Review – Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies by Page Gaither
I envision “praxis” as being somewhere between practice and theory—actually a thought-ful form of practice. Let me quote Porter here. He writes, “Praxis is more than a simple addition of or compromise between theory and practice, conscious of itself, that calls upon ‘prudential reasoning’ for the sake not only of production but for ‘right conduct’ as well. It is informed action, as well as politically and ethically conscious action that in its functioning overlaps practical and productive knowledge.”
While Hawisher’s words here are specifically directed at the subject of hyper-reading, the basic philosophy of theory-informed-by-practice is one that reverberates throughout the entirety of this work as it pleads with us to think not just outside of, but also, in spite of, the proverbial box.
Part I of this four part volume is entitled “Refiguring Notions of Literacy in an Electronic World” and gives the reader “an historical overview of writing as a technology” The chapters in this section take a variety of avenues in order “to challenge — and sometimes defend — conventional and not so conventional notions of literacy within the context of the current wired world.” In the first chapter, Dennis Baron’s approach to the questions surrounding writing as a technology takes the reader on a tour of writing and communication technologies through time. He considers issues of human interface and literacy as experienced during the advent, the rebellion against, and ultimately, the rise and permanent adoption of the pencil, the telephone, the telegraph, and finally, the computer. Within this discussion Baron looks at issues of fear and mistrust of new technologies, of technology’s affects on learning as we know it, and even of the printed materials our technology helps us to produce. While cautioning us, Baron challenges and obliterates the technophobe’s obsession with convention by stating that “computer communications are not going to go away” and by speculating that even Thoreau, if he were alive, “would be keyboarding his complaints about the information superhighway on a personal computer that he assembled from spare parts in his garage.”
In “The Haunting Story of J: Genealogy as a Critical Category in Understanding How a Writer Composes”, also of Part I, Sarah J. Sloane proposes the terms genealogy, medial hauntings, and apparitional knowledge as ways of describing how “a writer’s past writing experiences inform his present choices in constructing the scene of his writing”. According to Sloane’s case study of a composition student named J, important choices of the writer that are affected by past experiences include “what topic he chooses to write about, what tools he uses to write with, where he chooses to write, and what writing community he chooses to join.” Sloane relies heavily on portions of Foucault’s work, Power/Knowledge (1980), where he reconstructs the term genealogy as used by Nietzsche (1956) in his work The Genealogy of Morals.
In a response article entitled, “Dropping Bread Crumbs in the Intertextual Forest”, Diana George and Diane Shoos offer a discussion of critical literacy in a postmodern age. As George and Shoos introduce their discussion of intertextuality via Mikhail Bahktin’s concept of “dialogism”, they also bring to mind remembrances of Derrida who tells us, in the section of Disseminationentitled “Plato’s Pharmacy” (a critical reading of Plato’s Phaedrus) that “reading and writing are actually one”. Based on an assumption of Bahktin’s intertextuality and on a constructionist understanding of reading and writing, George and Shoos conclude this chapter by raising the question of the responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of a modern literate society. “Representation is never innocent”, they state and “it has real effects and repercussions.” One of their final lines give us plenty to consider: “This is a very serious business in a world in which racism, hatred, poverty, violence, hunger, and fear play no small part in the ways we live our lives and the decisions we make about our communities.”
In Part II, “Revisiting Notions of Teaching and Access in an Electronic World”, the focus is shifted to serious gaps between the ideal and the real where technology and education are concerned. In “Beyond Imagination”, Lester Faigley examines real-world concerns about access, opportunities and the “privatization of education”. He wonders, “How does education change for a child who begins school with the potential to communicate with millions of other children and adults, to publish globally, and to explore the largest library every assembled?” At the same time he tells us that “sometimes hidden in these stories about the incredible potential of the Internet are hard facts that classroom teachers know all too well”. According to Faigley these hard facts prove that, in reality, many schools are under equipped, that the majority of school children are not getting their turn at the keyboard and that this has many implications for our modern literacy. Faigley follows up by expressing concerns about “how education [will] be affected by the increasing presence of large corporations in making decisions about how children and adults will learn” and warns us that technology itself should not become the center of learning but rather, it should be used as an enhancement for teaching students to analyze, synthesize, to be responsible citizens and benevolent stewards of technology in a world in where technology is an undeniable pharmakon (Derrida, Dissemination, 1968) and in which concepts of literacy are quickly changing.
In more specific terms, James Sosnoski looks at changing literacy through his discussion of new, less linear definitions of reading entitled “Hyper-readers and their Reading Engines”. Sosnoski defines and outlines elements of hyper-reading which do not apply to our conventional definitions of reading but which he asserts are much more realistic when considering the “constructive hypertexts” that online readers are being asked to digest. In addition, Sosnoski raises concerns of “rain clouds on the horizon” in the form of over-theorizing by postmodernists and followers of Baudrillardian thought which might charge hyper-reading with the “destruction of scholarly reading practices” and the potential loss of “norms” that provide “discipline” (173).
In response to Faigley’s, Sosknoski’s and other articles in Part II, Bertram C. Bruce writes to the reader through an understanding of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work, Tractatus (1961). Bruce asks us to speak and think outside Wittgenstein’s “circle” of that which is appropriate for discussion. For Bruce, these things are taboo topics such as access and other issues silenced by the existing mainstream theories of pedagogy, composition, and technology. Bruce sees that there is a “constant pressure” in the academy “to eliminate the idiosyncratic or the personal, and to mute questions about purpose, goodness, equity, and beauty” which are present in practice but often silenced in theory. As if to break this silence, and in echo of earlier authors in Part II, Bruce closes with what may be the most potent questions of the volume: “What do we want students to learn? How can we use new technologies? How should we? Why should we? What will change when we do? Do we want those changes? What do they mean for us, our students, society? What is fair? What kind of society doe we want to live in? And, perhaps ultimately, who do we want to become?”
More impassioned voices can be heard in Part III of Hawisher and Selfe’s encompassing volume, “Ethical and Feminist Concerns in an Electronic World.” Susan Romano’s article, “On Becoming A Woman: Pedagogies of Self”, looks at the true nature of online environments as they relate to women’s opportunities for open discourse. Romano proposes that common metaphors such as “open frontier” and “free space” may not always work when applied to a female’s experience of web-based communications and holds that regardless of physical access, the online conferencing environment can be as “exclusionary” as it is “inclusionary” for women and for ethnic minorities as well. She maintains a convincing argument that gender, race, and other societal biases do exist even in cyberspace and shows how new forms of oppression are among the side effects of high-tech growth. As a possible pedagogical tool and way of providing women with greater opportunities for uninhibited, self-empowering discourse, Romano suggests the use of pseudonymous electronic discussions and explores, in depth, the numerous and not completely controllable possibilities of this type of cyber-talk through real-world classroom experiences.
In response to the articles in Part III, Cynthia Haynes offers her essay, “Virtual Diffusion”, a discussion of “Ethics, Techné and Feminism at the End of the Cold Millennium.” Here Haynes looks at the potentially dangerous logic (logos) that humans have developed in relation to technology and offers a combination of ethics, techné, and feminism as a salve. She tells us that, as the contributors of this volume have done, we must not refrain from practicing “safe rhetoric” which is to “look at something from a number of perspectives, to analyze our culture in terms of how discourse shapes culture, shapes material and social conditions, and shapes attitudes.” Haynes concludes that the Internet and Internet-based educational programs are “upsetting the logos of academy” and that the challenge of introducing the Internet into instruction is “radically changing the way we teach and argue, and with whom.” For Haynes this upset means the upheaval of conventional practices in higher education and possibly the beginning of “the ground shifting under our feet” (Spivak) as issues of ethics, feminism, and technology evolve in unison.
Finally, in Part IV, in a grouping of essays entitled “Searching for Notions of Our Postmodern Literate Selves in an Electronic World“, Hawisher and Selfe turn our attention back to concepts and definitions of literacy. In Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s article, “Blinded by the Letter”, we are asked “to unpack” our unquestioned assumptions about literacy and what it entails in exchange for new and more fully encompassing redefinitions of the concept. The two authors ask the question, “What are we likely to carry with us when we ask that our relationship with all technologies should be like that we have with the technology of printed words?” In this way, they force us to reevaluate terms such as “technological literacy”, “computer literacy”, and “media literacy”, to question our own biases, and to look within our own understanding of our society, technology, and literacy to find alternative ways of articulating our relationship with the new technologies.
Janet Carey Eldred’s piece entitled “Technology’s Strange, Familiar Voices”, also in Part IV, answers Bruce Bertram’s (225) earlier call for more explorations of the personal. In her poignant and impassioned discussion of voice through technology, Eldred tells how e-mail put her back in touch with her mother’s true essence once overshadowed by waning health and indecipherable vocalizations. In the style of memoirs, Eldred reminds us that technology and writing are not merely visual but can also be heard and felt.
In summary, the concluding questions of Bertram C. Bruce (227) again seem most appropriate.
“What do we want students to learn? How can we use new technologies? How should we? Why should we? What will change when we do? Do we want those changes? What do they mean for us, our students, society? What is fair? What kind of society do we want to live in? And, perhaps ultimately, who do we want to become?”
It is these questions, along with other provocative ones asked by the editors and contributors that make this volume such worthwhile reading. In addition, it seems important to remember that although Hawisher’s and Selfe’s introductory words, entitled “The Passions that Mark Us: Teaching, Texts, and Technologies”, as well as the words of their contributors may be especially aimed at fellow academicians, their musings, proposals, warnings, and lessons are wise fodder for anyone with a keyboard, a mouse, and a monitor.