A Liberatory Literacy

While Ohman’s article Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital argues that technological literacy, or new media literacy, will simply promote the idea of “monopoly capitalism,” Yancey’s work Made Not Only in Words, Composition in a New Key, contends that this new literacy will help negotiate a more positive type of economy that is “driven by use value” (Yancey 301). Although Ohman and Yancey are writing in different eras which naturally is illustrated from rather disconnected economic contexts, they both categorize new media literacy in social terms from an economic perspective.

 

By utilizing Ohman’s article as a precedence that Yancey responds to through her discussion of literacy and the economy, we can see the development of new media literacy from a social and historical perspective. Because Ohman is writing near the advent of the personal computer, he is rather skeptical and believes that “the computer and its software are an intended and developing technology, carrying forward the deskilling and control of labor,” and draws parallels to F.W. Taylor’s work on assembly lines, which all contribute to Ohman’s idea of monopoly capitalism (Ohman 708).  Ohman extends this idea to the classroom, claiming that the attempt to utilize technology in school settings will not transform education, but will simply contribute to the increasing politicization of the educational system. New media and technology are a way for businesses to stimulate and direct educational processes, so do not have “liberatory potential” (710). Yancey is similarly concerned with the economy’s role in evolving literacies by claiming that the expanding writing public has contributed to globalization, which has led to a loss of jobs. This speaks to Ohman’s references to Taylor and the dehumanization of the creation process, but Yancey further explores this type of labor development in more positive terms of globalization leading to new forms of cooperation and communication among previously disparate social realms. While Ohman does not address these more positive societal developments, his definition of literacy is inseparable from social constructs so does support Yancey’s socially-charged claims.

 

Ohman argues that literacy is a social exchange that will always contain unresolvable political conflict. Although he claims that new media and technology cannot advance the educational system, he also demonstrates that this technology can’t be separated from his socially affected and continually developing definition of literacy. His resistance to new media’s place in the classroom is very clearly delineated, but he is unable to argue against its place in the evolution of literacy. He concludes with the statement, “It’s worth trying to reconstitute literacy as a process of liberation– but also to remember that work for literacy is not in itself intrinsically liberating” (Ohman 713). This remark illustrates that although Ohman claims to not believe that technology can radically change writing, he has incredible foresight which allows his argument to carry validity in the current debates about how to utilize technology in the classroom.

Yancey then expands on and complicates this idea of “literacy as a process of liberation” by demonstrating that screen literacy, or new media literacy, will not only aid students in their education but will also prepare them for our economy’s increasing globalization by providing them with competitive skills. Where Ohman believes that computer literacy is not applicable to or diminishes the skills necessary to succeed beyond education, Yancey argues that the educational system, particularly composition, can help students engage with new media and then act as a gateway to the real world where they will be able to effectively “become members of the writing public” (Yancey 306). Yancey also agrees with Ohman’s assessment that literacy is not inherently liberatory, but situates her view of this in terms of the student/professor relationship. She contends that if literacy is a social process, “Shouldn’t the system of circulation– the paths that the writing takes– extend beyond and around the single path from student to teacher?” (Yancey 311). This argument can stem from the ongoing debate of how to utilize technology in the classroom in a way that expands and, as Ohman would term it, liberates students from the traditional and more restrictive model of students writing only for their professor. So how can schools and universities utilize new media in a liberatory way that allows students to participate in the increasing globalization of society? Neither Yancey nor Ohman provide a concrete solution to the issue of new literacies that attempt to engage with more global views, but they both establish that these concerns are worth addressing and have no ready solutions.

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One comment on “A Liberatory Literacy

  1. I like how you brought together Yancy and Ohman by showing how both authors emphasize the relationship between economic and social changes and the emergence of new media literacies. I agree that Yancy has a more positive take on this relationship, and I wonder if we could update Ohman’s view. That is, I’d like to see if Ohman’s prediction that new media literacies evolve in tandem with widening social inequalities has come to fruition — it seems like a prescient point that is worth considering in light of the rise of Silicon Valley and the technological “revolution,” which may be a microcosm of the widening gap between haves and have-nots in our society.

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