In 2014, I was invited to speak at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Tampa, which is the annual meeting of the “world’s largest professional organization for researching and teaching composition, from writing to new media.” Below is my proposal that garnered acceptance.
How does traveling within a city and into the body influence writing practices and urban social awareness? Within my new first year experiential learning course, “Chicago’s Yoga Community,” students practiced yoga at different Chicago studios and wrote critical, reflective pieces about their experiences. As teachers of writing become increasingly interested in the interaction between bodies and literate practices, as signaled in Arola and Wysocki’s (2012) Composing (Media) = Composing (Embodiment): Bodies, Technologies, Writing, the Teaching of Writing, the course specifically considered how students experienced yoga within the body and how their physical practice informed their learning and writing processes as well as their engagement with Chicago. While the course itself was bound by a University-wide focus on inspiring student engagement with the city, unlike other iterations of the course, which might ask students to attend plays or baseball games, this course consciously applied Arola and Wysocki’s emphasis on all senses as epistemic: “without our bodies—our sensing abilities—we do not have a world” (p. 3) in connection with Paulo Friere’s conception of education “directed toward transformation and liberation” (Breuning 2011, p 60).
My talk will focus on ways in which my course praxis attempted to press students to write about their bodily experiences and in doing so, challenged students to articulate how Chicago-based conceptions of yoga are undeniably tied by larger sociopolitical concerns, such as those of hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who in response to mounting youth violence, recently called out to the mayor in a Huffington Post interview: “Rahm Emanuel, wherever you are, I’m coming for you and you’re going to put meditation in schools in Chicago.” Faced with such exigence, I argue that it is important that my course approach must distinguish between experiential learning and experiential education. Breuning (2011) synthesizes the consensus on experiential learning, which takes students through phases of learning cycles, yet does not have a “intended learning outcome or aim.” This methodology-based approach is seen in courses such as “adventure education, service learning, cooperative learning, active learning and place-based learning” (p. 59). Experiential education, on the other hand, combines both methodology and philosophy; philosophy itself “implies that there is an intended aim toward which the experiential learning process is directed,” an aim that can be directed toward social change (p. 59). Therefore, my course was directed toward the following concerns:
- How might a student’s embodied experience of yoga feed their activist mentality, motivating them to imagine ways in which yoga could reach underserved populations of the city?
- How can course blogging extend agency beyond physical bodies, allowing students to play a part in a larger conversation about challenges facing yoga in the city of Chicago and beyond?
Arola, Kristin L. & Wysocki, Anne Frances (2012). Introduction. In Kristin L. Arola & Anne Frances Wysocki (Eds.), Composing (Media) = Composing (Embodiment): Bodies, Technologies, Writing, the Teaching of Writing (pp. 1-22). Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado.
Breuning, Mary (2011). Critical Praxis and Experiential Education. In Thomas E. Smith & Clifford E. Knapp (Eds.), Sourcebook of Experiential Education (pp. 56-63). New York, NY: Routledge.