Teaching and Learning at Midterm: Free Empathy (Meditation 1)

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This post is dedicated to all of us who, at midterm, amid a wide variety of distractions, grapple with catching up on grading and class prep, keeping track of meetings and  social media (including email), and research and writing for forthcoming presentations. My memory tracks back to a Free Empathy sign I saw at Occupy Wall Street five years ago. Yes, I think, free unconditional empathy would be most helpful for all of us at this particular moment. Sowith this particular rhetorical situation in mind, I offer fragments of recent teaching and learning experiences for anyone in need of free empathyteachers and students alike!


At Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park (October 2011), a white sign with large black font reads: Free Empathy. Photo by S.N. Bernstein

First Meditation: On Growing as Writers and Human Beings

originally posted on Council on Basic Writing Facebook page

This is my quilt, completed yesterday: "2016In Hope and Sorrow." While it's not specifically basic writing content, it is basic writing related. Many of the students I've taught over the years (as well as this year) are artists and musicians. At one institution, these students were not allowed to take art or music courses because their test scores placed them in "remedial" courses. My own ACT scores would undoubtedly have placed me in "remediation," if it had existed in the time and place of my undergraduate education, and my GRE scores could have kept me out of graduate school if those scores had mattered as much then as they do now. In other words, we need to eliminate the label "basic writer." It essentializes students, and it limits how institutions understand the potential of students enrolled in BW classes. Many of us would not be where we are now if we had been called "Basic STEMmers" including me. Even my English ACT score was below average, because the ACT did not measure my quirkiness, my proclivity for "thinking outside the box"what is now called "innovation." Apologies for the length of this, and for sharing what doesn't conventionally fit the category of basic writing, but which, for me, is deeply connected to the continued efforts of students and teachers working hard toward growing as writers and as human beings.

To be continued...

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.