Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Reductive Lists

In Richard Ohmann’s 1987 chapter in Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, his rather dire reading of the tea-leaves in Section 4 is titled simply “Computers.”

As Phil Kraft puts it, “all the skill is embodied in the machines”- in fact, that could be a definition of the term “user-friendly.” (“Designing for idiots is the highest expression of the engineering art,” in David Noble’s words…Operators seldom become programmers; programmers seldom become systems analysts; analysts seldom become designers or computer scientists (Corson 35). Graduates of MIT will get the challenging jobs; community college grads will be technicians; those who do no more than acquire basic skills and computer literacy in high school will probably find their way to electronic workstations at McDonald’s. I see every reason to expect that the computer revolution, like other revolutions from the top down, will indeed expand the minds and the freedom of an elite, meanwhile facilitating the degradation of labor and the stratification of the workforce that have been hallmarks of monopoly capitalism from its onset. (708)

While I think he’s probably right, and that this sums up the current trajectory of most students, he also wrote that near the beginning of the seepage of visible computer technology into everyday life, and that some of his predictions are dated.  Sure, the department secretary is the only one who used a computer back then, mostly for typing up flyers; but I would hope that these days are long behind us and that many of us are using computing technology for a whole host of other things.

Therefore, I also think that part of our job is to ensure that students have their own choices about where they end up at the end of compulsory schooling, in composition or otherwise.  And now that the computer revolution is 30 or 40 years in the making, we – all teachers – should be able to get down to the business of critically involving technologically mediated curriculum at this remove.  Writing New Media attempts to do exactly that, and in the process demonstrate to teachers what their new media classroom assignments might look like and look for in student competency.  There’s always a danger in this, of course: Helpful handbooks on writing became the constricting Five-Paragraph Theme after what seems like a cosmic game of “Telephone” between the comp theorists and the practicing classroom teachers.  We should resist anything that boils down to a “Ten Top Tips” list and perhaps just get “start[ed] nonetheless” (WNM 45).

Additionally, I fear, as a teacher who has been in this rodeo for a while, that the neat and orderly control mechanisms Ohmann described are going to circumvent and then circumscribe my wish for an educational way of being that is not neat and orderly, one which challenges its students’, their teachers’, even its own “agency and materiality.”  I still have to teach the five-paragraph essay.  When my students post things in their academic blogs that they shouldn’t, we adults swoop in and scold them (and it has already happened).  This is the nature of the beast we seek to tame.

Some interesting ideas. Also, this.

At any rate, we walk a fine line, which is, I suppose, what this class is about.  I wouldn’t hesitate to use a few of the templates Selfe offers in her chapter titled “Toward New Media Texts: Taking Up the Challenge of Visual Literacy.”  These are outlines for dealing with a “new” type of essay, the “visual essay” (OH MY GOD are you kidding me?  It has already begun…).  But for teachers who aren’t ready to walk this dark path without a flashlight, this chapter (and others in this book) provides practical ideas for traversing this treacherous ground.  Got it?

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One comment on “Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Reductive Lists

  1. The quote you lead with lines up MIT graduates with challenging jobs, community college graduates with technician jobs, and so on, the stratification the result of a top-down computer ‘revolution’ that benefits primarily the elite in monopoly capitalism. It raises for me an issue regarding freshman composition and computers. I see my job in a community college primarily as helping students develop critical and creative ways of thinking in and through writing–to harness the power of their minds through words–abilities that are not limited to preparing students for technician jobs, which stereotypes often portray as involving only the execution of others’ ideas. I believe in and work to get students to experience and channel the untapped potential of their minds. Thus as a teacher my integration of digital literacy should primarily be in the service of those thinking abilities and should not be sidetracked or deemphasized by the “revolution” of the digital form. If community college students really get what thinking can do for them, they will be more likely to break out of the stereotypes many people, including the author of the quote, seem to portray as their destiny.

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