Literacies shmiteracies

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see very much “21st century” in this position statement.

Some of the language is downright baffling:

  • One literacy or multiple? Which is it?
  • “Develop proficiency with the tools of technology”: a single proficiency for multiple tools?
  • “The twenty-first century demands”: time period as agent?
  • “A wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies:” abilities, competencies, and literacies are equivalent? Or do many abilities and competencies happen to be literacies, while some are not?
  • Joe Williams (RIP) would wince at the committee-speak: the simpering title, the layered prepositions—”Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes”—and the repetitive verbs: “critique, analyze, and evaluate.”
  • Where does “environments” come from in the last bullet? And to what does it refer?

But language isn’t the only problem here. There’s just nothing new; all of these “literacies” will be executed by careful readers from, say, 1978. Note that while these “new literacies” are “multiple, dynamic, and malleable,” the examples are traditional: reading and being a student. (As a good student of Ulmer would say, there’s little reason to expect an indictment of institutions which support traditional literacy from one of the organizations supported by those institutions.) Ethics appears in its usual place–last, segregated from other concerns. And I’ve always been ambivalent about scholarship which uses this “literacies” approach. At worst, as Anne and Johndan wrote in “Blinded by the Letter,” it reduces “literacy” to a less vocational-sounding stand-in for “skill.” Stuart Selber’s book Multiliteracies works very hard to avoid this problem, and I have mixed feelings about even its success.

I’m sure the intent here is good, but I just don’t see this advancing us beyond commonplaces about “multi-media” and “information overload.” What would I rather see? Less chanting of NCTE mantras like community, collaboration, and culture. More talk about technology–in much more concrete terms. Acknowledgment of the need to critique the institutional frameworks we’ve grown very comfortable with (all designed with and for high literacy).

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9 Responses to Literacies shmiteracies

  1. Michelle Wardlow says:

    Curiosity, waht does the university system in it’scurrent publish or perish modality,feel about the blogosphere?

  2. marc says:

    Agreed. Too vague and accommodating. How about an actual list of technologies and practices? Things like:

    -Principles of HTML and web accessibility
    -Core document design elements and productive knowledge of visual rhetoric [notice how only one verb concerns production and three concern analysis: “Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts”]
    -Ethical and hospitable participation in forums and/or listservs
    -Cooperative composition for wikis
    -Critical understanding of unequal access to technologies

  3. cbd says:

    Right. A concrete list requires updating, but isn’t that one of the things demanded by the statement itself? I would love to see something about understanding encoding, though I doubt NCTE/CCC folks would play along.

    Michelle, I’m sure things vary widely, but at least in my neck of the woods, blogging is taken quite seriously. I don’t expect to see folks get tenure on the strength of weblogs, but a lot of academics have embraced them eagerly and with very good results. Academic blogs like The Valve and Blogora do great work, as do the many folks in my blogroll.

  4. jeff says:

    You’re starting to sound like me.

    It’s a pretty silly document from NCTE which must have the market cornered on such markets.

    Though, Marc, I think your list runs into similar territory. Besides the nod to HTML, which I’m not sure is true, the over-usage of “critical” and “critique” is easy to take apart. Plus, why hospitable? I have no intention of teaching people to be “hospitable.”

  5. marc says:

    1. Got me on the “critical” in my final point. But there is a big difference between teaching new media as a mode of analysis and teaching new media as a mode of production. Judging by my job search this year, the latter seems to be the minority.

    2. Um, maybe I’m too deep into my dissertation right now, but what is the problem with teaching people to welcome others and otherness? While I have no problem with agonism, none at all, is it so bad to hope that we can foster agonism in a spirit of cooperation rather than conflict?

    3. I would argue that a working knowledge of HTML is a good thing; though perhaps one could argue that WISYWIG technologies are moving us past this requirement. As someone committed to web standards, I’d like to see more people capable of composing clean, semantic, accessible code and sites. If English departments are to have a place in new media education, then we can’t half-ass it.

  6. Hey, thanks for the reply. I’m glad that more universities are embracing new technology. I hope you didn’t think I was downplaying the use of the medium. I’ve been sort of bumming around reading diffrent places. I’m really liking what I have been reading. A nice mix of personal venting and academia.

  7. cbd says:

    The point isn’t (X)HTML but markup and code in general. Even something as simple as del.icio.us works a lot better with a standardized scheme for tags made possible by a little knowledge of code. I’d also prefer to see something about social networks, as opposed to virtual classrooms. 75% of the things in this statement are well-covered in other NCTE publications. Why repeat them?

  8. jeff says:

    The thing about the code arguments….they were big ten years ago, but with the rise of database driven writing spaces, I’m not so sure that they are relevant anymore. At least not in the way they once were. Of course, if you know css you can customize. Ok. But you really don’t need to know it to use any number of database spaces (wikis, cms, weblogs, and so on….the list is too big).

    Regarding hospitality, I would argue that, in fact, antagonism is a prime feature of a great deal of new media writing. And I’m not sure that is a bad thing. But I am not drawing on Levinas; instead I draw on Lyotard and McLuhan (or go popular writing, Mark Dery).

    And in saying that….a new media literacy consensus becomes problematic.

  9. cbd says:

    Well, right. Code isn’t relevant in a traditional sense for consumers and users of CMS systems, the folks who don’t make the templates. But it is relevant in a lot of new ways. And it’s that customization, that attention to the templates, which I’m interested in, via CSS or other things (for example, my latest obsession, XSLT).

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