Position Statements, or Why We’re Full of It

The 2004 CCCC executive committee’s “Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments” was perhaps a necessary one to publish because of the growing immersion of literacy practices involved within these digital environments. As we rhetoric-compositionists are wont to do, I’ll begin with the good I think it provides. In the San Francisco Bay Area, at the time, I remember that an online composition class or two were popping up on the schedules of local community colleges. This was a good thing because one of the philosophies that the statement advocates is for digital literacy technologies to “provide for the needs of students who are place-bound and time-bound.” Fantastic. For the full-time workers who need work no less in order to pay all the bills, or the parents who choose to stay at home to tend to their children, taking an English class towards a degree became more possible. Access is key to education, and the statement’s confirmation of such, in terms of how technology helps, is perhaps its most important message.

However, the very fact that some kind of “committee,” made of a group of eight or so scholars representing an entire education system, gets together to collectively-but-exclusively compose and publish an official statement, is an authoritarian move that does not play well with Web 2.0 and where digital environments are headed. This kind of institutional stranglehold may work with traditional concerns, such as grammar, even form and style. My cynicism isn’t directed at the competence of gatherings of great scholarly thinkers such as this bunch. A committee like this has the power to allay any major concerns of literacy issues, direct where thought and scholarship are headed, or even lead. Rather, I’m doubtful of how much control we as educators have over this new literacy. The statement was published in 2004. Since then, many changes have happened, such as the growing prevalence of Facebook and Twitter in communication and social networking, or iTunes for both entertainment and even as educational forum. Yet some things, such as Napster and Geocities, simply disappear.

What I’m getting at is that official position statements like the one made by a CCCC committee are never completely neutral. This particular one, for all the liberatory pedagogical good that it is proud in advocating, nevertheless tries to retain power by being a monolithic representation. In this regard, it fails to see that the Web 2.0 and social networking have a life of their own that, if nothing else, grows, develops, changes based on the whims of “the people.”


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