Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Literacy, Teaching, and The Man
--Graph from website,
http://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif European Heritage Alliance: Cultural Pride Without Extremism
Richard Ohmann’s quick review of the interrelated import of Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital, provides the historical meaning of “literacy” as tied to short-term economic interest and attempts to enforce social control. He notes the rise of intelligence testing during the First World War (immigrants couldn’t understand English! Who da’ thunk it?), and touches on the quasi- (pseudo)-scientific rationale behind literacy tests (22). Norbert Elliot’s 2005 book, On A Scale: A Social History of Writing Assessment in America, provides an extensive look of how the early intelligence-test designers were clueless when it came to understanding the difference between testable language ability and so-called intelligence scores. Defining literacy based upon English speaking norms and cultural practices and shared histories could show that immigrants from southern Europe and other regions were less intelligent. Case closed.
Despite the clear problems of validity, these tests promulgated racist narratives and created and justified inequitable access to education, employment, and other social opportunities. Even when these ideas were discarded, testing and notions of literacy remained bogged down with the baggage of white superiority and normative expectations. Notions of literacy were shaped along side of monopoly capital, providing a passive and flexible workforce with clear divisions between manager and workers (not to mention owners and managers) (Ohmann 23). Lester Faigley’s Literacy After the Revolution, picks up on the political economy as tied to the growth of the digital age, pointing to the same constraints that “would limit writing instruction to teaching students to replicate the traditional forms of academic and professional discourse” (32). Moreover, Faigley believes teachers aware of the social, political, and economic forces shaping the digital age can use this knowledge to improve their pedagogical practices and resist the limitations imposed by capital. Faigley hopes that the digital revolution can live up to its name by fostering more civically engaged and active students.
Finally, I want to touch on the social constructivist work by The New London Group in A Pedagogy of MultiLiteracies, because they also point to economic forces they term “fast capitalism,” whose “discourses of familiarity are frequently more subtlety and more rigorously exclusive than the most nasty—honestly nasty—of hierarchies. Replication of corporate culture demands assimilating to mainstream norms, and this really works only if a person already speaks the language of the mainstream” (12). This brings us back to Ohmann and intelligence testing, only this time it refers to the gates of language use that prohibit or restrict other rhetorical practices grounded in different ideologies and cultures. The Group does not use the term rhetoric/s, but I believe their take on “design” as tied to purpose and audience clearly corresponds to notions of both visual rhetoric (graphic design), contrastive rhetoric (multiliteracies), and code-switching rhetorics (hybrid discourse). If fact, there is much they touch on that has been taken up by authors like James Gee, who expands on the situated environments for active learning
Posted by Technical and Professinal Summer 08 at 8:55 PM