E501 Posting: Computers and Classrooms

What is the composition teacher’s responsibility regarding students and technology use? Is the classroom now the place to embrace and advance the use of computers? This is a multilayered debate. On one hand, we are in the age of electronic communication, but on the other, as composition teachers, we like to think of communication as human to human, not human to an LED screen.

In Cynthia Selfe’s 1999 article, “Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention”, computer technology is likened to a “kind of cultural strangeness that is off-putting” to many teachers (413). One of the “strangest” aspects of computer technology reminds me of issues surrounding the new transportation technology in the 1800s.  The invention of trains and automobiles was viewed with skepticism and alarm. One day wagons and horses were the mode, then seemingly the next day humans were zipping around at “unnatural” speeds in noisy, metal contraptions! How would the body withstand the pressure? Terror withstanding, the combustion engine prevailed and we all adjusted to the new technology. So now, in my opinion, the bane and boon of computer technology is the speed of which it morphs and changes our idea of communication. While composition pedagogies slowly negotiate each debated turn, computer literacies sprint past at an alarming speed.

So we have new technology, and it is meant to be put to good use, like the automobile. And the classroom is “good use.” At the beginning of the semester, in E501, we discussed the future of the composition classroom. What will it look like? Like Selfe, I think it will be a computer lab. Selfe urges us to “pay attention to how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education” in the American classroom (414). Think on how learning has changed since computer processors auto-correct spelling, grammar, and even the placement of punctuation in students’ papers. Think on the durability of information now, how it’s safely stored on memory chips and flash drives. Think on how computers use the internet as a ready made librarian’s desk. Students have the world literally at their fingertips. They need new methodologies to help them sort, sift, and discern useful research material. We must be ready to teach critical research skills in the computer age.

In our earlier discussions of the future composition classroom we discussed the teaching of job skills that would prepare the student for what lies ahead. Regardless of how science fiction it all sounds-people talking to machines instead of each other, meetings conducted via laptop cameras and sound cards, this is the future for us all. Our students will need to understand these technologies to stay viable in the job market.

What should be the composition teacher’s responsibility to students and the use of technology? As far as it concerns learning, we cannot ignore the realization that it is a good thing in many ways. And staying relevant earns the trust of students, and keeps them engaged. It is a challenge to us to use computers as the tools to learning that they can truly be.

E501 Posting: Hairston v Berlin

Ah Maxine Hairston, she was such a force in rhetoric and composition. She argued her position thoroughly and staunchly maintained her stance. Such adept, skilled maneuvering of debate is truly admirable.  She was usually right, in my opinion, although this time I must challenge part of her argument on the banning of political rhetoric from the classroom.

My line of argument slightly deviates from Hairston’s on the fight to leave all politics outside the classroom. I say everything is political. The fact remains that students (freshman are the main focus for Hairston) are at a university, following structured degree programs, and kowtowing to administrational requirements…all part of the politics embedded in the university institution. So teachers must exercise their influence in the most minimalistic manner possible, but acknowledging with a slight gesture, from time to time, the presence of the political elephant in the room. Pointing out this presence to students is a type of community responsibility, I think. For example, a professor saying, “hey, watch out for the state’s control of education in your degree requirements (like mandatory public speech)!” is a friendly “heads up.” Hairston’s reply to me would probably be “of course! But have the students write about their views on such topics, not just assimilate your opinion on the issue!”

James Berlin would argue the point with Hairston as well by saying that the political, cultural influences of whatever modern age narrative we are living in, are irremovable. The best we can do is see those influences, shut out those we can, and mitigate the effects of those we cannot. Berlin would argue against Hairston’s critique that revealing ideology, when it is encountered, such as social-epistemic rhetoric, is putting “the social goals of the teacher before the educational needs of the student.”  He would say it is inevitable that they will need to know these things, why not teach them in the open forum of the classroom. Berlin cautions, though, how social-epistemic rhetoric tries to push ideology at the center of the classroom-but beware, capitalism, a Jekyl-Hyde individualistic tenet touted by both ideologies, can grab ahold of the classroom if you let it and edge out the students’ involvement.

I agree with Hairston that the diverse classroom is best for learning. With our students coming from diverse backgrounds, as Hairston contends, socio-politico topics will be introduced in a natural process-by the students. I agree with her that teachers must leave space for issues, help students as they wrangle with their understandings and let them apply their findings to their lives as they see fit. The student-centered classroom allows breathing room for this discovery process.

Again I agree with Hairston’s argument that teachers must leave their personal politics outside the classroom door. But, I must admit, it is seductive to think of a classroom of eager minds just waiting for me to lay some ideology on them like Socrates did. Of course, in my dream I would wrap myself in compassion for student’s naïve obeisance of the powers that be, soothe my conscious with a sense of obligation to warn them, but all the while I am walking a fine line between detachment and manipulation. If Maxine Hairston were to follow this frightening scenario and implement my own philosophy against me, she would admonish me to warn my own students of teachers…like me.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas~ Feisty Fighter for the Glades

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writer and advocate, lived to be 108 years of age (1890-1998). Throughout Douglas’ life, she fought for the rights of others. Suffragist, anti-prohibitionist, supporter of the ERA and civil rights, she wrote passionately in the roles of private citizen, as reporter, columnist, and assistant editor for the Miami Herald. In her mid-50s, and on until her death, she took up the cause of preserving the Everglades of South Florida.

Douglas was a skilled, seasoned watchdog picking another fight for the environment-against the odds, in the face of harsh criticism from peers, society and the powers that be.

In 1947, at the age of 57, Douglas published what would become a  “must read” for anyone fighting to save the environment from the developers, from greedy big business, you know, the usual suspects in the destruction of the natural world. The book is titled The Everglades, A River of Grass. So lyrical, so poetic is the language, so persuasive is its appeal, you forget you are reading an environmental protest. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, you are my hero.

Douglas opens her book with immediacy of place:

“There are no other Everglades in the world.

They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free salt-ness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.” (6-7)

She wrote, she protested, she lambasted developers, bombarded government officials (including several U.S. Presidents), pushed back in defense of nature, and stressed the intrinsic value of the ecosystem.  It was an all-out assault against those who set their destructive sights on the Everglades, her beloved river of grass. And her voice was heard. In the latter part of her life President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her environmental work in the Everglades, even as she attacked his administration for being too soft on industry in the area.  She was tough on the Army Corps of Engineers too. She spoke her mind, and had the expertise to back it up.

In spite of her valiant battle, sadly, the Everglades is still at risk today. Species are endangered and falling into extinction. Developers, after a brief pause, took a deep breath and continued on their destructive path.

When I visit the Everglades I thank Marjory Stoneman Douglas for her persistence, her staunch devotion, her unyielding defense of this elegant, vibrant, expanse known to us Floridians as “the Glades.” Even now as I sit in my Colorado home I remember the Glades and I relive the beauty, peacefulness, and sheer vastness of the place. I hear the birds and the rustle of the wind through the grasses, I see the lush green mangroves. I imagine the river as it flows ever slowly towards the ocean so close by I can smell it.  The Glades are alive, but for how long? More research is indicated here, but for now I leave with an awareness of fights to come in honor of this cherished river of grass.

Douglas is an inspiration to me and what is looking like my own lifework of writing for nature; animals, landscape, seascape, in whatever manner, to whatever eventuality. Writing takes us where it wants us to go, I always say.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writing was clear, unfiltered, and bold. Her purpose defined. She was a true Rhetorica Heroica!