Author Archives: jmdegan

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Lecture

Hey, check out Doris Lessing’s Nobel lecture.  I don’t believe she actually attended the ceremony.  She talks about education and the decline of literacy, but I’m curious to see what people might think of her assessment.

 J. Degan

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An Amusement

Check out this story.  Depressing, but amusing.

 J. Degan

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Post-colonial critique

I’m going to be presenting post-colonial approaches to texts tomorrow, so I decided I should give something of a preview.

Post-colonial theory examines the ideological formation of a certain kind of power structure (hence the affinity with New Historicism and gendered theories).  The colonial power structure is founded on the formation of subjects as “other,” generally based on ethnic difference.  There is a good discussion in Tyson of the instability of identity in the colonized population due to a “double consciousness,” but I thought the section on “hybridity” (the idea of a dynamic relation between cultures as a creative force) was somewhat brief.  There is almost no discussion of “decolonization” and other nationalist agendas that are incredibly important to post-colonial writers.

Generally, Tyson’s explanations of the theoretical foundations of post-colonial theory are sound, though I think she too easily defines her Gatsby critique as post-colonial.  Other-ing is not the only quality of the colonial project, nor is simple ethnic supremicist thought.  Possession is a foundational idea in colonialist ideology- and Nick is powerless to possess the figures he identifies as ethnically different.  Thus, rather than positing Nick’s assumptions of racial superiority, one might point to his impotence as a potential colonizer.  Gatsby as other is an intriguing idea.

We’re going to make a critique of two texts: Eavan Boland’s poem “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” and an excerpt from the John Curran film adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil.  The latter is a text from the colonizer; the former, a colonized/ post-colonial perspective.  The linked text of the Boland poem includes audio, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to because of software limitations.  You might also notice that my inclusion of an Irish poet indicates my strong disagreement with Tyson’s (unfounded, I believe) assertion that Ireland is not a post-colonial nation.  That is a statement that can only be defended if the speaker is entirely ignorant of the more than five hundred years of colonial occupation by a foreign power (longer than any African, Asian, or American subjection to colonialist pursuits) that continues in Ireland to this day.  I would like to know who participates in the “general consensus” Tyson loosely throws out (interestingly, she includes no footnote for this claim).

 I hope I can make a claim for the importance of this kind of critique in our classrooms.

J. Degan

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A YA book of interest…

Although I haven’t read it, I saw today a YA novel called Wilderness by one of my favorite novelists, Roddy Doyle.  I know nothing about this book aside from what is said on Amazon, but Doyle is one of the most exciting contemporary Irish writers.  You might know the film about a Dublin rock band The Commitments, which is adapted from one of his Barrytown novels.  I think his finest novel is A Star Called Henry, which I encourage you all to check out.  Out of curiosity and admiration, I’m going to try and check this title out.

 J. Degan

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NCLB redux in limbo

Check out this article in today’s NYT.  Will anything ever change?

J. Degan

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On Authenticity and Access

I posted this to my 506 blog, but I thought it had some bearing on the work we’ve been doing in this class. 

I want to focus on Kajder essay to talk about two problems that I haven’t found covered fully in our readings.  One is the assertion that engaging in digital literacy is an authentic (or more authentic) literacy practice.  The other is the often mentioned but rarely treated “problem of access.”

 Why do we consider writing on a blog a more authentic activity than, say, writing in a journal?  Kajder tells us that blogs provide “an opportunity to write in an online space for an authentic audience,” which makes two assumptions: first, that “classroom” literacy is not authentic; second, that class blogs should be generally accessible.  I want to talk about the second issue first.  If we make class blogs accessible beyond the participants in the classroom, we have to walk a tightrope on creating a safe, secure environment.  How do we define this authentic audience beyond the classroom?  Is the class itself not an authentic audience?

Now, let’s discuss “classroom” literacy for a moment.  Isn’t this class blog a kind of “classroom” literacy?  Is it an authentic experience just because we are having it in a digital format?  I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone (and to Dr. Stearns least of all) that this isn’t an area of interest for me.  So what separates this experience (and that of any kind of tasked experience) from Max’s is that Max is engaged in his own project.  Will that not change if we give him a task or subject to blog on?  Is his reluctance going to be erased simply because we moved the structure/context of classroom literacy?

My point is that this is not an issue of using or not using technology, but an issue of how we generally structure discourse in our classroom.  If we make classroom literacy a passive experience, where students read texts and answer primarily comprehension-level questions about the text, then we aren’t driving an authentic, critical literacy.  If we encourage an active experience, where comprehension informs critique (a knowledge of what the text says informs an understanding of how the text is encountered), then at least we create an authentic dialogue.  It can take place anywhere…defining that dialogue as occuring in one space irrespective of another (digital space v. classroom space v. personal relationship space) is limiting, not liberating.  Kajder says that “students don’t raise their hands an ask about page requirements…class discussion moves instead to having something to say.”  That needn’t only occur online- it (literate discussion/conversation) should be a portable, empowering skill set rather than something that is deployed only within a certain kind of structure.

That said, I also want to mention the distinct disadvantage of students who lack (or are limited in) access to computer/internet technology.  This may be an increasingly small part of the population, but how can we talk about teaching for social justice if we exclude any portion of the population, especially one that is at risk for economic, cultural, and political marginalization (I think we can agree that most students who lack access are economically disadvantaged).  What can we do to limit that marginalization?  Even if they have access during the school day, they are being excluded from the conversation in ways that other students who have access don’t have to confront.  If we locate increasingly important content online, what are the implications for students who don’t have access?  How will we affect students who are already at-risk if we focus on creating digital spaces of discourses for the sake of “teach[ing] them to use the tools of the truly literate in a rapidly changing world?”  Are literate discoursed not portable?  Who are the “truly literate” and why do students need to behave like them? 

Kajder writes that we need to “provid[e] opportunities for [students] to read deeply, think critcally, and write closely for responsive audiences that span the globe.”  I agree, but we cannot forget also that audiences and communities are still local, and that we need to locate our actions there as well.  I also agree, to a certain extent, that “we’re past the point where we can keep doing old things with old tools, or old things with new tools.” But I would argue that we should be doing new things with all tools.  We need to be careful when we’re prizing one set of “tools” above others; we need to remind ourselves that “the literacy knowledge that htey bring into the classroom is varied and valued, and that we all have a next step that we’re working toward” even if that literacy knowledge doesn’t value what we value.

J. Degan

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On the celebration of false heroes

I missed my opportunity to sound my disgust at the continued celebration of America’s “discovery” some five hundred years ago.  The atrocities carried out against the Indigenous people of the Americas in the name of European imperialism is no cause for celebration.  The stories we tell ourselves about these meetings is a foundational issue to the kind of critique I’m trying to engage in my unit.  So much more could be said if we remembered all of the stories, not just the ones that are safe and self-serving.

 My suggestion this (now day after) Columbus Day is that you read the poem of that title, written by Jimmie Durham.  Then think about what this celebration means.

J. Degan

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