Sunday, April 6, 2008

CCCC Convention 2008 New Orleans

"The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances." - Emerson

This year's convention for the "Four C's" or the Conference on College Composition and Communication was billed "Writing Realities, Changing Realities", a title that simultaneously draws attention to the the social responsibility of scholars, the power of writing to help in the post-Katrina recovery and the changing reality of writing in the digital age.

This powerfully composed image is from the cover of the convention program which is 358 pages and almost an inch thick! Panel topics included:
use of digital media, virtual worlds, ESL, composition theory, race, high school writing, assessment, documentary, oral composition, propaganda assessment, socio-economics, visual literacy and many, many others.

Take a moment to examine the image above, notice its color and composition, text and images. How do we read this image? Which signs are familiar and which are obscure? According to the local residents I met, very little has been done by the Federal Government to help Louisiana recover from this preventable disaster, even three years after it occurred, and it is incumbent upon scholars of rhetoric to reflect on how this could be and how language can be used to address the problem.

In the three years since the Katrina disaster, some University of Richmond students have been returning to New Orleans during their spring and winter breaks after having encountered the great need on an initial service project. Before I left for the conference, a trainee in our WAC Program expressed her interest in returning to New Orleans to help, and we discussed the possibilities of collecting survivor stories as a way to promote literacy while getting the word out about the ongoing needs of Katrina victims. At the conference, I encountered a potential opportunity for her when Michael Moore, editor of The Community Literacy Journal, hosted a panel about similar literacy programs such as The Neighborhood Story Project.

The Journal of American History has a special issue devoted to the Katrina/New Orleans disaster in which UR's Dr. Juliette Landphair of Westhampton College has an excellent historical review "The Forgotten People of New Orleans" that will give readers some important background information for current consideration.

Along with the theme of social responsibility and progressive change, the keynote speaker for the CCCC convention was investigative reporter Seymour Hirsh who first gained fame for his coverage of the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam war, and who more recently exposed the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

His most current reporting revealed the Orwellian disinformation program of the White House about the Iranian nuclear program in its attempts to marshal support for another invasion and expanded war. For a more detailed report on what he found, corroborated by UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter, view the Google video:
Target Iran: Scott Ritter & Seymour Hirsh (1 hr. 23 min.)

Hirsh's talk reminded us of the tremendous power of rhetoric and the terrible consequences of uncritical acceptance of the words of the powerful - and of the power of language to confront power, expose its manipulations, and hold it accountable. Perhaps most appropriately, Hirsh began his talk by discussing the raising of children. He asks, most reasonably: why do we hold our children
and ourselves more accountable than we do our leaders? Why is it that we are so willing to allow power a different standard, especially when the stakes are so high?

He left us with an important question worth serious reflection.