultures. These rich points are when culture is happening. By identifying similarities and respecting differences, cultures can map out ways to communicate effectively. In Andrea Lunsford’s article, “Toward a Mestiza Rhetoric: Gloria Anzaldúa on Composition and Postcoloniality” on the life of the chicana, feminist writer, I recognized the twists and turns experienced by Anzaldúa as she navigated her multicultural identities within an often antagonistic society.

Lunsford lauds Anzaldúa’s “personal triumph over the ‘tradition of silence’’ and how she found places to wrestle and negotiate beyond commonplace identity “cubbyholes” (2).Anzaldúa likens these navigations to the fluidity of “identity [as it] flows between, over, aspects of a person. Identity is a river, a process” (2). She speaks of herself as “a new mestiza,” a woman of Spanish and American Indian blood,  who has learned to inhabit her own reality, and wishes to teach others how to “read” her and others who don’t fit ascribed cultural roles.

Anzaldúa vigorously advocates a change in teaching strategy:

We need teorias…that will enable us to interpret what happens in the world, that will explain how and why we relate to certain people in specific ways, that will reflect what goes on between inner, outer, and peripheral ‘I’s within a person and between the personal ‘I’s and collective ‘we’ of our ethnic communities. Necesitamos teorias that…cross borders, that blur boundaries-new kinds of theories with theorizing methods. (Lunsford 4)

What kinds of methods can be created to “blur boundaries” in such a diverse community as the student body? How may teachers of composition use Anzaldúa’s experience to help their students broach issues of, race, gender, notions of body, and engage in open and respectful class discussions? One way is by students recognizing their own multi-layered identities of gender, race, ethnicity, familial roles, and how these effect their daily lives. Even the identity of ‘student’ should be examined. By this frank self-analysis, students can see the complexities and slipperiness of who they are in the community, in their family, among those they hide from and those they reveal themselves to– and why. Written reflections might give pause as students struggle to identify themselves and then give testimony without hesitation. By this exercise, they will see how complex others’ lives are as well, and by looking towards others with empathy, they can yield place for all voices.

Anzaldúa assures Lunsford her goal for her mestiza rhetoric is “a liberatory goal…to create possibilities for people, to look at things in a different way so they can act…in a different way. It’s like a freeing up, an emancipating” (6). I ask myself-Am I up for such a lofty goal to attempt to liberate students of writing to see others, to see themselves, in such new and critical ways?


E501 Posting: Hairston v Berlin

Ah Maxine Hairston, she was such a force in rhetoric and composition. She argued her position thoroughly and staunchly maintained her stance. Such adept, skilled maneuvering of debate is truly admirable.  She was usually right, in my opinion, although this time I must challenge part of her argument on the banning of political rhetoric from the classroom.

My line of argument slightly deviates from Hairston’s on the fight to leave all politics outside the classroom. I say everything is political. The fact remains that students (freshman are the main focus for Hairston) are at a university, following structured degree programs, and kowtowing to administrational requirements…all part of the politics embedded in the university institution. So teachers must exercise their influence in the most minimalistic manner possible, but acknowledging with a slight gesture, from time to time, the presence of the political elephant in the room. Pointing out this presence to students is a type of community responsibility, I think. For example, a professor saying, “hey, watch out for the state’s control of education in your degree requirements (like mandatory public speech)!” is a friendly “heads up.” Hairston’s reply to me would probably be “of course! But have the students write about their views on such topics, not just assimilate your opinion on the issue!”

James Berlin would argue the point with Hairston as well by saying that the political, cultural influences of whatever modern age narrative we are living in, are irremovable. The best we can do is see those influences, shut out those we can, and mitigate the effects of those we cannot. Berlin would argue against Hairston’s critique that revealing ideology, when it is encountered, such as social-epistemic rhetoric, is putting “the social goals of the teacher before the educational needs of the student.”  He would say it is inevitable that they will need to know these things, why not teach them in the open forum of the classroom. Berlin cautions, though, how social-epistemic rhetoric tries to push ideology at the center of the classroom-but beware, capitalism, a Jekyl-Hyde individualistic tenet touted by both ideologies, can grab ahold of the classroom if you let it and edge out the students’ involvement.

I agree with Hairston that the diverse classroom is best for learning. With our students coming from diverse backgrounds, as Hairston contends, socio-politico topics will be introduced in a natural process-by the students. I agree with her that teachers must leave space for issues, help students as they wrangle with their understandings and let them apply their findings to their lives as they see fit. The student-centered classroom allows breathing room for this discovery process.

Again I agree with Hairston’s argument that teachers must leave their personal politics outside the classroom door. But, I must admit, it is seductive to think of a classroom of eager minds just waiting for me to lay some ideology on them like Socrates did. Of course, in my dream I would wrap myself in compassion for student’s naïve obeisance of the powers that be, soothe my conscious with a sense of obligation to warn them, but all the while I am walking a fine line between detachment and manipulation. If Maxine Hairston were to follow this frightening scenario and implement my own philosophy against me, she would admonish me to warn my own students of teachers…like me.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas~ Feisty Fighter for the Glades

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writer and advocate, lived to be 108 years of age (1890-1998). Throughout Douglas’ life, she fought for the rights of others. Suffragist, anti-prohibitionist, supporter of the ERA and civil rights, she wrote passionately in the roles of private citizen, as reporter, columnist, and assistant editor for the Miami Herald. In her mid-50s, and on until her death, she took up the cause of preserving the Everglades of South Florida.

Douglas was a skilled, seasoned watchdog picking another fight for the environment-against the odds, in the face of harsh criticism from peers, society and the powers that be.

In 1947, at the age of 57, Douglas published what would become a  “must read” for anyone fighting to save the environment from the developers, from greedy big business, you know, the usual suspects in the destruction of the natural world. The book is titled The Everglades, A River of Grass. So lyrical, so poetic is the language, so persuasive is its appeal, you forget you are reading an environmental protest. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, you are my hero.

Douglas opens her book with immediacy of place:

“There are no other Everglades in the world.

They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free salt-ness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.” (6-7)

She wrote, she protested, she lambasted developers, bombarded government officials (including several U.S. Presidents), pushed back in defense of nature, and stressed the intrinsic value of the ecosystem.  It was an all-out assault against those who set their destructive sights on the Everglades, her beloved river of grass. And her voice was heard. In the latter part of her life President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her environmental work in the Everglades, even as she attacked his administration for being too soft on industry in the area.  She was tough on the Army Corps of Engineers too. She spoke her mind, and had the expertise to back it up.

In spite of her valiant battle, sadly, the Everglades is still at risk today. Species are endangered and falling into extinction. Developers, after a brief pause, took a deep breath and continued on their destructive path.

When I visit the Everglades I thank Marjory Stoneman Douglas for her persistence, her staunch devotion, her unyielding defense of this elegant, vibrant, expanse known to us Floridians as “the Glades.” Even now as I sit in my Colorado home I remember the Glades and I relive the beauty, peacefulness, and sheer vastness of the place. I hear the birds and the rustle of the wind through the grasses, I see the lush green mangroves. I imagine the river as it flows ever slowly towards the ocean so close by I can smell it.  The Glades are alive, but for how long? More research is indicated here, but for now I leave with an awareness of fights to come in honor of this cherished river of grass.

Douglas is an inspiration to me and what is looking like my own lifework of writing for nature; animals, landscape, seascape, in whatever manner, to whatever eventuality. Writing takes us where it wants us to go, I always say.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writing was clear, unfiltered, and bold. Her purpose defined. She was a true Rhetorica Heroica!

Maxine Hairston~ Goin’ Down Swingin’

In Against the Grain, I read Maxine Hairston’s final professional address, titled “A Last Hurrah”, she gave in 1993 at the College Composition and Communication Conference, as a farewell to the profession, and to University of Texas, Austin. She wrote of her life as a young mother, working the farm, and then told of her return to academics, starting her doctorate in her forties. I relate to this “late” start as I too started my academic career in my forties with my bachelors pursuit. Hairston’s reflections on her timing resonated with me: “I think I did better work than I would have at twenty-three, trusted my intuition more and graduate advisors less, and had more confidence in my tastes and my judgment.” I particular adore her for saying: “Women who come back to school after…ten years or more return with energy, excitement, and a good deal of common sense.They know what they want and are not shy about asking for it.”

She made it her goal to be a teacher of composition in a field dominated by men. She was discouraged and looked down on by her male colleagues, she was even given a letter by her department head that her chances of ever getting tenure were “very poor!”  Funny, she didn’t find that letter until years later…yep, after she was tenured.

As a full-tenured English professor, she fought to break “composition’s bond to the literature power structure” at University of Texas. This revolutionary call did not make her a darling of the administration. But her and her colleagues pushed on and eventually the split occurred. Their goal for the department division was to open the way for teaching instruction focused on a student-centered classroom, where they worked to “make students stronger, more confident writers who can think for themselves.”  I see the legacy of this smart move in my Rhetoric and Composition graduate program here at CSU.

Hairston believed the writing classroom was no place for university politics. The classroom was no place for teachers to showcase “ideology at the forefront of their teaching” or push their own “ social agenda before the students’ rights to develop their own voices and abilities.” These were arguments which labeled her a “heretic, a dissenter” against the bright, shiny, new theories of the day.

In her farewell, she told of her new fight as a social reformer, advocating for women’s rights, and ending the “cycle of poverty and despair.” I smile to think of her in the social boxing ring, landing an uppercut square on the chin of the political powers behind social injustice-Maxine Hairston style!

Bold, sassy, a pioneer for women, and an accomplished rhetorician, she is worthy of our praise and emulation!

Welcome ~

Rhetorica Heroica welcomes any and all who wish to read about influential women writers from across the disciplines. Women, who in unique ways, changed the world. Small worlds and large, secret worlds, and worlds we all live in.These heroines sacrificed their energy, their time, and often fought fierce battles to publish their work. I hope, in my small way, to illuminate the contributions of these powerful people and share the importance of their work. Some names will be readily recognized…others not so much. It is my goal to introduce each writer in an unforgettable way!

It is my pleasure to welcome you back as each woman is highlighted. Your comments are important to me. It is my goal to honor these women, so please, your help in that endeavor is appreciated.

Thank you!

Maxine Hairston~Learn to write or write to learn?

What should be the purpose of the college writing class today? Let’s talk…

My desire, my passion, is to teach writing in a way to open minds and stretch the imagination. Am I a silly dreamer? Do people even view writing as a vital skill today? Why do we teach writing? Can writing even be taught in this world of wiki and tweet? I want to teach writing, composition, in such a way that others can feel the amazing discovery I felt when I conquered my avoidance of writing. This unearthing of self forms cracks in one’s personal writing foundation. But, how to get others to take the invitation to delve deeper into the world of writing?

One way to make writing more enticing is to apply issues that come up in current events to new writing theory and ongoing research, employ new technologies in communication, and thereby we as teachers STAY RELEVANT to the student’s life.

Also there is no shame in addressing a student’s goals, both academic and professional, and tying those in with the need for writing skills. It’s time the world woke up to the effectiveness of a carefully honed message written for all variety of purposes. The power of the pen must be reestablished! Even a scientist must write effectively within their community if her/his findings are to be communicated and recognized. The connection is there-challenge yourself as a teacher to make that connection. Challenge your students to develop ways of communicating their dreams and goals in writing. And then with little prompting, it is my firm belief, the fledging writer will discover how fun and enjoyable writing can be.

Who will lead us? My feminist side always leads me to research of strong women who write about the tough issues, those who throw the figurative “wrench” in the works of rigid, robotic, assembly line thinking. No matter what their particular area of expertise might be, the women I will present on this blog all have rattled the cage of their academic field and published written materials which changed the world. Not only do they advance new ways of thinking, they use the power of the pen to shout out their ideas. Well done. They are heroines of rhetoric. (I am okay with the feminine form of hero).

I present my first Rhetorica Heroica , Maxine Hairston Ph.D., a writer and teacher of writing who advanced the scholarship in her field by strong, nonconformist arguments.

In my Theories of Writing class, and in private research, I was delighted to discover Maxine Hairston, (1922-2005) professor emerita of English, University of Texas at Austin. Hairston devoted her public life to the study of writing and how to teach composition to students in more effective ways. Hairston’s theories of composition and the mind connection with the writer mirror my own.

In 1982, Hairston wrote as essay titled, The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing in which she portends a paradigm shift from writing pedagogies of her time. It was a shift Hairston eagerly awaited for it meant a richer and more meaningful composition experience for both teacher and student. She lists one of the shifting “winds of change” as teachers who will engage with their students DURING the writing process, not just waiting at the grading period red pen poised to strike (86)! Her wish list also included “writing as recursive rather than a linear process; pre-writing, writing, and revision… activities that overlap and intertwine” (86).   This plea vividly brought to mind my own clutch and grasp process of writing, my own writing heaven/hell, pain/agony style…always with a satisfactory outcome though, amazingly. I remember instructors who ignored my need for help with my writing process and I understand their hesitancy now, they were loyally following the pedagogy of their department.

Hairston shook the English department with her criticisms of how unprofessional it was for university administrators to believe that taking service courses was all that was required to further the scholarship of composition and rhetoric (79). Hairston says this the “apathy…and patronizing view of the essential nature of composition” that will continue to “promote a static and unexamined approach to writing” (79). So she started with administrators, often the third rail of education reform, with her manifesto to improve the relationship between writing, the student, and the teacher. Make it enjoyable-engaging.

This may not seem so earth-shattering to others, but for me, this research is gratifying, and enlightening. I lived through this shift.

I look forward to my next reading of Maxine Hairston’s work: Against the Grain: A Volume in Honor of Maxine Hairston, a collection of Hairston’s essays and articles put together by her former students and colleagues, published in 2002, in honor of her life’s work and influences in the field of composition and rhetoric.

More from our heroine, Maxine Hairston, soon!