#critlit2010 and a reseeing of critical literacy

Boat Ride LineMade a quick leap and signed up for the Critical LIteracies course – and am just getting oriented this morning. Skimmed through How This Course Works – which is how I would like to see a grad course in social media work. Then turned to The present and future of Personal Learning Environments, Ron Lubensky, for a solid OV of characteristics of PLEs.

I’m afraid my understanding of PLEs is limited. I’m fine with critical literacies and pragmatics and semiotics, but I’m still an outsider to the PLE discussion. I’ve been reading about them, and I get the sense of the matter, and I’m motivated to move towards them, but I haven’t really tinkered with the concepts yet. Need to tinker. And that means moving over to diagrams and notes.

But there are others out there on the course who are making their way through things who provide if not models then ideas, strategies, and suggestions. Like #CritLit2010 reflections – third week, from maferarenas. And, on the wiki, the administrators list some soft milestones and activities.

I’ve encountered some of the readings before, and most of the topics and subjects are familiar. What’s new for me is the context – PLEs – and that highlights alternatives that I seem to have missed, or didn’t exist, when I first read them. Ira Shor’s CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CRITICAL LITERACY, for instance, reviews stuff I first encountered as a 3rd-year teacher of freshman comp and tutoring. Then, I focused on addressing critical literacy in the BW classroom using Mac Pluses, and looked to Shor, Friere, Shaugnessy, Rose for theory – and attitude – to generate practice. Then (c. 1988), the classroom was the dominant workspace and it was hard to move mentally outside the room that housed those computers. Then, it was tough to place students in a position where they could use the technology to resist the dominant discourse and forge their own – although some did. Now, with the net, laptops, smartphones, mobility – and the trendy fuck-the-expert attitude students are bringing to the classroom – the observations of the past take on a new spin:

While Fox stipulated goals for questioning the status quo, Robert Brooke (1987) defined writing, per se, as an act of resistance:

[Writing] necessarily involves standing outside the roles and beliefs offered by a social situation–it involves questioning them, searching for new connections, building ideas that may be in conflict with accepted ways of thinking and acting. Writing involves being able to challenge one’s assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in onflict with accepted (expected) thought and action. (“Underlife and Writing Instruction,” 141)

Brooke offered an intelligent argument that writing itself was synonymous with divergent thinking. Still, I question the direct link of composing with resisting. Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general. Think of all the books written from and for the status quo. Further, it is also easy to find composition classes that reflect traditional values and encourage status quo writing (“current-traditional rhetoric,” see Ohmann, as well as Crowley, 1996). Human beings are certainly active when writing, and all action involves development and agency of some kinds, but not all agency or development is critical. Critical agency and writing are self-conscious positions of questioning the status quo and imagining alternative arrangements for self and society (Brookfield, 1987).

This bit was hard to realize Back in the Day, but is less so now, with wikis, twitter, blogs, txting, aggregators: “Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general.” It’s still a task and a half to help students see that their resistance towards one discourse is done by uncritical engagement in another discourse, but that’s what education is about.

And in the same way, I can go through Shor’s list of perspectives and connect each one with enactments, again, something difficult to illustrate in 1988:

Ann Berthoff’s notion (taken up as well by Knoblauch and Brannon, 1984, and John Mayher, 1990) that “Writing is an act of making meaning for self and for others” (70). < The discussions around Flickr posts, mainly.

Related to activity theory and to cultural context, Marilyn Cooper and Michael Holtzman (1989) proposed that “Writing is a form of social action. It is part of the way in which some people live in the world. Thus, when thinking about writing, we must also think about the way that people live in the world” (xii). < Twitter, blogs. Now that we can access writing outside the mainstream of academy and print-published essays, and writing from other cultures, the interaction of context and meaning becomes clear.

They reflected Brian Street’s (1984) and Harvey Graff’s (1987) arguments that all language use is socially situated, against what Street called the myth of autonomous literacy, that is, language falsely posed as independent of its social context. < Twitter, blogs. Ditto.

Next: Can PLEs can be another means of resistance, as we redefine the open in open education?

3 thoughts on “#critlit2010 and a reseeing of critical literacy

  1. Sui Fai John Mak

    Dear Morgan,
    I am interested in your discussion of PLE and some of the possible resistance too. It’s both exciting and challenging when shifting from “how to read and write in the classroom” to “writing on blogs, wikis etc.” both from an educator and learners’s perspectives. “Critical agency and writing are self-conscious positions of questioning the status quo and imagining alternative arrangements for self and society (Brookfield, 1987).” Would such change (using PLE) liberate our way of teaching and learning? It depends…
    Thanks for the stimulating post and question.

  2. morgan Post author

    Maria –
    Thanks for the feedback. Embedding education – in my case, education in writing and rhetoric – into the students’ physical and virtual space is precisely what I’m interested in. I’ve been teaching in classrooms for 25 years. But I’ve been teaching academic literacy – how to read and write the classroom – and so the context has been appropriate to the practice. But it’s no longer very empowering to students to know just how to handle academic writing in academic situations, and, frankly, it’s boring for me, too. So, a change. Thanks for the lead to Mak’s thinking, too.

    We’ll talk more, perhaps?

  3. María F. Arenas

    Dear Morgan,

    With regards to the PLE, I consider that it depends on the course design and the purpose, it is common to listen that sometimes web based courses are confusing and unclear. But, technology environment (blogs, mobiles, wikis, microblogging) is the student´s place. So if could take advance of those resources and engage learning with a new way of thinking learning. John Mak make some interesting ideas about The Theory of Constraints I think you could be interested in.

    Good to be connected,
    María Fernanda

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