Community Literacy as Civic Dialogue

David Coogan


This essay describes service learning as a space for civic dialogue. In the project-oriented course discussed below—an oral history of a south-side African-American neighborhood in Chicago—civic dialogue took shape when middle class students from a range of backgrounds at the Illinois Institute of Technology interviewed residents of different generations and experiences, transcribed, contextualized, and published these interviews in print and online, and reflected on the process. As a tethering of “community” across the material and discursive boundaries that typically divide us, the project performed a political critique not through issue-oriented advocacy but through a rhetorical activism more locally attuned to the absence of critical exchange, empathy, and understanding in public life.

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