As I write this introduction in August 2023, I have, within the last 48 hours, been surrounded by talk and text about LLMs: the algorithmic processes that generate human-like language in tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Colleagues have forwarded handwringing articles by nervous writing teachers; I’ve collected and reviewed model course policies and public statements addressing the role of LLMs in classroom settings; I’ve responded to text messages and social media posts from colleagues for recommendations on how to respond to unauthorized LLM use in student writing; and I’m currently planning a forum on the subject for our program’s all-faculty meeting. When it comes to writing, AI is hogging the spotlight in 2023.
Some versions of the “literacy crisis” panic suggest that LLMs spell doom for writing, especially in schools. Won’t students stop reading and writing for themselves? Won’t AI tools reproduce racial and gender bias? Should we stop assigning writing altogether? Anticipating the surge in concerned interest among teachers, Mahdi Almosawi (“The Future of AI in the Classroom”) addresses the AI literacy crisis, acknowledging that, yes, tools like ChatGPT can mislead and cause harm—but it is also a writing tool like any other that teachers should acknowledge and incorporate into the classroom, so that students can learn the affordances and constraints of using such tools. In the same vein, Avery Knott (“Who Are the ‘Chronically Online’ and What Can They Teach Us about Public Discourse?”) brilliantly showcases the social and cognitive downsides of a life lived on and for social media: an addictive state that is supported by the very fuel that burns AI fires: algorithms. In both essays, we see that banning and/or ignoring the role of AI in writing ecologies is not only impossible but also dangerous.
In addition to reinforcing the need for students and teachers to pay attention to automated writing, let this issue of Undercurrents serve as a hopeful reminder that, even as we strive to increase our attention to them, bots cannot (yet) do it all. In the Composition Program, we teach and talk often about encouraging students to participate in textual conversations with their sources. In order to do so, however, students must adopt the stance of authority: that is, they are authorized to write back to published source materials as insightful, knowledgeable writers. The nine honorees in the 2023 issue of Undercurrents appear to have gotten the memo.
Several honorees in this issue write overtly about authority and the rhetorical means by which it is obtained, subverted, or oppressed. Gavin Pereira Scoccia (“Schooling and its Effects on Neurodiverse Authority”) and An Tran (“The Case Against the Five-Paragraph Essay”) take schools and common schooling practices to task for the ways they inadvertently suppress student authority by removing students’ opportunities to make meaningful decisions about their writing processes and products. Addressing the role of authority in rhetorical activity outside of school and beyond the written word, Jackelyne Abranches (“Who Is Getting Left Out?: Breaking Down Language Barriers in Healthcare”) examines how a lack of linguistic authority and agency can have serious, even life-threatening, consequences. Madeline Murphy (“Life’s a Fashion Show (If You’re a Teenage Girl)”) considers the rhetorical potential of fashion as a means by which some of the most disempowered members of society can assert a sense of identity and authority among their peer groups.
Additionally, all nine honorees in this issue write with authority as they engage in textual conversations. To the delight of the Undercurrents editorial board, several of those textual conversations engage prior Undercurrents honorees, thereby positioning not only themselves as writers with authority but also their fellow UMass Boston colleagues. Maxine Freda (“Teachers Are Encouraging Bullshit: A Response to Kylie Medeiros”) composes a direct response to—and extension of—Kylie Medeiros’s argument for “bullshit” as a real and legitimate rhetorical strategy among student writers. Armani Dure (“The Practicalities of Code-Switching”) extends and also qualifies Aneika Robinson’s ideas about code-switching among Black speakers and writers. Lynn-sarah Georges (“Do You Know Who You Are When You Write?”) also engages with Robinson’s ideas about code-switching, adding Tyler Tran’s consideration about the homogenizing effects of academic writing and the loss of students’ individual voices.
Many congratulations to these honorees and the tools with which they write for their successful efforts in using the written word to think, question, learn, challenge, respond, and connect. (This introduction was written by a human.)