By Scott Windham | Published October 27, 2012
I’d like to congratulate the committee for their work thus far, and my colleagues for their thoughtful responses. The WEI is a bold initiative with transformative potential, and it fits Elon’s core strengths.
A goal I find particularly compelling is the emphasis on public discourse. Although I second Laura Roselle’s point that the term “public discourse” needs to be defined, I should add that for second-language professionals, the phrase is somewhat less freighted. For us, public discourse (to oversimplify a little) is simply that which is not private: genres of speech acts that take place in the public realm, as opposed to personal and familiar genres. The Elon faculty expect our students to engage thoughtfully and responsibly in public speech acts, so from that perspective, I welcome the emphasis on writing as a way to improve participation in the public sphere.
But I would like to rewrite the goal a little.
The WEI aims for students “to possess the writing abilities required to participate effectively in public discourse about local, regional, and global issues.“ Let me restate it more boldly: students should possess the writing abilities to engage in public discourse in a second or third language.
The WEI is premised on the idea that language shapes cognition—that language not only expresses thought but also organizes (some would say constitutes) thought. To be a responsible actor on the world stage, our students must understand the way others think, which means understanding other languages. Entire societies organize themselves around language, and if we want our students to engage those societies, our students will need to write well in other languages.
The goal, the way I’ve rewritten it, is attainable. Second-language pedagogy has evolved so rapidly that students are capable of advanced writing in a second language at the end of a four-year curriculum, at least in those languages most closely related to English. Other languages take more time, but students in those languages can move towards that goal in their time here.
Scott Windham is an Associate Professor in German.
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