Teaching the Protests in Wisconsin

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The showdown in Wisconsin over proposed legislation affecting public employees and unions has dominated the news lately. There are several essays in Emerging you might use to bring these issues into the classroom:
  • Kenji Yoshino, “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights.” Yoshino’s explicit concern is developing a new model of civil rights that encompasses all groups instead of rights assigned to individual groups, but students could use his analysis to think about economic rights in the context of the Wisconsin protests. In particular, Yoshino argues that change should happen not through the courts but through conversations, which could offer students a way to think about how to resolve similar domestic political conflicts.
  • Thomas Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention.” Friedman proposes that global supply chains promote peace, since countries embedded in the same supply chain won’t risk their positions in that chain by going to war. He suggests that globalization has a stabilizing effect on geopolitics. But the Wisconsin protests highlight in part the local effects of living in a flat world. Yes, China and Taiwan won’t go to war because of the role they play in the global economy, but what about the costs to our own domestic economy? Looking at budgetary issues can give students a place to push back against any rosy picture of globalization.
  • James Surowiecki, “Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made to Work.” Surowiecki’s analysis of the breakdown of small groups in the case of the Columbia shuttle disaster offers insights as well into the breakdown of political processes. Many of his concepts, such as group polarization, can help students understand why each side in these protests so adamantly defends its position.
Additional essays might also prove useful. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s essays focus on how we need to find ways to get along in a very crowded world. Steven Johnson’s essay looks at how events become media spectacles. And Julia Serano’s essay is about the implicit taboo of crossing lines of class. All of these could be used to construct a sequence of assignments that examine the protests and ask students to think about why they happened and what they mean.
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.