This may seem stupid, but I'm putting it down nonetheless. It's just the start. And it's better with the pictures, but I'm not positive enough about what I'm doing to add them yet.
Don't Think of the Technologies:
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
This all began on Cindy and Dickie Selfe’s porch in Houghton. There was a copy of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant lying on the kitchen table, and because I was supposed to be writing something else altogether, I picked up their book, went out to a comfy chair on the porch, and started reading.
Gracie did her best to keep me on track, but I found the book interesting and finished a chapter to two before going back to what I was supposed to be writing. What I found most interesting about the book was the way that the discussion of Democratic and Republican values could be extended to the challenges that educators face in the classroom.
Lakoff uses the metaphor of the government as a parent, tracing the idea back to the founding fathers, and describes how the values underlying political positions amount to a parents’ attitude toward children, who by the extension of the metaphor are children.
Republicans follow a strict father model, according to Lakoff. In this model, government takes the role of the father, knowing right from wrong, and making decisions that reward those who are self-reliant, those "whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality" (9). The citizens in this model, metaphorically the children, “are born bad, in the sense that they want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore, they have to be made good" (7).
Democrats, on the other hand, follow a nurturant parent model, believing that "children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parents' job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others" (12).
Republicans, Lakoff explains, win voter support because they focus on a strong, moral stance—on “family values”—from a position of patriarchal authority. Democrats, on the other hand, focus on issues rather than the underlying values, according to Lakoff. He explains in the book’s Preface:
If the Democrats are to win in the future, the party must present a clear moral vision to the country—a moral vision common to all progressives. It cannot present a laundry list of programs. It must present a moral alternative, one more traditionally American, one that lies behind everything Americans are proud of. (xvi)
It’s not that Republicans do not address the same issues that Democrats do.
It’s a question of framing, of how Republicans frame the discussion of those issues so that it falls in line with the traditional family values that they project while Democrats are more likely to talk about the issues themselves independently.
Now what does this have to do with education? Plenty, especially when you consider that the strict father model has led to standardized testing and No Child Left Behind legislation as a way to reward those who are hard-working and self-reliant, and punish those who do not achieve. For those of us who work with digital technologies in the classroom, the issue surrounds the way that our work is generally defined, the ways that our work in education is framed.
There are many ways that we identify what we teach in English language arts, composition, and literature classrooms:
- media literacy
- visual literacy
- film literacy
- technology literacy
- multimodal literacy
- technological literacy
- game literacy [???]
- out-of-school literacy
- adult literacy
- computer literacy
- multimedia literacy
- cultural literacy
- information literacy
- adolescent literacy
- young adult literacy
- new literacy
- content area literacy [???]
- early literacy [???]
- emergent literacy [???]
And for us, the differences between these terms are meaningful and significant. The challenge is that they are often meaningful and significant ONLY to us. To the many people we encounter outside our discipline, these words can be confusing. How well does the average family member understand the difference between technological literacy, computer literacy, and multimodal literacy? For that matter, would our colleagues who spend more time with literature be able to explain such terms?
What we have here, friends, is a laundry list. The areas we teach end up broken out in so many ways that the underlying values become hidden and the meaning is lost. General audiences assume the most basic definitions, and the work that we really do is lost.
As an example, let’s focus the list on those literacy areas that have to do with digital technology in some way. Cindy Selfe explains:
The prevailing cultural understanding of [technological literacy] as simple competence with computers serves to misdirect the energy put into the national project to expand technological literacy—limiting the effectiveness of literacy instruction as it occurs within schools and homes in this country and hindering efforts to formulate increasingly complex and robust accounts of technological literacy.
(xx, Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century)
The reason for this misdirection of energy, if we apply Lakoff’s explanation of the ways that values frame the ways that people interpret what they encounter, is that the explicit nature of technological literacy (or whichever term you prefer) distracts from the underlying educational goals.
As Lakoff might say, we need to know our own values and reframe the debate based on those values, not on others’ conception of what we do. For most of us, what we value in our teaching is the ways that we encourage students to expand their literacy abilities by exploring the various digital technologies available to them—a collection of resources that can include computers, camcorders, audio recorders, handheld game systems, cell phones, and PDAs.
or something like that...