Just when I think I have a grasp on what the role of the composition instructor is supposed to be, a new comment, article, blog posting, book chapter acts as a beckoning finger, a mental hyperlink meant to lure me from the comfort and safety of my own home page of understanding.
Richardson suggests that it is our job to teach safety and accountability to our students as we shepherd them through making educational use of participatory media. Sure, why not? If our main focus as FYC instructors is on not only writing, but also on improving the overall literacy of our students then making students aware of the effects of their own participation as well as the participation of others is absolutely a part of that. In some ways we are just being asked to modify or expand upon pre-existing lessons on topics such as plagiarism, audience, voice, etc.
Richardson oversimplifies the divide between the techno-savviness of educators and their students — certainly how much divide can there really be between a 23 year old and the 18 year old high school seniors she is teaching? And there do exist seven year olds who have never set a finger on an iPod or visited a website. We must be careful to avoid ageist generalizations on both ends and keep our focus on which literacies are most relevant and how we can obtain or maintain our own relevance as educators.
But truly, does reporting from a camera phone or to a blog equate news that is anymore “true” or educational than the news that used to come through the phone tree of the community busy body? Even in the days before computers people who were socially literate knew that information from a known gossip could not necessarily be counted on, but should be questioned and examined in light of the possible motives behind passing on the information. I do buy, at some level that amateur reporting is in many ways more truthful, and less tainted with motive, than conventional reporting but I’m not exactly sure that the critical muscle to examine such things is so vastly different than those which we have been using all along. Teaching the type of examination necessary to determine what sources are and are not reliable really falls under the critical thinking umbrella (which we are asked to touch on in our teaching as well).
If we are meant to teach FYC students to be socially literate critical thinkers as well as readers, writers, editors, collaborators, publishers, reporters, viewers, designers, activists and composers, then that drastically changes our identity as a discipline and the things we need to know in order to be effective composition instructors. For me the challenge is exciting, and I am always open to reinterpreting my role. My partner teaches seventh grade Spanish and, several years ago was having behavior issues with many of her students. At that time I asked her, “What is the most important thing you can teach them in your class?” It wasn’t much having to do with learning Spanish – they could pick that back up freshman year of high school and be right back on track – it was more having to do with being a respectful class member, figuring out what the boundaries were in a junior high environment, etc. Once she let go of the fantasy that she alone was going to imbue them with the music of the Spanish language, she was able to relax and understand that her class, much like FYC is about exposure, not mastery.