Man, how I wish I'd read these pieces a week or two ago, when I was tying up the last pieces of my M.A. portfolio on the literacy myth and the need to recognize and honor multiliteracies in the classrooom. Ah well, just as we are works in progress, so are the "products" we design. Maybe I can make some revisions, knowing what I know now, especially from the New London Group and Richard Ohmann.
The important thing about these readings, to me anyway, was that they were not only critical of our historically narrow and exclusive ways of viewing literacy (a.k.a. the dark side), but they also gave HOPE and VISION to teachers of English studies. That's right, I said 'hope' and 'vision.'
While it's become much too easy to point out the anxiety that technology generates in an unequal society, these scholars don't stop there. Ohmann, for one, declares his belief in the "liberatory possibilities" that can emerge from the issues of inequality/lack of agency that technological literacy creates. So, while he recognizes that “monopoly capital” will continue to dominate “classrooms, textbooks, student essays, and texts of all sorts” (32), he also concludes with the opportunity (inevitability?) for resistance and rebellion in such an environment, and asks that we take part in it in our daily work lives. I love the boldness, and I love the specific call to take action. No empty bitching here, folks. These are the steps Ohmann says we can, and should, take:
1. Fight mindless computer literacy programs.
2. Critically analyze the politics of
3. Engage our students in discussions of literacy as a process of liberation, with the caveat that literacy in itself is not “intrinsically liberating.
Similarly, the New London Group gives refreshingly direct and hopeful advice, so to speak. After grounding their argument in the notion that literacy pedagogy has been "a carefully restricted project—restricted to fomalized, monolingual, monocultural, and rule-governed forms of language” (9), they go on to state specific goals within that context. They make the “negotiating of multiplicity of discourses” (9) that's required of us sound invigorating, not hopeless. And while questions of how to ensure full participation are still puzzling in my own mind, I applaud scholars who are trying to get at more concrete ways we can enact such change--locally and globally.
And I think that's the point--to include students in the questions we're asking one other, the points of tension we wrestle with here. After all, we're talking about them. The negotiation process needs their input. We cannot simply sit in our grad classes and have heady conversations about increasing access for all students and then proceed to teach from our same old transmission framework.
As the New London Group puts it, we need to “tread a careful path that provides students with the opportunity to develop skills for access to new forms of work through learning the new language of work. But at the same time, our role as teachers is not simply to be technocrats. It is not our job to produce docile, compliant workers. Students also need to devlop the capacity to speak up, to negotiate, and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives” (13).
I know I'm heavy on the quoting here, but the idea of engaging the multiple and diverse "lifeworlds" (such a cool term that seems to articulate a thought I've tried to get at in my head for some time now) that converge in our classrooms is exciting, to say the least. And so, I'm thankful I have some positive theory to hold onto as I figure out how, exactly, to develop a literacy pedagogy that seeks to be more inclusive and rebellious at the same time--one that sees differences as exciting to engage, not something to hide. I feel like hanging this quote over my desk: “To be relevant, learning processes need to recruit, rather than attempt to ignore and erase, the different subjectivities, interests, intentions, commitments, and purposes that students bring to learning (18).
Let's choose hope.