Ethos, Pathos, and Budget Cuts: An In-Class Writing Assignment

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Ethos, Pathos, and Budget Cuts: An In-Class Writing Assignment 

Neurodivergent Teaching


For Writing Project 1, students were asked to analyze the essay “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” by James Baldwin, which they would use as a model to create a manifesto: Calling attention to an issue important to students that was in need of significant changes. Then, much as Baldwin’s conclusion offers a manifesto for much needed social change, students suggested what changes would look like and how change might take place in 2024.

In early drafts, students approached the issue from a very general stance. For instance, social media is a problem that can be solved by individual users changing their personal habits. As might be imagined, much of the draft writing looked as if it was filling out a template. To grow deeper, writers needed to build credibility (ethos) by including very specific examples– not necessarily personal examples, but examples that would show their deep involvement with the issue. Because the examples would dive beneath the surface of the issue, the writer would reach out to the emotions and sensibilities of the audience (pathos).

For any writer, it’s a challenge to communicate with specific examples and depth of feeling. How can writers choose and organize examples that are too numerous and often too devastating to make sense of? How can writers convey emotions that frequently seem unfathomable to experience, and at the same time, describe them to an audience? 

There aren’t easy responses to those questions. It’s a writing problem not unique to 2024, but each class, individually and collectively, wrestles with the problem in its own way. As a teacher, it also affects me. Following is an in-class writing assignment, lightly revised, that attempts to grapple with this circumstance:

Reconsider the Manifesto section of Writing Project 1. What issue is important to you? Why is it important? What do you want the audience to know about what is important to you? WHY?

Allow me to be more specific. Recently, professors and students gathered together in the dining hall for a demonstration sponsored by our union. The goal was to build solidarity and understanding for ongoing contract negotiations. There was free food, and people were invited to fill out forms to write their “2 cents” (their opinion) about how to make our college a better place. Later the professors received photos of this event. This included the 2 cents opinions. 

I was very moved by the photos, so I made a video

The video is a manifesto about education. The second half offers specific evidence about why education is important, and what needs to be done to improve education at Queens College. For me, this is connected to our reading because education is a human right, as explained in Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Part 4 of our course reading, the writer offers an example of someone who fought for their human right to education.


This is my two cents form:

A piece of paper where writers document their opinions on what need to change at their university.jpg

Sample of Supporting Evidence: What needs to change?

The heaters in my classrooms don’t work.

The windows in my classrooms are too heavy to open.

The tech in my classrooms often has no sound.

The classrooms are so small that students don’t have room to move.

The bathrooms have no paper towels and the tampon machines are empty.

Photo by Susan Bernstein February 29, 2024


So: for your in-class writing today, identify an issue that moves you, and explain why you are moved by this issue. You can choose any aspect of this issue that is a powerful example for you. This powerful example can be connected to our course reading. We will make a list of those examples before we begin writing. 


Here are a few examples from the students’ list:

  • Education: what do I see around me–and how and why would I change it? 
  • Social media: how would I change it for children? Why? 

The drafts that followed offered examples not necessarily from personal experience, but with more personal engagement with specific problems. Our small classroom that day was too hot and the windows, which opened only to their full height and not lower, brought in too much cold air.  

Budget cuts, like ethos and pathos, are not abstract concepts, but embodied experiences.  

A sticker that reads Give Us Your Two Cents on a rusted pole outside a classroom building.jpg

Rust and peeling paint on a light pole outside a classroom building. 

The sticker includes the union name and the caption: Give us your 2¢

Photo by Susan Bernstein February 29, 2024


About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.