IPhone post: producing critical readers

I’m having some serious technical issues today, which is why I’m writing and posting my blog post via my iPhone. Hopefully, Internet in my apartment will be resolved tomorrow at noon, but until then, I have my trusty smart phone to lead me through the darkness. On a side note, I have never had a problem with my Internet in the whole year and a half I’ve had AT&T. I feel like I’m living one of the major concerns of using new media in a classroom; what happens when it fails and the coffeeshop on the block with wifi is closed?!

This week focused on visual rhetoric, and specific activities to do in the classroom. While selfe discussed the composing of visual rhetoric, I was refreshed to read Anne Frances wysocki advocate for teaching critical reading of visual texts. For my thesis, I’m looking at Guy Debord’s Society of the spectacle, and how the ideology transformed into visual masks the complexities of real life. A great debate in the world of cultural criticism and Marxism is whether society has the tools or the will to debunk the spectacle. All of this praise of visual rhetoric has left out any skepticism about the nature and power of the visual. More than just teaching students how to compose, we must teach how to read critically.

This provides a great opportunity for students to think about visual representations of the body, gender, race, developing countries, and other categories in a deep, nuanced manner. Yes, students are mostly reading/viewing visual rhetoric at home, but who is producing the new media they are consuming? What underlying messages and ideals are embodied by the visual/ the culture of illusion/ the spectacle?

Debord asserts that to undo the power of the spectacle, society must engage dialectally; that is the recipe for liberation. The classroom provides this foundation, and like Wysocki, I believe it is our responsibility as teachers to provide that space.

I’m curious to see how and when cultural criticism about the spectacle and the culture of illusion merge with new media studies. Both are concerned with the visual, how it manifests and how it is consumed, but they have a slightly different agenda. Thankfully, compositionists, like Wysocki, are bringing these issues to the forefront.

I apologize for the shortness and the formatting of this post. My thumbs are tired, and I hope the words speak for themselves!


5 comments on “IPhone post: producing critical readers

  1. I like what you are saying, Ruthie, about the importance of teaching critical reading of visual texts as our society becomes increasingly visually oriented. Wysocki did that somewhat by bridging the split between form and content, but we still need to examine who is producing the new media and what underlying messages and ideals are being embodied.

  2. Thanks for the post. As I read your post, I began realizing that, to some extent, the education you call for is the purview of history. I think history teachers feel an obligation to teach students how to critically read visual as well as written texts. Consider all the Soviet and Maoist propaganda posters that line the walls of high school history classrooms.

    No doubt, arming students with the thinking skills necessary to “debunk spectacles” (esp. dangerous spectacles) is as important today as it has ever been. However, to re-word a cliche liked by historians, one man’s religion/conviction is another man’s spectacle/mask.

    History has the benefit of hindsight; its easier to spot a spectacle by looking backward rather than forward or laterally. The messages contained in Stalin-era posters of Lenin look a lot different in 2010, than they did in the 1930s.

    I would argue that one cannot simply teach students to detect the messages and ideals underlying (assumed) contemporary spectacles. Students first need to understandings of comparable moments and comparable spectacles to see an illusion as an illusion.

    Without political and historical knowledge it is hard to tell a spectacle from the real deal. Critical thinking and critical reading amount to very little without rich historical perspectives.

    I’m not suggesting that we don’t engage the issues you brought up, but I see composition’s job more as helping students shape messages to meet desired ends (heck, we can help them create their own spectacles). I continue to believe that composition needs to tilt more toward production than reception. Again, this is not to say reception isn’t vital; rather I’m suggesting that teaching students how to “undo the power of the spectacle” is perhaps a job that scholars in other humanities disciplines are more equipped to tackle.

    • I agree that other disciplines can take up this pedagogical concern, but I absolutely disagree that composition shouldn’t be a main player. We all know that reading is a big part of the writing process; when have you ever heard of a student who could write, but not read? Usually, reading is taught well before College years, so maybe it’s interconnection to the act of writing is dismissed. But I also know the adage that good readers often produces good writers. That’s why the freshman writing classes assign a lot of critical essays, and ask students to respond to them. Reading and writing are indefinitely connected, but why is it different, then, for visual texts? We don’t discuss how to read visual rhetoric in class, and then how can we expect students to produce it? When reading the activities set up by Selfe in WNM, I couldn’t visual the assignment. I wouldn’t be able to complete it without researching and reading many different examples of visual essays. We understand that we can’t teach writing unless the students can read, understand, and engage critically with different alphabetic texts, so why should we have a different standard for visual rhetoric? If we focus in producing, without any reflection on how to interpret, then we are just creating students who create for the grade, in a vacuum, and without any thought about how their visual rhetoric fits into the spectrum of new media. That seems like teaching new media for the sake of teaching new media, which feels empty to me.

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. I agree that learning to “read” visual texts is crucial. I would add, though, that students also need to be producing their own texts — this has always been a core concern of composition. That is, fostering discursive awareness in students requires them to work both sides of the “reception/production” street.

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