Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farmville-generated thoughts about WMRA's Civic Soapbox . . .

I went to Longwood University to sit in on five sections of an upper-level gen-ed class taught by two truly remarkable women, Lara Golden and Heather Lettner-Rust (who are also really fun dinner companions). I can't for the life of me remember the name of the class, but its aim is to teach students how to tailor written arguments for specific audiences. Its larger purpose was to prepare students to be better and more effectively involved citizens.

I was invited because these two creative professors had included the WMRA listeners as one of their designated audiences, and assigned their students the  task of writing a Civic Soapbox essay. My job was to talk about what I think works from atop the Soapbox.

We had many interesting and lively discussions over the course of the two days I was there, but one student said something that worried me. We were taking a look at another student's opening paragraph in which she talked about watching her little brother play sports, and this guy questioned whether NPR listeners would be interested in hearing anything from a person who was obviously so young, since NPR listeners were all really old.

Of course, I immediately disabused him of the notion that NPR listeners are really old--although if I remember myself correctly as a twenty-year-old, twenty-five seemed really old. And, helpfully for me in making my point,  it turned out that there was actually a sprinkling of WMRAers among his class-mates.

Beyond demographics, however, I realized I couldn't speak for the generic NPR "listener," I could only speak for myself. And so, speaking for myself, I said I greatly value hearing the thoughts, the experiences, the hopes, the fears, the stories of college students. Of course, college students are less experienced than I am, but what experience they've had is quite different from mine in many, many important ways--both personally and generationally. This leads them to question life, institutions, traditions, relationships, their world, themselves in ways I've never even considered. And to me, finding new questions to ask is what keeps life such a grand adventure.

Oh golly, I know most of the essays we run from atop the Soapbox are written by people who are, shall we say, not under 25 as, I think, all my temporary Longwood University students were. But I certainly hope nothing about the community effort that is WMRA seems unwelcoming to anyone's voice, anyone's opinion, anyone's story.


  1. Dear Martha-

    The pleasure was all ours--and our students too. The writing classroom belonged to all of us that day as we watched a wise woman let her hair down and share her travelling, laughing,and composing expertise.
    Tomorrow, I head in to workshop their revisions based on your advice. As usual, I can't wait to see what they learned.

  2. Martha,
    You have truely inspired me. I related so much to your own story, and your point of not letting a murky future keep us from moving forward strengthened me. Thank you so much for coming to our class.