Openings, Moments, Tectonic Plates, Quartets and Dreaming: This is how we talk about New Literacy

In the preface to Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag writes that “…the healthiest way of being ill–is one most purified of, most resistant to metaphoric thinking.” The sexiness of new media speak and the metonymy we use to describe the importance of the change these media represent can leave us with a very sophisticated and inspired way of losing what we mean when we talk about new literacy. I’m not trying to poke holes in the print and digital texts by Wysocki, Miller and Yancey from this week’s (I want to say “readings” but perhaps we will need a more precise term for the homework we view/listen to/read/interact with/materialize each week as–if these authors are correct–teachers of adult literacy, we will be asking our students to interact with more than text on a weekly basis) assignments. But I do feel the need to cut through some of the metaphors and approximations about what this could change in the classrooms or English Departments in order to get at what I think they are telling me has changed as a result of new media, network technologies.

Argument is at the heart of our work in composition. How to discover and expose a line of reasoning, the construction of an idea, or the interpretation of a fact or artifact in order to make the world make sense is pretty much what i think were doing when we teach nonfiction writing (though i’m sure i’m missing something in that characterization). Speaking of the multiple media options available to users of the Internet, Richard Miller reminds us, “This is a way to push ideas into our culture. Why wouldn’t we be at the front edge of that?” While I know that our task is not to summarize or revisit the “readings” in these blogs, I still need to do a little distilling for myself: The argument that i think is being made in these readings and these classes is that we have a responsibility-to make available all of the tools in the Universe(ity) that will help our students (and ourselves) make effective, culturally relevant arguments.

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2 comments on “Openings, Moments, Tectonic Plates, Quartets and Dreaming: This is how we talk about New Literacy

  1. Yes, I would completely agree with this, but it’s not as if students only have one avenue for learning all the tools in the universe for making arguments, or that the best way to learn how to construct arguments is via a University education.

    A major corollary of this question/problem is why are we heralding technological growth–of the kind that has traditionally deskilled human participation in tasks/jobs–while we continue to assume that a university degree necessarily represents a path to upward mobility for all people? For me, an increase in deskilled information-analyst type jobs (read white collar sweatshop) + saturation of the job market with college grads = a problem. What’s missing from the equation is the reason behind why we want people to pursue college educations in the first place. Formal academic study is necessary only for those who seek not only to pursue knowledge and new ideas, but to enact them not simply for their own benefit but for the benefit of future generations. It is necessary for individuals who seek to become leaders or change agents in society–ensuring that the social contract locally/regionally/nationally/globally remains in balance and well stewarded by the best minds cognizant of their responsibility to act on behalf of and in the interest of the common good. Any skill can be learned. Plenty of intelligent people do not go to college and excel in their pursuits. In my opinion, there are gatekeeper functions associated with higher education because of the cultural capital attributed to college or graduate level degrees. Access to higher ed should remain open and democratized, but curriculum should continue to focus on rigorously preparing democratically (and critically) enlightened citizens, leaders, and thinkers with vested interests in public service. All other learning objectives, such as vocational training leading to better career opportunities or learning for learning for pleasure should be considered secondary. If the universities are not preparing people to seek to shape, rather than to simply adapt to elite, plutocratic visions of the future, then what justifies their existence as increasingly exorbitantly priced sites of acquired skills intended to reproduce rather than democratize existing social relations?

  2. I am not sure that these texts are talking about make arguments, primarily, per se, but about making sense, as you say, or composing meaning, in any way possible, yes. I think that more than simply making or exposing arguments during tuesday’s class activity, we were reconfiguring arguments (those quotes we adore) so that they took on a new, slightly different meaning to us. maybe instead of making arguments, we were inhabiting pre-existing ones in an attempt to re-fashion them. i don’t know…is meaning making inextricable from argument? am i arguing here?

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