Previous Research Guide
The store was always filled with shoppers buying all sorts of things, but no one ever seemed to want a small bear in green overalls.
—Don Freeman, Corduroy
Whether our favorite picture books as kids were timeless classics or new arrivals, whether they scared us or amused us, consoled us or challenged us—or perhaps did all of these things and more in exquisite combinations—they moved and shaped us in profound ways. How could a few dozen pages and a few hundred words affect us so powerfully? Why did we want to hear and see and read our favorite picture books again and again? What was the secret to their magic? In this course you'll not only analyze that "magic" but will also collaborate closely with a group of classmates to create an original, compelling, and educationally appropriate picture book for second-graders in a local school. Don't worry—no artistic talent or narrative genius is required. You'll learn about visual rhetoric and the rhetoric of fiction. In addition, you'll have valuable opportunities to pitch, write, and present your ideas and arguments to your peers and community partners.
We tend to think of literacy as the ability to read and write, as a function that can be reduced to mechanical acts: the linkage of sounds with particular letters, the formation of marks on a page. Much of our schooling is focused on developing and measuring these skills. In college, you will be asked to expand your literacy exponentially and become a highly critical reader, writer and thinker. This course will examine literacy's history and theory to make sense of—and perhaps ultimately to challenge—the literacy practices of the university.
We will begin with the premise that literacy is more than a technical skill. Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life, for one, famously argues that traditional print literacy is a means to an autonomous self and social power. Yet Douglass must also write and speak in the well-established conventions of the American abolitionist movement. As Douglass's work suggests, literacy is a complex form of knowledge that enables and constrains our ability to negotiate political, social, and cultural norms. Theorists and activists Paulo Freire, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jonathan Kozol will help us interpret the competing uses of literacy.
Financial literacy, health literacy, visual literacy, eco-literacy, emotional literacy, and cyberliteracy are terms that frequently appear in today's schools and news. So we will also think about literacy as the ability to read and write "texts" as diverse as a corporation's annual report, a doctor's orders, photographs, conversations, binary code, and classrooms. Susan Sontag, Mary Louise Pratt, and E.H. Gombrich will help us debate the extent to which visual images not only form communities of taste, but also determine ways of seeing. Charles Bazerman and Theodore Roszak will ask us to consider how institutions and technologies impact literacy education.
Throughout, two questions will undergird our discussion and your writing: what are the standards of literacy in different cultures, or communities? Who, or what, defines literacy?
Are you a member of one or more of Stanford's 650-plus student groups and see yourself using your career to address social inequities? Or are you too busy doing p-sets, writing papers, playing a sport and/or studying for midterms so you can graduate with a well-paying job in these financially unstable times? Or are you trying to find ways to do all of the above?
In this course, we'll be focusing on two aspects of these scenarios. First, we'll be exploring whether it is possible, likely, or even desirable for students and professors to focus their work on "fixing" the social ills of the world. That is, what might be the costs and benefits of university researchers also being advocates and taking their work off their computers and into the "streets"? Second, we'll be investigating ways your education can contribute to your ability to advocate for social change, whether you have service as a career goal or find it challenging to combine your day-to-day studies with your interests in social change.
To do this, we'll be developing our website, Re+Action, to connect your research with on- and off-campus organizations who may be interested in putting your research to work. We will also examine debates about research, activism, and scholar activists, as well as the relationship between research and service. We'll study and maybe even talk with professors like Ruthie Gilmore, Rob Reich and Joan Petersilia to see how they couple their research with advocacy, as well as with students who choose to become Stanford Public Service Scholars. Finally, our time will be spent watching oral presentations by people like law professor Larry Lessig, award-winning former PWR 2 students as well as by performing several of your own.
From the attempt to create life out of inorganic materials to building a robot controlled by self-organizing neurons in a petri dish, scientists and even do-it-yourself crafters are modifying living matter in unprecedented ways, creating biological entities never before seen. Areas of inquiry such as artificial life and synthetic biology lead us to revisit old questions about life and bring up new questions. Can living organisms be patented? Could life be created in silico - that is, inside a computer? Just what does it mean to be alive?
This class will focus on the ways in which human-created forms of life (and their creators) are portrayed in the scientific literature, the news media, in fiction, and in art. Looking at the rhetoric that surrounds these technologies, we will investigate how cultural productions have shaped our expectations about human-created life. Most importantly, we will ask what these conversations reveal about our attitudes toward life itself. We'll look at a diverse array of sources around the theme of creating life, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to the websites of organizations for synthetic biology, works of art produced by the "bio-art" movement, and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues's report on synthetic biology.