Course Information

SPCH 469a


  • What is the Course About
  • Who is the course for?
  • What will the course be like?
  • A Word on the Content of the Course
  • What knowledge should you have before you come into this course?
  • Readings and Other Learning Resources
  • Office Hours
  • Participation and Attendance
  • A word on classroom etiquette
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    What is the Course About

    SPCH 469 is a course devoted to studying people who use their voice to change their lives through public action. The version of the course this semester -- SPCH 469A -- focuses on the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in which Americans of African ancestry sought to improve their lot in American society through social action.

    A social movement contains many voices. Few participating in social movements attain power through traditional institutions of a society. They are outsiders who construct their power with their voice as they appeal to others to join them to seek change. Traditionally, and after the fact, our society elevates some of these speakers to a status that they could only have dreamed of as they were making their movement. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are examples of this status. As they organized their social protest, they were merely seekers of social change. Eventually, they attained a voice in the broader society. Their movements were marked by many more speakers who did not become famous. They were people to whom the call for change rang true and who organized their neighbors and friends into activity that furthered the goals of the movement. At a thousand venues around the United States, these people made a movement.

    A social movement is composed of many events and much discourse. No social movement creates the conditions to which it responds. What it does is to use discourse to bring conditions into the view of those affected, and to give those people a sense of their power to change those conditions. The rhetoric of a social movement responds to events around it. Sometimes it responds well and those events create important motivation for the movement. Sometimes it responds poorly and movements are weakened. This is the framework within which we wish to study the Civil Rights Movement: How did it respond to the moments that marked its time? Did it respond well?

    Social movements have a life. They are born, suffer indignities of youth, mature if they make it through childhood, and eventually die. They are constantly in flux and change. They are challenged from without, threatened with breakup from within, and have to respond to all the changes that are a part of their context. Thus, our study will move through life with the movement, seeing how it responds to different elements of its life at different stages in its development.

    So, we study the Civil Rights Movement to understand how people without power use discourse to construct power and to change their society.

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    Who is the course for?

    This course should be fascinating to students interested in how people use their voice to effect their lives. The course is also designed for students with particular study habits, however. The primary activity in the course is classroom discussion. The purpose of the discussion is not to give you information. You will acquire that information in your class preparation. The purpose of the discussion is to hone your skills in understanding how discourse responds to its moment. The course will not work for you without (1) your preparation before class, and (2) your participation in class. If you are disinclined to either, I would suggest dropping the course.

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    What will the course be like?

    I have noted that the major activity of the course will be discussion, specifically discussion of discourse. You will be responsible for this discussion, but I will lead. Since half of all exams will be on questions that employ the methods of these discussions, your participation in them is essential to your preparing for the exams.

    Three activities will constitute preparation for the discussion. First is coming to understand the events of the era. To accomplish this I will ask you to watch some videotapes at the Non-print Media Center on the 4th floor of Hornbake Library. There are about ten hours of tapes over the course of the semester. One of your textbooks also contributes to your understanding of the events. I stress that the history of Civil Rights is not the focus of the course; this reading is preparation for the activity of the course which is the analysis of speeches. The second preparatory activity is understanding elements of speaking that shape rhetorical responses to events. You will have a textbook to help you with this material. You will need to take the material from that text and use it to analyze the speeches. Third, you should prepare by studying the speeches (and some other documents) that we will be discussing, seeking to understand them as responses to the moments in which they are given. Although we will be discussing the speeches in class, if you fail to struggle to do a good analysis yourself and simply substitute the discussion in class, you will not learn to do this type of work.

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    A Word on the Content of the Course

    The problem of race is the Great American Embarrassment. Our topic is not an old dead topic of history. Is the Civil Rights Movement a highlight or a lowlight of the 20th Century? One can get an argument either way in America today.

    We are not fundamentally interested in carrying on this debate. Our perspective is to understand how a social movement was made with a great deal of success and at least some failure. We cannot avoid the moral issues because rhetoric does not evade moral issues. Indeed, rhetoric is made from moral bases.

    We will also encounter words that offend. They were uttered by people who intended to offend -- to use the force of offensive words to change their society or to stop that change. We will not shy away from the terms, indeed we will study that force.

    It is important that our classroom be a place for free discussion of the discourse of the Civil Rights Movement. Please respect the differences among the students in the class on the issues we will discuss. And when issues stray from the focus that we will take on the Movement, please respect the instructor's request to renew the focus.

    It is understandable that to some the issues and words of Civil Rights are too powerful to study in an attitude of engaged inquiry. Such students will probably want to seek another course.

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    What knowledge should you have before you come into this course?

    There is no prerequisite for this course. The readings should provide you the material you need to perform well. That includes a knowledge of the events of the Civil Rights Movement and perspective on how to read a speech. Courses in Speech Communication such as SPCH 401 should help with the latter, but we will be doing so much reading of speeches this semester that you will acquire the skill as the semester proceeds.

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    Readings and Other Learning Resources

    Several notes on these sources. First, please notice that each of the books has a different use. The Williams book will, in conjunction with the videotapes, provide you perspective on the events that contextualize the movement. The Campbell book provides a perspective on reading texts as responses to various elements of their context that we will adopt in the course discussions. The Carson, et al., book is a collection of readings that will be the material of our discussions. Thus, you need to approach each book differently. I should also mention that in some courses the textbooks are duplicative of the time in class. That is not true in this course. Rather, the books are tools in your preparation for class.

    Second, let me explain the system for viewing the videotapes. They will be mounted on the Non-print media center's "dial access" system (4th floor Hornbake). They will be on the system during the week before the assignment is due and the week the assignment is due. On the dial access system you can begin your watching on the 1 hour starting at 9 AM (thus, 9, 10:30, 12, 1:30, 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30). The tapes each run about an hour. If you want to view the tapes before they are mounted or after they are unmounted you can request them at the Non-print desk, but remember there is only one copy available. If you have not used the dial access system, please show up about 10 minutes early for the first use so you can become familiar with the system.

    Third, the website will be required reading on only one day. But the website will include several study aids to enhance your learning. All students have access to the website through Netscape available at WAM labs across campus.

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    Participation and Attendance

    Participation in this course, and therefore attendance, are important. Let me convince you of this with multiple approaches.

    Let me start by appealing to your intelligence. Attendance is more important in this class than some others because of three facts. First, material on the exams will not all come from the readings. You are responsible for material from discussion. Second, exams require understanding beyond information, and notes only record information. Although some portion of the exams will test your mastery of information, a large portion of the exam will go beyond information to require that you are able to talk intelligently about the speeches you have studied. To do this, you must acquire an ear and a voice for speeches in historical moments. Written notes cannot capture nor communicate that. Third, the only way to master the analysis of discourse is to articulate your analysis and the class will provide you that opportunity. You will need to aggressively take advantage of it.

    If you cannot be reached by intelligent reasoning on the need for attending and participating, let me address you more frankly. There is a culture at Maryland that values non-attendance based on: "I paid for it, so I can go or not, as I choose." This is dumb "consumerism." If you insist on a business metaphor for your education, the following variation governs: you have not paid for my performance; you have instead entered into a contract with me that says I will teach you about discourse in the Civil Rights Movement if you will seek to learn. Part of your obligation in that contract is to attend. Of course, you may opt not to enter such a contract. You do so, by dropping this course today.

    So, if you are in the "attendance optional" school of studenting, drop this course for another.

    I will be taking attendance. My major purpose in doing so is to collect data that -- along with test responses -- help me identify problems mastering the class.

    Of course, I spoke of participation, not just attendance. Being involved in the class, asking questions, and trying out your ideas is what participation in the class is about. You will master those aspects of the course that go beyond the acquisition of information with participation.

    If I sound like your attendance is important to me, it is. I will put a great deal of effort into teaching this class and expect your effort in return. Other instructors may not care as much and may have developed methods of teaching that do not depend on attendance. Find those instructors if they fit your lifestyle better than mine.

    A final word for students who add this course after the first day. The university permits you to enroll after the first day of classes, but you are responsible for material from the first class period on. You will put yourself at a disadvantage by enrolling late, and the disadvantage and the responsibility for diminishing it are yours, not the instructor's. You are excused from no assignments which occur before your enrollment. Not being enrolled is not one of the legitimate reasons for absences. This course begins on the first day of class, not the first day after drop/add closes.

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    A word on classroom etiquette

    Since the opportunity to work in the classroom is so central to this course, I am concerned that everyone assume responsibility for enhancing the learning in the classroom. I prefer that you think of the necessary behavior as common courtesy -- behaving so that if others do the same, the classroom will be an environment for learning. Just in case, let me be more stern, however. Following are some basic rules:

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