Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Call to be Activists

From Grabill's call to "expand the scope of our work outside composition classrooms" (298) to Selfe's push to “understand and make sense of, to pay attention to, how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education in this country" (96), I'm revved up by the potential of teachers being social activists, or, to be buzzwordy, "agents of change."

This week's readings seem to form a strong team of concepts that interrelate and drive the points home that 1) The system of literacy education (including its connections to technology education) is an exclusive one (in terms of race and class); and 2) The issue of access--while it may be riddled with complexities that are hard to pinpoint or tackle--is a problem that deserves our immediate attention as it continues to increase the power differentials and social violence between the haves and have-nots.

I started with Grabill and Selfe. While Grabill focuses on community contexts ["Most discussions of literacy have taken place almost exclusively within school domains to the exclusion of a much wider range of written activity in workplace and community contexts" (298)], Selfe focuses on the local and national efforts to not only make access to writing technologies a more equal venture, but also to get people (especially teachers, since that's her primary audience) to "pay critical attention to the issues generated by technology use” (108).

These two scholars established a strong historical and field-specific foundation for launching into Banks and Walton, with the Banks piece being particularly powerful/influential for me. For starters, many of Banks' notions of censorship and surveillance sounded eerily familiar to Foucault's descriptions of the Panopticon. The need for Black youths and adults alike to have "underground spaces" where they can express themselves freely without being victims of judgment under the culturally dominant microscope seemed like both a liberating and tragic reality--simultaneously. What I mean is, while it initially sounds promising/exciting that a spaces like Blackplanet exist for people to find community and strength around their discursive traditions, the underlying fact that racism and hegemony have created a need for "subversive" or "underground" arenas for people of color is still disturbing. Banks even refers to "the gaze" that Foucalt discusses in "The Eye of Power," when he says, "because these spaces exist outside of the official gaze of schools, workplaces, and governments, those who become part of them truly do have the right to their own language" (71). But, I'm inclined to ask, are they ever really free of the gaze? The fact that the Blackplanet Web site is not Black-owned is troubling, to say the least. At least the forum exists, yes, but who controls it's content and fate?

Thus, we're reminded to get off our comfortable bums and use our power for transformation. We need to promote not only underground spaces that oppressed populations can control, but also mainstream, highly-visible ones of which they can take true ownership. If we sit back and ignore Selfe's advice to pay attention, we'll continue to “enact[s] social violence” and “ensure[s] continuing illiteracy under the aegis of education” (96). We first need to engage students and administrators in the discussion of unequal access if we ever want to have faith in Giddens’ notion that "…all social actors, no matter how lowly, have some degree of penetration of the social forms which oppress them" (72).

Technological mastery for all is complicated, yes, but Selfe and Banks (especially) break it down in a way that gives people in our profession some achievable steps to make local changes that will, we can hope, make waves on a broader scale.

I sound optimistic, but the beast of hegemony is making my stomach sick as I wonder if the broader-scale changes are ultimately possible.

1 comment:

kristin said...

Using a Cindy Selfe-ism, let me say "I'm pleased as punch" at your post tonight. The way you weave together themes from Selfe, Giddens, and Banks, and then view them through the lens (or perhaps more accurately, put them in conversation with) Giddens and Foucault is incredibly smart, as well as really inteteresting.

Regarding the Banks piece, you say: "I'm inclined to ask, are they ever really free of the gaze? The fact that the Blackplanet Web site is not Black-owned is troubling, to say the least. At least the forum exists, yes, but who controls it's content and fate?"
I appreciate Banks' assertion that 'use' is important, but this lack of ownership is, indeed, very troubling. Perhaps it serves as a call for us to recruit more minorities into technological fields so that they can become creators and not just users...but it's probably more complicated than that.

Thanks Amy.