[ WRA135 Achievement Requirements ]|[ WRA135 Homepage ]|[ WRA135 Schedule ]

Writing: Public Life in America:
The Service-Learning Writing Project

Sping 2009
John A. Dowell, instructor
last revised for content: 11.05

John A. Dowell
Office Office Hours E-mail Phone Fax
202E Bessey Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824
after class meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays (~7:00-8:00PM) and by appointment jdowell@msu.edu (Note: the BEST way to reach me, 24/7/365 ... nearly). Please remember to ALWAYS start the subject heading of an email to me with WRA135 (all caps & no spaces) 517.355.2363 517.432.6233

Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement (your YouVote.msu.edu Agency Contact)
Webpages Director Office Phone Fax
Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement
& America Reads/
America Counts
Karen McKnight Casey 27 Student Services
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
517.353.4400 517.353.2597

City of East Lansing - Public Works & Environmental Services (your Recycling Agency Contact)
Webpages Director Office Phone Fax
City of East Lansing - Public Works & Environmental Services Dave Smith
City of East Lansing
Department of Public Works
(physical - 1800 E. State Road)
(mailing - 410 Abbot Road)
East Lansing, MI 48823
517.337.9459 517.337.3943

On this page....

Spring 2009 Agency Placements; Spring 2009 Student Pages

Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon launched "Boldness By Design" in Fall 2005. The five principles of this effort are:

WRAC Mission

The overall goal of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures is to prepare students for the kinds of writing they will be called upon to produce in the university and in their personal, professional, and civic lives. In all its courses, the Department views writing as key to students’ intellectual development and as inherently linked to other aspects of communication.

Effective writing demands both rhetorical knowledge and cultural understanding. Rhetorical knowledge involves an awareness of strategies appropriate to the context, beginning with attention to audience and aim and extending to knowledge about genre and style, modes of inquiry and development, and argumentative and persuasive techniques. Writing practices are culturally situated and need to be understood and studied with an awareness of their larger cultural and intercultural contexts.

In its degree programs, the Department places special emphasis on the rhetorical, cultural, cognitive, and technological contexts within which writing is created and distributed. Various tracks within these programs allow students to explore the rhetorical nature of cultures and communities and the cultural and community contexts within which writing takes place and is shaped.

SLWP Mission

(Excerpted from David D. Cooper and Laura Julier's Writing in the Public Interest: Service-Learning and the Writing Classroom [East Lansing: The Writing Center, 1995], 7 ff)

The Service-Learning Writing Project (SLWP), founded in Fall 1993, is a joint endeavor of Michigan State University's College of Arts and Letters, Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures, the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, and the Writing Center. The SLWP's ultimate goal is to establish an interdisciplinary Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures course ... [which] partially fulfills the lower division General Education writing requirement for first year students at MSU. The course unites challenging intellectual content, effective writing instruction, and community-based service-learning assignments into an innovative and humanistic educational experience in academic and field learning. Working through the SLWP, students will become more effective writers and more thoughtful, culturally literate citizens better equipped to meet the challenges and responsibilities of civic life.

[back to top]

Course Description

In the wake of what might be termed "American Day Zero" (9.11.01), a majority of Americans still seem to describe their private lives optimistically, but are considerably less optimistic when surveying the public sphere (e.g., there will be more terrorist attacks on domestic soil, but my family, my friends, and I will remain comfortable and secure in our pursuits of the "American Dream"). That is to say, often many Americans see themselves as detached from public commitments and democratic practices, preferring the comforts and security of their private lives to the diversion, division, sometimes seemingly-ubiquitous violence, and "general cynicism" of the public realm often depicted on TV, in newspapers and news magazines, and other sources of "infotainment."

QUERY: Despite all the "post-nine-eleven" ballyhoo to the contrary, have we truly withdrawn from public associations with genuine contempt and fear? Has our democratic system - apparently the envy of most of the planet - failed us? Have many Americans actually lost faith in our "common life," in our governmental agencies, and perhaps - indeed - in the very notion of a representative democracy itself, in favor of either (1) a shamelessly xenophobic "my country (or flag or President or whatever) right-or-wrong" fervor or (2) a "you can't win so don't try" attitude of hoplessness?

Many would suggest this "loss of faith in our common life" is the result of a pervasive sense of unhealthy cynicism in the popular discourse of American culture. Your instructor, however, suggests the precise opposite: not enough cynicism ... coupled with a lack of informed discourse, is potentially the genuine root of this dilemma. That is to say, if you fail to stay informed about the big concerns, you aren't really allowed to scream when the rat cage is strapped to your face. (Recognizing this image, of course, presumes you actually read Orwell's 1984 back in high school.)

QUERY: Have too many otherwise well-intentioned Americans "huddled together" in a jingoistic, xenophobic passion - or, arguably worse, a "head in the sand" disposession - which actually subverts the ideals of democratic pluralism?

WRA135 - "Writing: Public Life in America: The Service-Learning Writing Project" - will examine these difficult questions and many others. Readings, writing assignments, discussions, and public service placements will confront us with basic interrogatives about the struggle for a revitalized public sphere. What does it mean, for example, to be a member of the communities in which we live and work - school and classroom, workplace, place of worship, neighborhood, or nation? In most clear focus, what - in fact - does it mean to be a citizen in this American democracy?

We will discuss, debate, evaluate, and write about such questions with the help of diverse readings, viewings, audios, and links to internet sites. In addition, students in this section of WRA135 - sponsored by the Service-Learning Writing Project - will benefit from hands-on experiences in various Lansing-area public and community service agencies. Options for student placements this semester typically include:

Students' service-learning experiences - as demonstrated by their webfolios - are carefully monitored by their professor, other SLWP-related WRA faculty, the service-learning agency's staff, and/or the staff of MSU's Service-Learning Center.

ALL service-learning writing project materials are to be published/posted on each student's SLWP webfolio. That is to say, this webfolio constitutes your "public self" as a writer for your SLWP. Please only submit your best - and best-revised - work!

[back to top]

Course Format, Aims, and Objectives

WRA135 follows a challenging seminar and workshop model emphasizing the development of independent thinking as well as collaborative learning processes. You are to be prepared for Pop Quizzes assessing your reading assignments at any time. Assignments for class preparation and daily discussion, analysis, evaluation, and critique of readings stress constant refinement and routine practice of varied writing activities - including outlining, paragraphing, peer-editing, essay and report writing and revision, leading class discussion, drafting discussion questions, developing group proposals and conducting group research, and so on. Our overall objective is to strengthen the following critical competencies:

To facilitate all these objectives, each student is REQUIRED to meet at least TWICE at the Writing Center for assistance with at least TWO of these concerns ... and at least ONCE with her/his instructor to cover ALL indicated concerns.

NOTE: failure to successfully complete the fulfillment of these aims and objectives WILL result in a failing Final Evaluation for this course.

If you will not be able to keep up with the format, aims, and objectives of this course, you are strongly advised to drop this section immediately, allowing another student to fulfill them.

[back to top]

Required Texts (NOTE: you may well find bargains on the printed texts if you look online, especially for used items!)

[back to top]

Performance Evaluation

Students must attend all classes, participate in all class activities, and complete all assigned work on or before due dates as indicated by the Schedule. Efforts for evaluation are graded on a four point scale in accordance with common standards adopted by the faculty of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures, consistent with the policies of MSU.

Each evaluated activity for WRA135 will be graded 4.0, 3.5, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.5, 1.0, or 0.0. Note that each activity has different values ("weights") when considering your final evaluation for the course. A brief explanation of these grades follows.

Evaluation Expectations

Note: ALL PREWRITING AND PREVIOUS DRAFTS MUST BE AVAILABLE WHEN SUBMITTING FINAL DRAFTS. (Be sure you give each draft a unique file name, such as <Interview-1.html>, <Interview-2.html>, <Nacirema2ndDraft>, &c.) The process of writing is sometimes more important - more revealing - than the result.

Weighted Value for Assignments

Each assignment has an evaluation ranking - I, II, or III - determined by the amount of time and work it takes to complete the assignment and its relative importance to other assignments. Final grades are calculated by averaging assignments at each rank and weighing them as follows:

(Also remember how your attendance and deadlines effect your Final Grade.)

Work submitted by Presentation Groups - subject to the same ranking system - receive common evaluations. Each member of a Presentation Group receives the same grade for an assignment submitted for evaluation on behalf of the Presentation Group.

Grading Scale

The grading scale for efforts are consistent with the MSU standard:

4.0 = 100 - 93%
3.5 = 92 - 85%
3.0 = 84 - 80%
2.5 = 79 - 75%
2.0 = 74 - 70%
1.5 = 69 - 65%
1.0 = 64 - 60%
0.0 = below 60%

[back to top]


Attendance is mandatory. Do not miss this class. Quite a bit of the content of this course requires you to work with your classmates in general and your groupmembers in specific. If you miss a class due to an extreme situation, you must get with another student to learn what material you have missed.

If you wish to have your absence considered "excused," you must contact me and provide an official document (from an agency letterhead - e.g., doctor's office, funeral director, police, or an email from your Adviser) explaining the reason/s for your absence for the day/s missed.

As this class meets two times each week, few absences are permitted for any reason. Unexcused absences will affect your grade for this class as follows:

Class meets two times/week
Number of
Unexcused Absences








 5 or more

  40 (automatic 0.0 for the course)

No more than five "excused" absences will be permitted for classes which meet twice per week - including for sporting events you are to attend; if you have more than these "excused" absences, you must drop - or receive a 0.0 evaluation for the course. You must make up any work you miss immediately.

Documentation for an "excused" absence is due within two weeks of the date of the absence.

Again, it's just simpler to remember: do not miss this class.

NOTE: "The Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures may drop students who do not attend by the fourth period or fifth day of the session, whichever comes first, because these courses are limited in enrollment."

[back to top]


While you have a great many assignments, you actually have surprisingly few deadlines until the Dead Dog Due Date. However, deadlines are not negotiable without documentation as described above.

As above, you must contact me and provide an official document (from an agency letterhead - e.g., doctor's office, funeral director, police, or your Adviser) explaining the reason/s for your missing one of these deadlines.

Again, it's just simpler to remember: do not miss deadlines. What follows is a list detailing your formal - "carved in stone" - deadlines.

There may well be instances when this deadline schedule will be modified to some degree. You will be notified - in class, via email, and/or on the Schedule - of revisions. As ever, what is spoken in class most recently supercedes what is posted; I will then "play catch-up" with what is posted.

There are penalties for failing to post or submit materials at those due dates (again, all due dates are posted on the Schedule) and there are often penalties for failing to show up for class on time. The penalties are simple to remember:

To be sure, you are clearly rewarded for keeping up with what you're supposed to be doing anyway!

[back to top]


Be certain to always keep up with your SLWP webfolio, your WRA135 webfolio, the class Schedule and the class homepage, as well as with your groups. Additionally, remember you are required to check your e-mail quite frequently (daily is clearly best), as that is often the fastest way all class members may be simultaneously reached with critical information. (Remember, just as I'm to read what you write, you're to read what I write! <g>)

Good people, if there's anything I can do to help make the unique experience of WRA135 more rewarding to you, please do not hesitate to contact me! Again, the best way to reach me is at my email address.

Folks, the truth is - and this is backed up after quite a bit of research - this is for many students the most rewarding course they take as undergraduates! It can be utterly "life-affirming," if you let it! That said, to be sure, you only get back "as a return" the effort you put into the course. Hard work is expected throughout the entire semester, not just at the end of the term. So do yourself a favor and keep up all semester long, get with the Library, get with the Writing Center, get with the Learning Resources Center, get with the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, and - to be most sure - get with me whenever you have questions!

[back to top]

TIER 1 REQUIREMENT WRITING: 4 credits [Source: http://www.welcome.msu.edu/AdviserManual/Section4.htm, 8.18.98]

[back to top]

To "clarify the math" for you:

[back to attendance; back to top]

[ WRA135 Achievement Requirements ]|[ WRA135 Homepage ]|[ WRA135 Schedule ]

© 1996-2009 John A. Dowell