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Weekly Featured Writers

Each week, 1-2 people will curate the ideas and writing from our class into a featured blog. We will use these blogs to connect with colleagues outside our course.

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Month: March 2017

Sam Malain: The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Sam Malain: The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

One of the moments that resonated with me the most when reading Deborah Brandt’s The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy was one that was briefly addressed in the class discussion. In the section on ownership Brandt states, “In the workplace, authorship is associated not with writing a text but with managing the writer. The work-made-for-hire doctrine has been the object of considerable commentary by legal scholars” (Brandt 21). During the classroom discussion on this particular section the idea of its relation to students was brought up. The question of where students fall into this model provides for an interesting discussion. Considering students under this model is problematic for a number of reasons the first of which is it contradicts the apparent purpose of the school as an institution. While there have been multiple theorists who posit that schools, as institutions, only serve to model proper behavior in citizens, particularly compliance and the ability to follow orders (I’m thinking Althusser but am not positive I have the right theorist). However, if we take the purpose of the school to enlighten or to facilitate literacy or education for the sake of human betterment, which is the purpose argued by many to be the purpose of schools, then the for-hire model of authorship is deeply problematic. If using the latter model and schools are intended to be places of growth and actual learning, rather than of conditioning and conformity, the notion that the institution is employing a work-for-hire model of authorship goes against the purpose it claims to serve.

The idea that the institution is concerned with managing the writer rather than with the writing itself suggests that while the institution might look to serve a positive function, it really is functioning in a way more akin to Althusser’s model. If the school is concerned with managing the writer and not with facilitating new writing, or ideas, this suggests that the purpose of the institution is to constrain creativity and to create compliant workers intended to churn out texts/works for a power bigger than them (schools, employers, etc…). While it might not be outwardly apparent that this happens in schools, I think most students would testify to the contrary. While there are always going to be constraints on the writing done within a classroom setting, it must fit the curriculum at the very least, these constraints are often taken in unnecessary or seemingly excessive ways. One of the prime examples that comes to mind is students being forced to conform to obtuse writing standards that limit both the content and form of the students’ work. This reinforces traditional literacy practices and asserts that there is only one correct way to write, which in turn reinforces behavior most desirable for traditional capitalistic model of employment in which those who toe the line are much more sought after than those who can creatively problem solve. In short what I am attempting to say is that rigid guidelines, and managing of the writer, serve a purpose if the school is intended to churn out more worker bees for hive, but run counter to purpose of the school if it is supposed to be a place of actual learning and intellectual advancement.

Eli Coyle: Brandt’s The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Eli Coyle: Brandt’s The Rise of Writing (Intro & Chapter 1)

Intro & Chapter 1 of The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy by Deborah Brandt

The introduction of Deborah Brandt’s The Rise of Writing brings up the idea that digital technologies and digital literacies are responsible for a rise in daily mass writing. Accompanying this is the emergence of the so called knowledge or information economies that aren’t based in “manufacturing things so much as services–knowledge, ideas, data, information, news” (3). One claim Brandt brings up is, “For perhaps the first time in the history of mass literacy, writing seems to be eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence” (3).  Brandt then wonders about the implications of a mass shift from a reader based perspective into a writing based economy. While the historical value of writing has lied in the reading of it, authorship then takes on a different prestige as society starts to develop a more formative role in its written literacies. One distinction Brandt brings up in her sponsors of literacies is the idea that reading is more often associated with, “leisure, pleasure, worship, intimacy, and social approval and writing more readily with work, adult business, trouble, embarrassment, subterfuge, and trauma” (6). She also notes the role of the workplace in catalyzing changes in written literacies. Writing for Brandt, implies a much more controlled and regulated act than that of its counterpart reading and that is reflected in the role of writing in the workplace:

It became connected not to citizenship but to work, vocation, avocation, and practical living. Writing belonged to the transactional sphere, the employment and production sphere, where high-vaulted values of personal autonomy, critical expression, or civic activism rarely found traction and where, in fact, unauthorized writing could well lead to recrimination, if not incrimination. Rather than being protected in the Bill of Rights, the people’s writing came to be regulated by contract, labor law, and copyright, as writing skills were rented out as part of production  and profit making. (2)

This is a rather curious observation that Brandt has brought up and it is ever more apparent that with the development of the internet, literacy has started to shift more into a written based economy. Especially with the development of social networks, email, and text messaging, written literacies are being utilized much more often than they ever were previously .

However, despite the spillover of written literacies into the practical and leisurable realms of society, writing still operates and functions under a economic productivity brought about by government and business. Brandt talks about the roles of ghostwriting and copywriting through which successful people and higher realms of power subordinate their written literacies onto those that labor and author the written work. This practice brings up the idea of authorship and who truly owns the writing that is being produced and circulated. Brandt says, “Indeed, the idea that a text belongs to the person who writes it is not the only concept of authorship that can be found in current US copyright law. When it comes to writing undertaken within the scope of employment–in other words, the writing done by most people in society–copyright turns inside out under a provision called “Work Made for Hire,” the law is careful to sever writers from ownership claims over the texts that they write at work” (20). With this in mind, authorship takes on a more convoluted and conflicting stance giving ownership of literacy to the company or business.

The role of ghost-media-social networking is a similar issues that raises questions of authorship, intent, and accreditation and leads one to question the true author of the work. We see the roles of ghostwriting as well in law and in politics as ghostwriting, “especially highlights power exchanges between writing and social structures, and also illuminates assumptions about underlying reading and writing processes that enable such changes” (31). In a sense, the act of writing in a work or school based environment is a laborious act and those that dictate the content (teacher, lawyer, politician) possess the power over the work.  

The future of bilingualism with globalization

The future of bilingualism with globalization

So many of us, especially in academic settings, strive to attain the literacy peak of our chosen fields/areas of interest. In my more immediate world, I’m surrounded by many, doctorate bearing and not, who have pushed to reach the theoretical, academic peaks. As admirable as the devotion of these aspirations are, I can’t help but wonder what gets discarded in the process of reaching this rather long, windy destination? what are we overlooking on the way? What alternative roads are overlooked? From the influences of my own path, and my admittedly biased perspective, language seems to be one of them. In such a heavy handedly monolingual society, where many cannot be bothered to push beyond the lingua franca of the world, there is a lot being missed out, internal and external to the U.S. Even existing linguistically and cultural diverse populations feel the societal pressures of assimilation. With the current societal structuring and misguided, but well intentioned attempts to create a melting pot, vast and diverse pools of knowledge, as well as opportunities to reaffirm and expand identities are being lost. This loss begins with language.

I’m sure that there are plenty that might argue that with the influence of the U.S. there is less need to learn another language, outsiders can learn our standardized version. Around the world, there are plenty of people who assert such a pursuit is not necessary since they have not and never intend to leave the comforts of their country for extended periods of time. To this I say, beyond the more obvious, external and tangible gains found beyond the borders, there is also a much more significant, deeper internal exploration awaiting. Looking from a more instrumental perspective of literacy, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, interaction with diverse cultures will become common. Even if said countries learn our language and understand us we could fail to understand them and stand on a stage of equal footing and exchange. The culturally inept are less likely to be incorporated.

Even if one doesn’t “master” a language, by expanding familiarity of languages and their cultures, one is able to better understand and consequently empathize with others (regardless of differences). In the long run, this should encourage international relations and harmony. The process of this literacy pursuit, not only expands access to realms of knowledge, but also the sense of the self. It’s a complicated, introspective and rewarding process.      For those already fortunate enough, it is paramount that we not only encourage multilingual backgrounds, but also nurture and preserve them. Through the preservation of a person’s language, their culture and associated identity also remain. If we want models, we need only to consult the successful educational programs of other countries.

 

Ramblings about Literacy and Composition

Ramblings about Literacy and Composition

As someone who is studying literacy and language as my pathway in the English graduate program, I have been enjoying my literacy course way too much. I’ve been waiting years to study literacy and work with it in a meaningful way. I am also taking a course on teaching composition which is working pretty hand in hand conceptually with my literacy course, go-figure. A few weeks ago, Kim Jaxon brought up the fact that most of us in her course obviously value literacy in some meaningful way because we were English majors. I started thinking about how I am at odds with myself in many ways when it comes to my values with English and composition, and with what I know about literacy.

What I know about my values with English and composition is that I think writing does something that is valuable, but I have also come to realize that composition isn’t just made up of written literacies; it is made up of a combination of written, oral, visual, and technological literacies. In the United States, and at least locally, these four literacies make up what I consider to be functional literacy. Technological literacies are the mediums in which the written, oral, and visual can come to life. One thing we have discussed in our course is that there are rising standards in literacy, and I want to make the claim that these standards are made up of these four literacies. Moreover, these literacies are what composition is all about. The act of making anything whether that is writing, making a film, or a photo montage are all literacy practices which are also acts of composing. In Yancey’s “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key”, she refers to composition as something that involves the oral, print, and screen, and composition education is the gateway to learning how to use these daily communicative, social, and intellectual literacy practices. She also states that if we don’t learn to expand our definition of composition then we risk becoming irrelevant. Essentially, we live in a time and place in which literacy is valued because it opens up opportunities for people that they may lack without those particular literacy skillsets. Composition is a course that is used remedially to teach a general literacy practice that can be used across and through literacy events.

Through composition, a teacher becomes a sponsor for their students’ literacy learning and enactment of their knowledges. Having such an important role, a teacher needs to be aware of their responsibility and decisions with how they teach their students, I call this metasponsoricalawareness. What I know is that when it comes to literacy it is influenced by a variety of things: location, university, professors, teaching practices/style of instruction, resources, platforms, audience(s), collaboration/isolation, public/private, mode(s), socioeconomic status, religion, history, etc. With that in mind, there is a quite complex set of factors that must be taken into consideration when teaching something like composition, and it requires a lot of reflection and consideration.

I also want to add that literacy does do some stuff, and I want to say that it communicates ideas, constructs identities, and creates community in ways that vary depending on the local and global literacy practices and events. While one does not need these things to participate in the world, I think they are not able to participate in the world in the same way as someone who has consistently expanding literacy skillsets. I know that personally I can participate in circles and conversations that I could not have prior to starting college. While one does not need to go to college to develop these skills, it is still something that has informed my identity. I have constructed who I am through the literacy practices and platforms that I have engaged in. My point is that, yes literacy matters, but I disagree that it is needed to live one’s life and be successful. At the same time, most things and jobs need a certain level of literacy capability. I just simply think that one can’t have the types of access they could have without having a certain level of literacy. My side note is that there are literacy specific sets of skills that are needed depending on ones path in life, and this ultimately should inform what a person learns and does with literacy.

“The White Man’s Agenda”

“The White Man’s Agenda”

One curious idea I have continued to look into is the historical perpetuation of dominant western culture over those they have been deemed as other. Specifically I am getting at the “White Man’s Agenda” as it is historically rooted in colonization and imperialism. This attitude whether we see it or not is firmly rooted in our institutions and in the very language practices we continue to teach and hold valuable. This very closed and rigid system of thinking has continued to benefit only those that have assimilated and or are privileged in their socioeconomic and cultural standings. Why is it that western language and culture is favored over those that are seen as different or separate? It comes down to control or at least a domination of one society/ cultural over the other. Life is too multifaceted for there to be any one or “right” way of existing as our values differ and are subjective in nature.

The Great Divide is of much interest to me because it seems that many oral traditions and cultures have been substituted for reading and writing ones and so it would be in the benefit of the oppressor to say that literate cultures are more intelligent and somehow “better”. How do we as a western society go about reconciling a history of enslavement, oppression, and domination of “inferior” societies? I would say it would have to start with those that possess the power such as the political and educational realms although it appears that they do not wish to change or relinquish their power. Composition is a curious place to begin with because writing I would say, is not a natural ability and that how we speak and communicate orally, does not resemble the same type of work we do when we write. Language has its downfalls, but it also possesses the possibility of expansion and freedom when it can be used to express oneself. If writing is going to be of use, let it be a route through which creativity flows in the same way someone might paint a picture or play a song. Systemization of writing is kind of absurd if you see language as an expressive art, an extension of someone’s feelings or thoughts. Writing has the potential to be a liberating mode into different ways of thinking and yet we teach students that they must adhere to certain grammatical forms and rules and that they must assimilate into the dull beehive of unexpressive and controlled ways of existing. I also believe that any creative or expressive forms of writing get exchanged very early on for the standardized and rigid form of prose we all too commonly know how to write. And its boring. I had an epiphany the other day as to why I got into creative writing (poetry) and I believe that it was my way of taking back my voice and sense of expression that I had lost within years of indoctrination and schooling.

Language, both written and oral, is our gateway into other people, other ideas, and into how we think and perceive. There is no way that any language is somehow “better” than any other and there is certainly no standardized way of determining whether you’re communicating or expressing yourself the “right” way. It once again comes back to who has the power and how are they keeping their power. One major way is through language. If you force someone else to talk like you and to think like you, then you are in turn diminishing their freedom. You are telling them they must look like this, do it like this, and play by these rules. Well I’m sorry but, evolution and change are inevitable and diversity is what allows for the complexity of life. Our differences are what make us whole within the scope of our experiences. I’m just a little pissed off that the blatant eradication of native cultures and language throughout the world even, has kind of just been swept under the rug. And maybe yes, it could be too late to do much about it now, but it’s just as apparent that we are continuing to blindly perpetuate it.

I’m very curious as to see where reading, writing, and oral communication will evolve into next. Will we evolve out of written language and into some other form? It is really hard to imagine right now, but I already see changes in how people are composing with video. I don’t necessarily see the written word going away anytime soon, but rather I see it changing. The white man’s agenda of social and cultural domination, is hopefully on the way out. However, it is up to us as the people to dissent from our history.

 

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