Behind the Textbook: The Search

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The subtitle for Emerging, “Contemporary Readings for Writers,” is truly a central component of the book’s philosophy. The idea is that students are more than students—they are also emerging actors in the public sphere. In providing very contemporary readings, we hope to get students engaged in the kinds of problems they will need to solve as adults in the world today. That makes finding the actual readings both easier and harder: easier, because there’s so much going on in the world at any one moment, but also harder, because it takes a lot of sifting to find material that will remain pertinent and usable for the next three or so years. In revising Emerging, I’ve used a variety of techniques to find new readings:
  • CrowdsourcingConsistent with James Surowiecki’s argument in The Wisdom of Crowds (as well as any given episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), I always start from the assumption that the crowd is smarter than me and thus better equipped to select readings than I am. Thus, I always start my search for readings with bestseller lists—the New York Times,, as well as Barnes and Noble’s Web site. Looking through the bestselling nonfiction is not a way to find what’s popular per se. Rather, it’s a way to find what’s important to people right now, what we’re reading and thinking about— because that’s what I want students reading and thinking about, too.
  • Usual SuspectsAfter running through bestseller lists, I turn to what I call the “usual suspects.”  These are print sources that I know tend to publish the types of writing I like to use in my classes—interesting, current, engaging, and with complex ideas.  So, I turn to the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Wired and other magazine sources that imagine a kind of “public intellectual” audience—reasoned and interested readers.—because those are the kinds of readers I want students to be, too.
  • Hot TopicsSince I am always interested in contemporary issues, I also try to find pieces that concern complex issues going on in the world around me. For example, in this revision, I looked for essays about the political changes happening in the Middle East, the environment (especially in the wake of the BP oil disaster), and the growing role of social media.
  • Different Points of ViewFinally, I’ve come to realize that if I’m the only one searching for readings, I will only find what I can see. I try to enlist the help of others, because I know that diversity of opinion leads to better options. My editor John has been great about suggesting pieces, but I also asked teachers in my program to join the search. Not only did they bring me essays I would never have thought about, they also enjoyed the process and the professional opportunity.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.