Category Archives: Module 4

Announcement for Module 4

Advocacy & Freedom of Speech

In the final module of this course, our focus is advocacy and activism.

Watch a couple videos. One video is a “crash course” on US law about freedom of speech — you might need to watch it more than once to catch everything. I’ll ask you to pick one other video to watch (see below).

Additionally, please write two short posts for your blog. One post should  discuss your position on freedom of speech.  The second should discuss, analyze, or assess the rhetoric and style of the person (or people) in the video you choose.

But first! I’m going to tell you the story of a colorful personality, the great Lloyd Bitzer.  Actually, he was not a colorful personality, which you will discover if you do an image search. But he was an important figure in the history of the study of rhetoric.

Bitzer wrote a famous definition of rhetoric. He argued that rhetoric is speaking or writing that seeks to change the world by changing the thoughts or values of an audience. The members of the audience, with their new thoughts or ideas, become the agents for change.

So if you want to change the world, that means there must be something wrong with it, right? Exactly. Bitzer theorized that people speak up because they encounter what he called an “exigence” (most people today would say “exigency,” but when you’re the great Lloyd Bitzer I guess you can spell words however you want).

An exigence, Bitzer wrote, is “is an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be.” Hang on to this idea — it’ll be important in the coming weeks.


We watched this is class, but watch it again: Freedom of Speech.

Pick one of the following, depending on your interests. Or watch more than one — they all help us think about the complex relationship between rhetoric (speech or writing that moves people to act) and direct action (such as civil disobedience).

Historian/raconteur Utah Phillips and musician Ani DiFranco tell us about the Spokane Free Speech Fight of the early 20th century. This is an audio track that was released on CD in 1999.

Comedian George Carlin delivers his notorious “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit (audio only, from a 1972 recording). The fallout from this monologue went all the way to the US Supreme Court — look it up, Pacifica v. FCC.

British person Stephen Fry tells us about civil disobedience, a term coined by the American anti-slavery writer Thoreau in the mid-nineteenth century.

Political scientist Erica Chenoweth studies the success rate of nonviolent social movements in a TEDx talk. You can hear from Chenoweth and her co-author Maria Stephan in this NPR piece as well.

Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King argues for the right to protest in a speech given the night before his assassination in 1968 (this is a very short excerpt, but you can find the full transcript and audio elsewhere online). If you haven’t seen King’s later speeches, they’re worth watching — like this one.

Lastly, would any list be complete without Matt Damon?


The “Exigence”: an imperfection marked by an urgency

Before Tuesday (29 November), please read this short article in Education Week  about strategies for evaluating information online.

In class, we talked about the recent controversy over fake news. The power of fake news is an “exigency” that has moved people to advocacy: people are making arguments that companies like Facebook and Google should do more to ensure the quality of information they make available to us– and in fact, these companies have taken some action.

(If you’re asking, “what people?” — that’s a good question, gold star for you!)

In class, we looked at a “real” news article, “Fake news, ads dupe Internet-savvy students, study finds” (SF Chronicle, 21 November 2016). Here’s the link:

The news article takes the same problem (quality of information on the internet) but suggests a different solution: we must do more to give students (and all humans) the skills they need to evaluate information more effectively.

The lead researcher mentioned in the Chronicle article, Sam Wineburg, wrote his own article for Education Week — read it. By comparing the behavior of students and professional fact-checkers, he developed some recommendations for smarter decisions about internet information.

By comparing the behavior of students and professional fact-checkers, he developed some recommendations for smarter decisions about internet information.



For class on Tuesday, November 22th

Please complete two tasks before class on Tuesday, November 22.

  1. Reflect on what you saw at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency open house on Thursday afternoon and post to your blog. The post should comment on the transportation project AND the presentation of the project. Use details and specific examples so readers can really understand what you’re talking about.
Poster from the SFMTA open house, 17 November 2016
Poster from the SFMTA open house, 17 November 2016

Write a post discussing the transportation project. What did you learn about it? Did you form an opinion about its future?

I learned about the “High Injury Network” — the streets that account for 70% of injuries (pedestrian, bicycle, motorist). The map doesn’t break it down, though, so I don’t know which streets are statistically more dangerous for cyclists.

Also discuss the aspect of oral & visual communication you saw at the Open House. Here are some suggested things to think about–you can use these question to get started in your thinking (or ignore them if you have something better to talk about). What kinds of communication took place? Did you see things that were effective or ineffective (in your view)? What’s the difference between a poster and a powerpoint slide? Who were the presenters and what did you think of their credibility? Who was the audience?

The project website is here — you can find a PDF of all the posters as well as many other details.

2. Watch this video by TED curator Chris Anderson. He identifies the four key ingredients for a successful talk. This is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from Will Stephen’s “How to sound smart in your TEDx talk.” Write a blog post about your plans for S4–what “strange and beautiful objects” will you give to your listeners? This isn’t really a proposal, and you don’t have to stick with what you write. But it’s definitely time to get started thinking about S4.

Digital Speech Option

In class, I mentioned an option for S3 or S4, which is…

S5: Digital Speech!

This means making a YouTube video instead of performing your speech live in class.

But seriously, don’t just phone it in — if you choose this option, really make an effort to produce something people would want to watch.

Whether you give a traditional, in-person S3 or you choose the S5 option, same grading structure applies (write-out, rehearsals, self-assessment, and so on).

See linked file for more details and parameters:


Let me know if you plan to use this option!