Tag Archives: pedagogy

Remix: Part 2

OK, I’m hooked. I left off my last Remix post by asking what Lessig was advocating and what it looks like, and hoping that I’d find out in Parts 2 and 3. Lessig delivered in Part 2.

This is the part of the book that the title comes from: “Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.” Lessig is suggesting a hybrid between sharing and commercial (or thee and me) economies, and he provides numerous online models for what this looks like. My only real complaint at this point is that I, the reader, still have to do the hard work of mapping those examples onto non-online interaction. If the U.S. were to model copyright/trademark law after YouTube practices, what does that really mean? (Is it even really possible?)

On the bright side, we (the U.S.) already have one of the components that Lessig describes as integral to a sharing (and thus also a hybrid) economy: diversity. “Diversity in experience and worldviews, so s to help a project fill in the blind spots inherent in any particular view” (165). True, some will argue that most U.S. citizens have a very Westernized worldview. I would argue, though, that the necessary diversity does exist here … if only the powers that be are clever enough to seek the expertise of those with perspectives different from their own. (The anecdote that immediately springs to mind is Abraham Lincoln’s filling his Cabinet with his political “enemies” so as to have a broader diversity in his think tank.) What I’m not sure of, though, is if any government endeavor will ever be able to command the sort of volunteer power necessary to do something like this. Lessig hints in this part that he may feel the same way, but he seems more perturbed by the particular practices of our government rather than the inherent trappings of any government. I’m hoping there is more wisdom on this subject to come in Part 3.

I also really enjoyed Lessig’s inclusion of Sherry Turkle (starting on page 217). Theoretically, he could have done a lot more with her work on online identities, but I think the point about shifting identities demonstrating the value of generosity is well made. In the end, the thing that destroys the goodwill of hypertextual communities is greed. And, interestingly, the greed/generosity balance is both political and religious hotspot for many people even outside online culture. (I’m thinking income tax debates for politics, and for Christianity, at least, the passage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to Heaven. I can’t speak for any other religions, but I do get a sense of the same ideal from those that I have any experience at all with.)

Perhaps my favorite bit of this part of the book is on page 130, where Lessig says, “For reasons at the core of this book, inspiring more creativity is more important than whether you or I like the creativity we’ve inspired.” This passage really resonated for me. Part of that is probably because of my pedagogical stance regarding creativity. For every project I assign in my English 101 and 249 classes, I explain the learning goals and tell students that I am open to creative reinterpretations of the project as long as they still meet those goals or similar goals that I approve. Although I haven’t always liked my students’ creative reinterpretations (a wiki on alcohol-related expertise, even by non-minor students, could seem suspect), they have always responded excitedly to this possibility. There is no doubt in my mind that the students who take this option spend more time thinking in more ways about the rhetorical situation they are placing their work into.  I also have reason to believe that there investment in the project makes them more likely to continue writing for the public in the future. (My evidence for this includes both email updates from and Facebook groups formed by former students.)

But, really, I think my attraction to that observation on page 130 goes even deeper than pedagogical ideals. There is something very instinctual that tells me that creativity is important to humanity, even when it’s creativity I don’t like. I suppose I’m interpreting creativity to mean most of the things mentioned in the First Amendment, which has been so basic to my upbringing that acting on it does feel instinctual (though I recognize it’s learned). But I also think there’s the possibility that it goes even deeper. Things like art therapy make me believe that there’s something a little more basic in human nature that really needs to embrace Lessig’s RW culture.

For now, I’m excited to read Chapter 10 in Part 3, which Lessig said in Part 2 will deal with the Creative Commons license.  Since Lessig is a cofounder of that project, it will be really intriguing to learn about his vision for it. I particularly like his summary of it on page 226: “Take and share my work freely. Let it become part of the sharing economy. But if you want to carry this work over to the commercial economy, you must ask me first. Depending upon the offer, I may or may not say yes.”

Coming full circle

A few pages into Barbara Monroe’s Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing and Technology in the Classroom, I felt like my readings for English 467 had come full circle. We’re back to defining race, but Monroe uses the term in a new way: “Race, as I use the word in this book, refers to people of color, specifically African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, all of whom as groups have been historically excluded from the matrix of power and wealth in this country” (21). While this isn’t a definition I personally would ever use, it does point to two important understandings in defining race. First, race is not static. It is always changing and is always different depending on one’s perspective. Second, we can gain power over this often divisive word by using our agency to define it in the ways that benefit us. Monroe uses it to point out those who “have been excluded.” We could also use it as a term that denotes commonality rather than difference, as in celebrations of ethnic (racial?) heritage. I think that this may mean my original definition of race still works for me, although I’ve now had the chance to explore and complicate it in various ways. Race is a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm. And regardless of the origin of the word, it doesn’t have to be used with treacherous intentions.

I am reminded–as was Monroe on page 30–of Paulo Freire’s goal of critical consciousness and liberatory pedagogy. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire advocates helping the oppressed (whoever they may be) by teaching them to help themselves. They must be able to see the structures they have to work within and then cultivate a desire to do so. Anything less is pantomime. I particularly like thinking of race, rhetoric, and technology as addressed by Freire through bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, hooks points out the openness of Freire’s work and life (and examines and ultimately comes to terms with his sexist language). It seems to me that this treatment of the oppressed speaks directly to the issues of access we’ve been discussing all semester. hooks admonishes us (teachers, in a broad sense) to work as cultural healers, utilizing and modeling tactics for disrupting hegemonic power in ways that are sustainable and productive.

One example of such a tactic comes in Monroe’s second chapter, “Putting One’s Business on Front Street.” In this chapter, Monroe discusses a globally networked learning environment (GNLE) in which 27 Detroit High School sophomores and 27 University of Michigan upperclassmen interacted within a mostly electronic mentor/mentee relationship. Her attention to local and cultural contexts was exciting, and it was fascinating to read actual excerpts of the students’ correspondence.

The cultural differences were interesting and a bit frightening. For example, Monroe concluded that the DHS students who “performed” their mentors’ introductory emails by using “falsetto voices and with much body English” and “making fun of a person by overdramatizng his speech and gestures” were working within an environment that was “celebratory,” “good-natured fun” (44-45). While I realize that I might be rankled by these students’ treatment of their mentors because my culture is closer to that of the mentors than the mentees, Monroe could have done a much better job of explaining the culture clash at this juncture. As someone interested in navigating the complexities of culture and race in particular audiences, she should have been attuned to the audience of her book.

I think the study itself could also be critiqued because it is somewhat dated. The correspondences were conducted in the 1996-1997 academic year, and the book was not published until 2004. Dynamics at DHS with access and technological understanding have certainly changed in that time, and it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgment of that. (But, this is a common critique of technology-based books and a problem that is not easy to overcome.)

The parts of this study I was most interested in were the female-female partnerships that were so successful, and code-switching done be mentees, and the “Implications for teaching.” I find that analogies pertaining to sex-based oppression often help me understand “the race problem” better than I would otherwise be able to. As such, it came as no surprise to me that the female-female partnerships were generally successful. The discomfort surrounding the sharing of romantic details was an interesting cultural difference to ponder, though. Monroe’s discussion of the students’ code-switching likewise provides food for thought on the complex discourse communities these students navigate, despite the fact that standardized tests often label such students as “failing.” So far as implications for teaching go, I was particularly interested in Monroe’s note that English teacheers should be aware of “race-based cultural differences when designing their curricula” (64). Monroe gives the example of using rap music as a pedagogical tool. While some might think this would be appropriate for a school system with a high African-American demographic, DHS found that it posed problems for the religious African American communities that many of their students came from (65). Care must be taken in making such moves.

“Storytime on the Reservation” was also intriguing, and this is the chapter where Monroe returns to her original–problematic, in my opinion–premise that “electronic media–mainly, movies and e-mail–can bridge the gaping maw between home and school literacies” of students. I’m old-fashioned, I know, but I resist the idea of basing a child’s education on anything other than good reading. Electronic media can be supplements, and a medium like the Kindle is synonymous to books. But substituting movies and e-mail for books seems to be a very bad idea to me, and one that Monroe doesn’t support well enough for me to change my mind. She does mention that this is cultural, and this is part of my resistance. In a primarily oral culture, movies might be a better medium for instilling critical literacy. I concede that this could work … but the movies would have to be carefully chosen given the nature of Hollywood today, and while e-mails and texting are fine means for getting students to write, I still think they must be able to code switch to SAE to reach their fullest potential. In short, I don’t think it’s responsible to encourage teachers to switch to using movies and email as their main pedagogical tools without providing a good deal more explanation and support on how to make these tools work for instilling critical consciousness in students.

In this end, though, I think my critique stems from my having goals that are different from teachers at the schools that are discussed. The local needs and goals are far more important–though many politicians don’t realize it–than ensuring all students speak and write SAE flawlessly. In answering Cindy Selfe’s call to come up with more methods for critical engagement, I think Monroe does a fine job. It’s my own cultural situatedness that prevents me from accepting her suggestions. (Although I’m not saying my caution is an incorrect response, just qualifying it.) I wonder at her audience for this book, and I hope she’ll write the new book that is suggested by her closing statement that we need to “teach all children, not just children of color, to become interethnically literate” (125).

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Monroe, Barbara. Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing, and Technology in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004. Print.

Selfe, Cindy. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

A rant on the visible rhetoric of the comma

This post is just what the title says: a rant. It was really bound to happen at this point in the semester as everything is coming due at once and students begin to realize how much they have left to accomplish with just 2.5 weeks left. I’m in that position myself, so I feel a little bad about my rant … but not bad enough to call if off.

Imagine sitting down to grade a paper. In your first sweeping glance from top to bottom of the page, you realize you can trace rivers of white space vertically down the paper because of the excessive punctuation usage. On further inspection, you see these rivers are created almost exclusively by commas. And you further realize that most of them are unnecessary.

Gag.

Why can’t students use commas?

Actually, I don’t really blame them for not understanding commas. Commas are confusing. And everyone uses them incorrectly sometimes. My beef is that my students don’t think commas can be understood. I give them a cheat sheet for comma use. I provide them with resources to figure out commas. I offer to talk to them individually about papers with comma problems. But they persist in just sprinkling commas about the page wherever they think they’ll look pretty. Ugh!

My point is this: Even punctuation has visible consequences. When I look at that first page described above, the message I get from that writer through the visibility of that page is: I don’t know how to use a comma and I don’t care enough about this paper to get help.

That’s why the visibility of even something as trivial as punctuation is important.

End rant.