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Apphia Duey

9 May 2011

F. DeBoer

Public Writing 303

Rewind, Rethink, Reflect: A Semester in Public Writing 303

If someone told me four months ago that I would have so much to say about my

experience in Public Writing 303, I probably would not have believed them. Until now. From

here looking back, it could not be more true that this class has taught me more than scholarly

concepts and dry definitions. Instead, I participated in the very act of public writing and learned

how to apply theory in real-life situations.

Prior to the beginning of the semester, my understanding of public writing was very

basic. The types of documents that I considered “public texts” ranged from advertisements and

posters to graffiti and blog posts. Yet, after research and in-class discussion, I have a much

broader understanding of the scope and purposes of public writing and its significance in

democratic societies. Though public writing is, at its core, any text that is available to a

theoretically limitless audience that encourages action and solicits social change, I now know

that this genre of writing goes far beyond those fundamental characteristics. Concepts like public

spheres, levels or responsibility, public authority, and deliberative democracy sparked thought-

provoking discussions in our classroom and led me to a deeper understanding of this genre.

Though public writing is based on issues of attention, inclusion, discussion, and action, it was

not until I began to physically write with these concepts in mind that the connection between

theory and practice became clear.

In this class, I spent the semester focusing on one local issue —homelessness in Rhode

Island. It was my responsibility to express, through the very act of writing, why homelessness

deserves the attention of an audience and explain why I have the authority to speak as an

advocate for those affected by homelessness. Furthermore, I found the best ways to make this

issue matter to as large an audience as possible. Through self-directed research, careful planning,

and specific written documents, I presented the issue publically in a variety of genres. First,

through a letter to the editor, I expressed why homelessness is an important local issue. Then, I

created a formal business letter requesting affiliation with an active organization (the Rhode

Island Coalition for the Homeless). Finally, I outlined a solution to the problem by creating a

press kit that presented Supportive Housing programs in Rhode Island as a viable way to solve

the homeless epidemic. In addition, I discussed the problem in a podcast for others to hear on the

internet. In a lot of ways, my concern for the homeless was all-encompassing and multi-fasceted.

I must admit that advocating for the homeless became increasingly more important to me

as the semester progressed, but I did not feel as strongly about it the very beginning. Perhaps it

was the realization that the issue is more prevalent than I originally thought, or maybe it was

because I began to see how my documents—the words that I chose to write and the passion with

which I wrote them—had the potential to make a difference. Realizing this changed the way I

approached each assignment. Though I was still convinced that my work was not good enough, I

started to harness my nervous energy and use it as a motivation to keep doing my best. By

writing about homelessness and encouraging the public to donate to local homeless relief

programs, I realized that public writing is more than a genre; it is an important skill to learn and

use in the future. It requires critical thinking, detail-oriented prose, a clear sense of purpose, and

careful persuasion. Most importantly, the act of writing to produce positive change requires
passion and creativity. I would have laughed if someone tried to explain this to me when the

semester began! Only now, after several months, do I understand why it is true.

Another aspect of this course that stands out in my mind is how the inner workings of the

class accurately reflected the material we discussed on a daily basis. While we were learning the

theory behind concepts like democracy, decision making, and collective discussion, the class

itself was organized in such a way so as to reflect those same values. Though it was clear that the

professor was guiding lectures, making major decisions, and following a plan, he also gave us,

his students, the opportunity to contribute our thoughts on matters that directly affected our

experience in the class. To do all of that with only a week’s notice that he was teaching the class

is, to see the least, quite impressive. In some ways, experiencing certain aspects of democracy

within the context of the class taught me more than any textbook could have.

Though I spent the past four years learning that all types of writing undergo a process of

change and adaption, it was not until now that I realize how this same idea manifests itself in my

work on public (as opposed to academic or creative) documents. As I researched homelessness

and gathered facts to explain why supportive housing is the best solution, it occurred to me that

the strength of my work comes, in part, from the timeliness of the research and how passionate I

feel about what I write. The more relevant public writing is to current society, the more

successful it will be as a whole. Though this concept seems obvious now, coming to this

conclusion took time, energy, and enthusiasm that built up throughout the semester. It was not

something I knew from the very beginning. Now, I can take the knowledge I have from this class

and apply it in practical ways to all of my writing long after my college career ends.

This class had a certain amount of technological requirements that extended beyond

traditional pen-and-paper assignments. Though it was difficult for me, I am convinced that a
public writing course without requirements involving graphic design, a web-based final portfolio,

or a required podcast assignment would have been a disservice to students learning to write in a

public, technologically-advanced society. I never thought I would say this, but I am thankful for

the challenge that each assignment posed to me. Fortunately, to offset such involved

assignments, the timing of the projects (in terms of due dates etc.) was appropriate and very

helpful because it gave me time to take the necessary steps to complete the work.

In addition to working with current technology, I learned a lot from our discussion about

the controversy sparked by the Good Five Cent Cigar’s editorial cartoon several years ago.

Though not directly related to the social issue that I was focused on individually, it gave me (and

hopefully others) a realistic view of public writing as it functions in the “real” world. The

number of students, faculty, and community members who responded to the controversy by

writing to the public was extremely encouraging to me because it shows that this campus, in a

very real sense, practices what it teaches. In spite of controversy, students, people spoke out in a

safe, constructive community of thinkers, scholars, and writers. Seeing the positive results of the

controversy encourages me, even now, to continue to participate in public writing after I

complete the course itself.

Though I originally enrolled in Public Writing 303 to fulfill major requirements, I am

coming away from this class with so much more. Not only have I gained awareness of factual

and theoretical ideas that make public writing what it is, but I can now continue to put those

ideas to the test and participate in the very act of public writing in a society where advocacy,

action, and change are needed every day. Being a part of this kind of learning environment and

developing such important skills is not something that can be measured, but still, yields results

that last the longest.