A Brief Introduction to The Visceral Method
by David M. Gracer
I started teaching in 1988 and am now writing a book about my pedagogy. At the Community College of Rhode Island I’ve created The Visceral Method [TVM], an experiential curriculum that centers on the concept of ‘writer’s voice’ to help students better understand themselves and their world. Much of TVM is applicable to a range of students, and the implementation of TVM could help address various societal problems. Most importantly, I hope to learn what teachers, students, parents, school administrators, and others think of my work.
The contents of most textbooks utilized in American schools indicate that foundational skills (grammar/mechanics, standard essay forms, formatted research papers) are considered the best preparation for students’ futures. Yet these elements of communication are uncharismatic and their hierarchical nature tends to demotivate students. This instructional approach, the damaging effects of frequent standardized testing, and other factors explain why many students begin their college-level writing courses with dread. Since I want to help my students overcome this dread, I do not begin by asserting that grammar and form are important for their own sake because this subject-matter is unlikely to have become important to the students previously. Therefore, although grammar is definitely important, I teach writing not as an end in itself but as a vehicle to carry students toward self-actualization and a more nuanced understanding of the human condition.
TVM obliges students to engage with unfamiliar territory, and thereby to express themselves and to become more articulate. The essays (sometimes submitted with additional forms of documentation) explore the students’ perceptions, attitudes, and actions. As the students engage in the process and observe their own assumptions, metacognition makes their essays personal and memorable. Although most of the assignments involve some form of discomfort, my students often invest considerable effort and time in their work. Just as I repeatedly exhort them to ask many questions and to question everything, I remind them that if an assignment makes them particularly uncomfortable, they can write about why they declined to follow the original instructions and what they had done instead. Therefore they can be themselves and write authentically, which provides them a reasonable chance of gaining insight from whatever I have asked them to undertake.
We know that students attend college because they want more agency (wider range of options, greater earning potential) and that they require more than merely additional information; they need to develop new perspectives by which to view and navigate their surroundings. TVM offers students a sense of cognitive and intellectual innovation that will help them recognize patterns and opportunities they would have previously missed. My students ask questions that require introspection to address, and then explain their answers, and then continue the process. Exploring their own perceptions will provide new opportunities for growth and transformation. Utilizing variations of TVM in public schools would help students become increasingly curious, because naturally they would compare their ideas to those of their peers. This in turn would make them more involved with other people, thereby enhancing interpersonal skills, empathy, resilience, and sense of community. There has been considerable discourse regarding the need to change education in order to meet the challenges of technological progress, especially artificial intelligence. TVM could be a model for addressing such concerns, because it centers on the search for meaning through interaction and introspection. Below are just a few examples of TVM assignments:
New Food: Choose and eat a new food or entirely new cuisine. Explain your process/experience.
Death: What do you think will happen to you when you die, and why do you think that?
Stranger Observation: Following simple guidelines, determine whether you can learn from a stranger.
Geography: You live in an amazing world; how much do you and those around you know about it?
Entomophagy: Here are roasted insects – will you try one? Explore your thoughts and reactions.
House of Worship: Visit a house of faith not your own. What was it like? What did you ask, and learn?
Sacrifice: Select an aspect of your life and relinquish it for a time-period. What happened?
Basic tenets of TVM:
Observe the world around and within you. Ask lots of questions. Use your senses and unpack your logic. Explain your reactions. Describe and analyze your perspective. Ask even more questions. Learn from the process. Doing all of this will strengthen your voice and help you influence others. Your voice is much more than merely the sounds that come out of your mouth.