Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Goefry Sirc’s “pedagogy of the box” contains a few gems of pedagogical practice. “The idea of arranging materials that speak to the students own voice and concerns” (113) seems to echo Paulo Freire ideals of a liberatory pedagogy, the idea that the students themselves must be involved in the process of creating their own existential understanding of the world by applying and creating meaning in partnership with the educator. Freire used problem-posing methods to do this, but Sirc seems to argue for an intermediate method. He refers to the “ending the long reign of the strictly analytic (pedagogy)...(Students) are not subjects of inquiry, but immensely learned and allusive carriers of meaning” (124).

It is unclear to me how his “box pedagogy” accomplishes what it means too. Further I am troubled by focusing on what I would interpret as one half of the focus of problem posing methods of education. Put simply, I would like to problematize Sircs assertions without dismissing it’s more encouraging elements.

Sirc proposes that box pedagogy emphasizes the artful expression (expressivist?) of composition that reflects a collection of contextually situated elements. I am a big fan of this ideology as a way of thinking and creating because arrangement is an “important compositional skill” (123) and it is a break from the hard-nosed essay approach which proposes a “unified resolution (that) is prized over the richer, more difficult, de facto text the world presents itself as” (123). There must, however, be a caveat against pure expression.

My concern comes in with the “...obscure, perhaps, yet promising illumination” (113), and it comes from my study in Psychology at OSU. Our cognitive ability to perceive relationships and patterns, correlations and causations, is absolutely a part of how we understand the world. This process has evolutionary utility, our ability to understand contextual relationships is what facilitates scientific thought, but without complex language to structure specific relationships, we may venture to far into the abstract to truly be able to convey meaning; vague expression and combination of elements can lead to error.

Apophenia in cognitive psychology is an error in judgment where we perceive order in completely random stimuli. In short, we tend to see patterns that are not there. Imagine now the lazy disengaged student forced to take our class for a grade. What prevents the meandering student from pulling a fast one by just throwing random elements together and calling it expression? Or what prevents me, as an instructor, to misinterpret the meaning being conveyed by a diligent student because I do not have the angle of vision to see their intentions? What criteria are we looking for in grading such a work?


We would have to have an interpretive framework to approach the work, or else we are just looking at collages of information with an error-prone mind. Aesthetic, yes, but is it creating meaning in a way that others can understand? I had previously used Jenny Holtzer as an example of multi-modality that works. She actively employs that same kind of expression that is situated within context as a way of creating and conveying meaning. There is certainly something to Sirc’s acknowledgment of this, I love Holtzer’s expressions and her “meaning making”, but it can have limitations. Holtzer printed “Men don’t protect you anymore” on a condom to raise awareness of aids, but what would, say, the a home-schooled devoutly catholic student make of this image? She has not been educated on sex and sexuality in a comprehensive way, and thus she has not been afforded the language to interpret Holtzer’s message. She is brought to think of “he” is possibly god, and god is always her protector. She might say “What is this blasphemy printed on a bubblegum wrapper?” Without complex prose and a focus on inquiry, how could she interpret the meaning of Holtzer’s work?

If our home-schooled catholic student were allowed to ask what it meant (ala Freire) and share her own views and experiences, then we have the opportunity to share the perspective while engaging the student in how meaning is created and employed. Inquiry seems a likely resolution, but what would Sirc say?

Sirc does couple his box pedagogy with research and networking in order to help his students draw from the world to shape their meaning (122). Maybe, as Sirc suggests, this method is just a stepping stone to learn the creative aspects of writing as a means of expression as a way to articulate deeply felt truth (128). But for those of us concerned with persuasion, this is an intermediary step. And by persuasion I do not mean strictly argumentation. Sirc and I would agree that composition should be about “paradigms not arguments”(120), but persuasion encourages compromise by including the audience with the goal of consensus to affect change. A focus only on pure expression can reduce the immensely complex to the purely relative.

Does anyone think that this is an important step?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In response to J.E. Clark's article, the private/public dichotomy is being changed significantly by the emergence of digital media.

Censorship is power

Literary scholars have repeatedly reached into the past to find the more marginalized voices of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Though perhaps never really found, these voices were never acknowledged during the enlightenment, which privileged "objective" truth without realizing that much of the truth was in actuality male-white-truth.

It was not until postmodern deconstruction, feminism, cultural studies and queer theory, that we began to recognize how narrow we had been. The inclusion of marginalized voices facilitates a more holistic understanding of the human experience by recognizing the contentions among perspectives. This enabled us to apply multiple angles of vision to the world that is, to really challenge ideas by using the lived experiences of different groups as a grade card--a heuristic. Previously, to perpetuate a system that favors the dominant class, all you had to do was use wealth to silence the dissonant. With the increasing visibility of marginalized voices, this farce is no longer possible.

However, it was the socially aware privileged who first began the conversation, and it is the burden of the margnialized voices themselves to continue to share their experience and thereby challenge the dominant culture. In this way, inclusion was only afforded by the ruling class, so does technology have the ability to change this?

Technology can break the silence

In the digital world, there is potential for students to assume an identity and tailor their engagement with their audience in mind. They are free to share their views on the internet where literally anyone can potentially find them (as long as the internet remains free). This is a reality brought about by technology. Before now, the marginalized could rarely afford an education, rarely afford a printing press, and almost never have the opportunity to express their ideas without the permission of the ruling classes. The internet has the potential to bridge this if the marginalize have access an interface and the literacy to use it.

Agency is power

The marginalize then are no longer silenced. They can share their lived experiences to truly test social structures, and all ideas and perspectives can be shared on the digital frontier.

But perhaps more so, people are able to challenge the the capitalist "tradesmithing" that has become our compartmentalized education system. Take for instance Clark's success with his ePortfolio and his student, "Ally". According to Clark, Ally felt constrained by academic writing. It's structures inhibited her agency by have a strict structured "product approach" where her ideas were tailored to a format--often to the detriment of her ideas. But the ePortfolio exposed Ally to a digital world of possibility. She could write informally in her blog about the Iraq war (the ghost of Elbow?) which she was able to link to a paper she wrote about personal interviews with Vietnam veterans. Multi-modality allowed her to tie these two different works together. The public domain of the blog provided the heuristic where she could test her writing on a broad audience, thereby learning the importance of audience and context. Through this work, she was able to establish a networked voice and identity using a networked body of works, including a research paper on Vietnam and its similarity to the Iraq war.

Her voice as an advocate for political awareness was born. Technology and writing, working in tandem and with the network of peers provided by increased accessibility to the public domain, provided her with agency to pursue passionate interests. Ally's final grade, her testement to her newfound identity and agency, was being able to prevent her work to the entire college, sharing her ideas they may have otherwise not been actualized let alone articulated.

But the reality rarely matches the ideal

Does everyone have a voice? Can they? Are we right to challenge ideas and identities in this way? There must be repercussions? Does the potential to be anonymous facilitate vitriol? How successful is the heuristic approach without being coupled with actual civic engagement? Could third-space disembody the individual and work against the heuristic? Can we call this kind of engagement, under constant scrutiny, as agency? Who benefits from the ePortfolio, ie...is it trademarked?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Has anyone heard of Jenny Holzer?

In short, she is an artist that conveys complex meaning through simple prose statements. She does this by utilizing a variety of media while being mindful of how medium, environment and context can change the meaning of text. Consider the following from Holzer's Survival Series:

"Men don't protect you anymore"

This phrase was conveyed through a video projector beaming the text as an image on the side of a building. Through this medium, and in this environment, the phrase has an ambiguous meaning. Was this a critique of the Cold War (which started at the time she produced the work)? A critique of New York? Without deconstructing assumptions of Gender and sexuality, this message could be either or both; but it was in her second choice of medium that the message perhaps achieved lucidity--on the wrapper of a condom. "Men don't protect you anymore"; this message, in this medium and in this context, was about AIDS.

How could we in rhetoric and composition ignore this power? I take the point of Selfe and her team that multi-modality is already a reality, and we have no reason to think that, from the printing press to the internet, that communication will ever remain static. We should be mindful of this. From a rhetorical standpoint we should be aware of semiotic domains of communication, that is, if we profess to be students of how language constructs meaning and how meaning constructs language.

My analogy ignores computers, sound and moving image, but I think the point still stands. Holzer evolved with technology. She used projectors to contextualize her work within certain spaces. She later uses digital billboards are to add movement, making the text more organic. Like Holzer, I want to be mindful of how technology is changing how we communicate. I want to know more about how text and image and sound can shape our understandings and expressions. I profess that like many teachers of composition, I am no expert in digital communication, but I aim to take their advice and start slowly and small. I can always build from there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011