College Composition Topics: Give Regional a Chance, an Issue of Sustainability

Sustainability in composition marks the biggest paradigm shift in curriculum and instruction for composition since the multicultural revolution. Yet rather than supplant multiculturalism, sustainability links it to other movements, such as environmentalism--but with a broader meaning than is traditional. This op-ed will look at sustainability as concern for the students' immediate environment. This means students and book authors can write about what matters to them in their environment; the "too regional" critique would no longer have merit. Note the subtitle, "Give Regional a Chance." Yes, that's a take-off of John Lennon's famous song, "Give Peace a Chance." According to the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) , educators need to develop policy strategies that "build public support" for Developmental Education and "support institutional innovation." Furthermore, published student essays can catch the public's eye.

Derek Owens on Sustainability

Derek Owens (2001) expanded the definition of sustainability in his book, Composition and Sustainability--published by the Refiguring English Studies of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). Check out the blog The Bookfish by Steve Mentz to read Owens's book online. Furthermore, ERIC provides a fine abstract for Composition and Sustainability too.

The Refiguring English Series "examines the role English should play in larger society and public policy." Sustainability has an inherent interdisciplinary style, such as public policy and sociology or marketing and philosophy. Among other things, it should expand the already wide range in human interest stories while maintaining relevance.

In the "Chameleon Vision" chapter, Owens defines sustainability as "meeting today's needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations." We collaborate with our environment and depend upon it. Therefore, sustainability includes simply allowing students to write about their environment--whether it's that barbecue restaurant on the next block, their favorite rap or duranguense band, a hope for a gospel concert to come to town, or their favorite job as a tank driver. As you can see, the political connotations could be liberal,conservative, centrist or none at all. Owens asserts to let students think about stories that belong to them and want to preserve. Could he be asking our faculty, students, and textbook authors to think like anthropologists?

Here's a chance to bring real students' interests to the desk through fairness in topic choice. Check this website for a wide range of exciting essay prompts This can mean no less than the difference between passing and failing in developmental courses. A boring or irrelevant cluster of composition prompts can alienate students--especially the marginal ones. English faculty function as "gatekeepers and catalysts," according to Owens. Owens proclaims it's time to get away from anthologies that remind one of a "greenhouse or wax museum for the same small number of species...Move outside the safety zone and bring in the outsider." The freedom inherent in composition topic choice could lead to provocative inquiry and inspiration.

Maybe the composition or developmental English instructor would feel free to share their pop culture interests in such a liberated environment. In my case, I might start with the many careers of Bruce Dickinson, the Iron Maiden singer who flies commercial jets for a British airline, the Iron Maiden jet. He has written novels, hosted a BBC radio talk show, and did a documentary on tanks. Dickinson is a top fencer who has a line of fencing equipment. Most recently, Dickinson started his own brand of mail-order beer called “The Trooper”after the famous song.

On Branding

The state of brands and how they affect well-being was measured by media consultancy Havas Media. The study examined how people interact with businesses in a world full of crumbling institutions; a brand will stand apart from the crowd if it makes people's lives better and more meaningful. Branding research has insights relevant to the sustainability in composition topic movement.

“What’s the trick to making a brand meaningful? Focus on outcomes, not outputs. The criteria, says Haque, are simple: "Did this brand make you fitter, wiser, smarter, closer? Did it improve your personal outcomes? Did it improve your community outcomes? Did it pollute the environment? We’re trying to get beyond "did this company make a slightly better product" to the more resonant, meaningful question: Did this brand actually impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way?"


To conclude, Owens notes the unique position of the composition instructor because of the freedom to explore. According to John Langan, the dean of Developmental English and Reading instructors, the purpose of writing is to inform, persuade, and entertain.The vast majority of courses have a set body of knowledge that the instructor must cover. Let's allow our Composition and Developmental English/Writing students to report their world to their instructor and college itself. Finally, branding research confirms the common sense observation that people want a meaningful product. The arguments against regional topics appear more like censorship than a quest for a generic national prompt list.

Comments 12 comments

StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 5 years ago from New Jersey

The focus of this article is interesting. It has been long contested that letting students write about their interests would motivate them and result in better written products: I would agree. But institutions at all levels can be wary of what would seem to be a free for all. This was the topic of an article posted to the ASCD news brief today about math students with different learning styles to be able to learn math their way.

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

You're absolutely right about being wary of a free for all. For example with short narrative essays, the most liberal of essays in its range, I explicitly cautioned against tales of criminal activity and sexual accomplishments or blunders.

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

My edit added the link to the actual book by Derek Owens: Composition and Sustainability, together with the link to my article on Bruce Dickinson.

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

I just added observations from a university sustainability document! The University of Waterloo is Canada's most innovative college even though it's only two years older than me!

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

I just made a tag cloud on this essay through wordle--really cool

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

Just added branding research info from Fast Company.

Futamarka 3 years ago

Что произойдет, если экономика полностью развалится, и наши города поюморятся в анархию и хаос, как мы это видели в Новом Орлеане во время урагана Катрина? В некоторых крупных городах США, таких как Детройт, грабежи уже принимают угрожающие размеры. В Детройте уже есть целые кварталы париков, полностью разграбленных ворами, из них вынесено всё, что имеет хоть какую-то ценность. К сожалению, экономическая ситуация грозит стать намного хуже, чем она является на данный момент. Так не пришло ли время покинуть крупные города? Не должны ли «выживальщики» подыскивать более безопасные места для себя и своих семей? Это законные вопросы.

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 3 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

Is this language Russian? Somebody tell me what he or she is writing about, please.

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 3 years ago from Tyler, TX Author

I added my commentary on the Univ. of Waterloo president's concept of sustainability as it pertains to regional composition topics. Plus I amplified the description of Bruce Dickinson's many careers--a true Renaissance Man.

gepeTooRs 11 months ago

I must say that this post is the most relevant article I’ve ever read and saw. It’s a great help to everyone who is looking for this information.

gepeTooRs 7 months ago

very nice put up, i actually love this website, keep on it

bohemiotx profile image

bohemiotx 5 months ago from Tyler, TX Author

Thank you, gepeTooRs--such a great compliment.

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