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.

Jaxon Tweets

Thank you to the colleagues who are tweeting from #NCTE18. Bookmarking your ideas, looking forward to a day in CA when we can think about teaching again. Your tweets really do bring some normalcy...looking at you #nwp @PaulWHankins @dogtrax @Nicole_Mirra @anterobot @ProfHsieh

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.

 

Power and Stratification

Power and Stratification

The area of literacy studies already seems so contested and polluted with ideological ideas it makes it a difficult subject to jump into to. Further, those ideological strains often pull heavily on sensitive cultural strings, especially within U.S. society, and playing with them risks reopening old wounds or toying with those still bleeding. However, there may be a necessity to reexamine how we as a society value individual literacies; the status quo has done little more than stratify sectors into cultural/social groupings, whether forced from outside or as an in-group decision, deliberate or not.

Literacy undoubtedly is intertwined with some kind of power; yet, the source is uncertain. Is it innate? Or do we simply ascribe it value? Some have claimed it is an entity in its own right. If that is the case, literacy itself would be the possessor of that power bestowing it onto others, which it obviously cannot do alone as an intangible object. With no will of its own, that power must transfer to or have begun with the wielder – a literate person. This concept gave rise to the ideology that literate people are somehow “better.” An old idea and one I find repugnant, but it does raise the question: Can a person with a particular literacy perform acts that a person without that literacy cannot? Without that literacy, is there no other way?

Moreover, I think one’s literacies, like relics on a shelf, illustrate their social and educational background, factual or assumed. In other words, one’s real or interpreted literacy “sponsors” are outed. Therefore, assumptions are also likely made of the person’s character and promise in a similar fashion as one’s clothes, hair, or choice of tattoos. This returns to the point made earlier regarding the stratification of society. It would seem that there is a naturally occurring impediment built into advanced society structures, which some claim are results of literacy, blocking those without particular literacies from entry where they are used.

Bilingualism in Literacy

Bilingualism in Literacy

The socially embedded nature of literacy is such an enormously large concept and category that it is impossible to fully cover it in one blog post. It is something that can be written about for decades without being entirely understood or explored. So I certainly won’t come to any definitive conclusions here today. What I want to do, instead, is to synthesize the concepts of sponsorship and bilingualism, especially as it pertains to the duty of composition instructors the linguistic heritage of students.

Because literacy sponsors have such a tremendous impact on the literacy practices and events of students, they have to take responsibility for the biases and beliefs that define their views of what literacy is. This might sound like an obvious statement, but as we saw in Moll & Gonzalez and Dyson & Smitherman’s articles, literacy sponsors (i.e. teachers, family members, and media sources) are the elements that influence whether or not students maintain their dialects and culturally embedded language practices. These practices are incredibly valuable, not only to students and their families, but also to our culture (whether we acknowledge it or not). After all, the United States is one of the only countries in the Western world where bilingualism is the exception, not the norm.

I believe it is our responsibility as writing instructors to teach grammar in so far as it relates to fluid thoughts and the presentation of critical thinking. But when a focus on grammar begins to impede a student’s voice it becomes problematic. We can see this through the students who become frustrated and unable to write because they are afraid of making grammar mistakes or afraid of using the wrong words. This happens even at the collegiate level of writing. Therefore, even though understanding the culturally based linguistic practices of students is a skill that can only develop over years of practice and study, we owe it to our students to allow them to express themselves in ways that respect the cultures they come from. We can certainly help them learn how to write in a variety of voices in order to appease the audiences that will demand linguistic conformity, but we can also teach them how to subvert the cultural norms by maintaining their heritage and linguistic voice.

But let’s get to the real talk. As a very white, very monolingual person, in many ways I do not feel qualified to teach bilingual learners how to embrace bidialectalcism. I feel that students would have more to teach me about their dialects and their ability to express ideas than I could ever hope to teach them. I value the research of people like Moll & Gonzalez and Dyson & Smitherman, but I also feel like much of these concepts must be learned from practice, not textbooks. As long as a teacher creates a class where students can embrace their own literacy practices while also learning how to adapt (not assimilate!) to “traditional” linguistic practices, I think students can continue to value and expand their local literacy practices in meaningful ways.

Identifying Literacy

Identifying Literacy

One thing that has stood out to me about literacy is that how little I know about it. As each day passes I find new ways in which literacy is used in my life. In Brandt’s article, Sponsors of Literacy, she discusses how literacy effects individuals in the job market. It is not just the different means and methods that literacy effects the job, but how other individuals can share the tools needed to excel in a particular field. This can be done with the sponsors knowledge or without.

What stood out most to me was Brandt’s conclusion, “I am not advocating that we prepare students more efficiently for the job markets they must enter. What I have tried to suggest is that as we assist and study individuals in pursuit of literacy, we also recognize how literacy is in pursuit of them” (Brandt 183). This passage suggests that we have a broader understanding of literacy. This awareness of how broad literacy is will help students pay more attention to, and then take advantage of what could be to their advantage.

Moll and Gonzalez continued this idea of taking advantage of your surrounding literacies with the concept of “funds of knowledge”. They also recognize the often-overlooked potential of literacy resources right in front of students. This could be anything from knowledge of construction or even a second language. If individuals are made aware of how vast and beneficial different forms of literacy are, then they can use them to their advantage. They can make sponsors of not just teachers or supervisors at work, but also family and people in their community.

In my own experience, I also started noticing areas within my job that I would have never thought could be considered literacy. Usually it was a simple task, but important enough to be taught at fire academy’s. For example, when I back an engine up to turn around, I give a set of hand signals to the driver. A nonverbal form of communication that was put in place because of accidents that had happened in the past. These simple hand gestures prevent damage to not only an expensive vehicle, but to other property and more importantly, human safety. It seems like almost daily that I am recognizing tasks in my life that I hadn’t previously thought were a form of literacy.

Literacy and Institutions

Literacy and Institutions

One of the concepts that has resonated with me is the idea of personal literacies. Before this class I had always thought of literacy in the traditional sense of simply referring to reading and writing. However after doing the pilot study and reading the assigned texts I could see that simple answer, while much more palatable than the truth, was not at all representative of reality. The idea that people can have personal literacies if both fascinating and exceedingly problematic. While it is fascinating that people can function with society with diametrically opposed literacies it is incredibly problematic from an institutional standpoint.

In the manner that they currently function the institutions that facilitate the development of literacy, at least in the great divide sense of the term, primarily schools, work with the proclaimed goal of creating literacy for the betterment of society and the members of it they are bequeathing their knowledge thereupon. This sounds lovely on the surface as the notion of a society where everyone can communicate effectively is relatively pleasant. However, given that there is no one way that dominates how individuals best acquire the various literacies that they do within a life time, the idea of forcing a singular “ideal” literacy upon the masses in one fixed way becomes incredibly problematic. Though founded under (likely) noble intentions, the institutions that facilitate the development of this sterilized, uniform, “best” literacy end up causing more harm than they do good. Further they reinforce the status quo and maintain that the current balance of socioeconomic power remains stable and stagnant. This is clearly problematic but so is the version of our society that completely lacks these institutions.

At this point these institutions are so integral to the structure and regulation of our society that it is difficult to imagine what it would look like without them. By this I mean that our society, as well as many western societies, has used these institutions as a means to shape society at large’s ideal citizen that it would be the fall of our society as it currently looks if they were to disappear, though this honestly might be a good thing (pretty sure there was something along the lines of institutions shaping citizens into cogs in an Althusser reading but I’m not positive). These institutions, in an ideal world, clearly need alteration in order to accommodate a wider socioeconomic background and to address a larger variety of literacies. However, in terms of facilitating this sort of change at the scale necessary of a country like the United States the sheer amount of infrastructure and curriculum that would have to be altered and paid for is shocking, and given the American citizen’s typical reactions to tax increases unfeasible. Not to mention that the institutions would have to accommodate 10s of millions of individuals all needing different forms of instruction, a beautiful idea but one that does not seem remotely practical. All this to say that literacy seems deeply tied to the institutions that facilitate it and altering that structure or finding a more effective and encompassing way to facilitate different literacies seems like an incredibly complex and volatile problem.

What I Know About Literacy, is That We Don’t Know Much About Literacy

What I Know About Literacy, is That We Don’t Know Much About Literacy

 

Literacy varies from person to person; not just in their levels of literacy, but also in what literacy practices are relevant for each individual. Literacy is contextual. Literacy is social. Literacy only has as much value as a society attaches to it. Written text does not have inherent value or meaning; the value and meaning of a text only exists within social context. It is society that determines the varying values of different literacy practices. Where one society may value an individual’s ability to write creatively, another may value concise and precisely communicative literate practices. Literacy is not practiced in a void; even if you are reading or writing alone in a dark room, literacy remains a social practice. In the case of reading, one only understands a text by how it is situated socially; the text’s meaning is determined by the social context of the reader and the writer. A text that travels between social contexts will take on new meanings as one society’s valued literacies influence the reader’s understanding of the text. In the case of writing, one’s literacy socialization directs everything the writer is doing. The writer is always writing within or in response to the dominant literacies of the society of which they are a part. What is valued in a text has been determined and ingrained in the writer by their social context. The writer is also writing with an specific audience in mind (usually one that reflects the valued literacies of the dominant culture) and in this way too is participating in a social practice. Literacy doesn’t just happen on its own; it only happens when a society encourages it or requires it. Whether it be a single individual that facilitates another’s acquisition of literacy practices or something more amorphous and abstract like a social zeitgeist that values particular literacy practices, literacy only happens due to, what Deborah Brandt dubs, “literacy sponsors” (166).

While “Great Dividers” may disagree, there is no clear distinction between literacy and illiteracy; it’s not that black and white. Literacy is a spectrum and most individuals in some form or another practice it. The illiteracy scare stems, not from a growing population of illiterate individuals, but from a growing number of literacies that do not seem to reflect the same practices that are currently lauded within society. Ethnographic research performed by New Literacy Studies (NLS) scholars show that individuals who might be deemed illiterate by the society as a whole actually perform a number of literate practices in their day-to-day lives. These individuals often come from historically disenfranchised groups. In a way literacy acts as yet another social means of oppression. While these individuals may be performing a number of literate practices within their community, these practices are not the same as those practiced by the majority, their oppressors. By devaluing the literacy practices of minority and disenfranchised groups, society has dubbed these practices “wrong” or something other than literacy. Thus, individuals from these groups are left with a choice; either conform to the practices of the majority or limit one’s own upward mobility in society by sticking with their own socially undervalued literacies.

 

Brandt, Deborah. “Sponsors of Literacy.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 49, No. 2, National Council of Teachers of English, 1998.