In the texts we choose and the writing tasks we assign, Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition teachers often encourage students to confront ethical questions, yet we are not always so comfortable discussing our own courses in ethical terms. How do we do right by our students, our colleagues, and our communities? MnWE’s 2018 Conference theme, Points of the Compass: The Ethics of Our Time, challenges us to think of moral dimensions of our pedagogies and situate academic practices in both the broader cultural moment and the futures we are helping prepare students to engage and create. WordNet offers a surprising range of definitions for “compass,” including these meanings that are suggestive for teachers: noun: navigational instrument for finding directions; the limit of capability; an area in which something acts or operates or has power or control verb: bring about; accomplish; get the meaning of something. How do English educators read our moral compasses? How do we reflect, resist, or shape the ethics of our time?
We welcome proposals responding to the “Points of the Compass: The Ethics of Our Time” theme or any matter involving teaching literature, writing, or ESL/ELL, the relationships between high school and college-level English, or writing center and tutoring work.
Prospective presenters may consider the following questions as they design proposals:
- The word compass shares its root with encompass, to include many people or things, and with compassion, to understand and feel another’s suffering. High schools have a mandate to educate all citizens, and even the most exclusive universities proclaim the goal of expanded access for “nontraditional” students. How might increased opportunity for all recast student and teacher roles? As we strive for inclusivity in our classrooms, how do we balance compassion with fairness?
- How do we help students navigate a society in which fake news causes us to question credibility and the epithet “fake news” attempts to short-circuit critical thinking? What is our obligation to expose students to the implications of a concentrated corporate media? Does our academic sense of ethical source use apply for students beyond their coursework?
- How do we approach a social media environment where memes like “basket of deplorables” and “liberal snowflake” discount some people’s grievances as unworthy of our empathy? Are we teachers genuinely open to views from all points of the compass, or do our classes function with an implicit or explicit “true north” from which we estimate deviation? What are the parameters in different institutions for discussing politics or religion in an English course? Are those parameters contested?
- What is “identity politics”? Is it helpful or harmful for forming “a more perfect union”? Why does this label only seem to apply to certain identities, and not others? What are the uses and limitations of demographic research into academic success? How are our students understanding relationships between identity and writing in the messages they read, produce, or post?
- Many educators embrace multiculturalism as a shared ethic, but is there some tension in the notion that diversity can function as a unifying ethics for Composition, Creative Writing, and Literature pedagogies? Are we attempting to guide students toward broader thinking but not considering how our institutions should themselves be evolving in exchanges with multicultural voices and diverse learners?
- How should money enter these discussions of ethics and academia? In what ways may we best serve students living in poverty? How do we and our students conceive of the “value” of education, in economic or other senses? Are we helping students prepare to thrive in emerging economies but also inspiring them to fight social inequities?