Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From Classical Rhetoric to Citizen Journalist

In my engagement with our discipline,[1] social justice has always been the foundation stone, the defining raison d'être; but teaching and research haven’t rendered it sufficiently operational, not at the truth-telling, gut level. The resulting dissonance has pushed for change, even if glacial, stretching over a long career in education and literacy. About a decade ago, my own business card featured “liberatory education” (with a bow to Paulo Freire), but the gap between his call to praxis and my actual practice was almost mocking.

Going another twenty years back, I remember the resonant amen that involuntarily rose up when I read “The teaching of literature is a political act,”[2] because that declaration affirms life worth living. To a lover of narrative, Leslie Marmon Silko also struck the chord when she opened Ceremony: “I’ll tell you something about stories: They’re not just entertainment.” But these compelling assertions also heighten frustration because most classroom acts (such as the analysis of text and even performance of text) offered at best a limited approximation to real-life acts of liberation theology.

My service in residential treatment centers was on target but begged the question: how does this penetrate the totality of work? Surely Freire lived with more integrity in his enactment of literacy which connected land reform with peasants learning to read, even when his success meant political exile.

Liberatory education has translated into many academic projects (e.g., Giroux; Shor; Apple),[3] but such scholarly accomplishment doesn't resolve the tension for me. In addition to physical property (land, capital, and economic investments), equity demands attention to knowledge production and ownership. Freire modeled this by insisting that the peasant ask him an equal number of questions that he could not answer. Literacy education requires a more equitable distribution of authority/authorship than afforded in traditional, hegemonic practice. Yet even knowing that doesn’t translate us into liberatory praxis. We’re too imprisoned in a print-culture, educational system (which celebrates copyright, high volume publication, and individual authorship with close scrutiny for plagiarism).

Under this stress, to some extent I chose to separate from this profession that perpetuates inequities in knowledge (e.g., "merit" based on top-down conference presentation and high-volume refereed publication). Although I won’t elaborate it here, an option came from Jungian psychology which believes that an individual’s movement in consciousness connects with changes in collective consciousness. These changes can be accomplished outside the professional structure and I can view them as liberatory, but this was not entirely satisfactory. Something more was being conceived.

In recent years, while I continued struggling with literacy as conscientização (critical consciousness), a separate but compelling storyline was taking form. Surprisingly, digital media started taking up more and more space. And now, converging on the bridge, the light of their connection breaks out so “duh:” Citizen journalism. The term even gets elaborated in Wikipedia which notes that almost anyone wanting to take on social responsibility can take action through the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet.

I believe this construct of citizen journalism offers discourse a revolution (although ethical participation still requires commitment to social justice and desire to expand consciousness). For example, Jay Rosen revitalizes the construct of “audience” because blogs, podcasts, and digital media restore to the people what media magnates had misappropriated in their control of newspapers, radio, and television.[4] For this revolution to lead to positive change, educators must shift paradigms to a truly collaborative model and act as models of peace and justice. For learners who are already immersed in technology, if not addicted to it, powerful teaching is needed even more than before. Although social justice is certainly not the default theme for digital media, opportunities of access and collaborative engagement offer exciting alternatives to the dominant force.

Citizen journalism popped onto my screen, not through the power brokers in education or media, but through TweetDeck with an invitation to http://salaamgarage.com/. SalaamGarage is “a digital storytelling, citizen journalism organization that partners with International NGOs and local non-profits. Participants (amateur and professional photographers, writers, videographers, etc.) connect with international NGOs, create and share independent media projects that raise awareness and cause positive change in their online and offline social communities.” The SalamGarage blog shows examples and invites the reader to travel to India, Guatemala, and other places with an agenda that often means composing a social justice media project.[5]

Although not branded as such, citizen journalism now appears frequently on my radar. It’s trackable in the script for tonight's presidential address on education.[6] It’s connectable through corporate support for humanitarian projects.[7] Youth Noise and Link TV invite media production involving social justice with projects involving poverty, hunger, and health issues. One of my favorites shows a woman forced to leave teaching (due to the Taliban) and developing a beekeeping industry in Afganistan.[8]

The theme of citizen journalism and social justice can be developed in cutting-edge digital media work at the boundary of public education. Leadership has been provided by the MacArthur Foundation, often in collaboration with National Writing Project. Featured projects are happening in Philadelphia and in Chicago. A number of other projects are happening around the world.[9] The connection of literacy with digital media clearly marks the place for our writing project.

[1] Naming the discipline remains elusive but the field has been named Rhetoric, English, Communication, Language Arts, etc.

[2] A.N. Applebee, Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English: A History, NCTE, 1974.

[3] An interesting website gives citations for these authors: http://florycanto.net/links/liberatoryeducation/libedbooklist.html

[4] http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2006/06/27/ppl_frmr.html

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SBQDeib1qw&feature=player_embedded

The 2010 World Humanitarian Day project is a collaborative film shot in over 40 countries in under 9 weeks, on a shoestring budget – with the goal of showing the enormous diversity of places, faces and endeavors of humanitarian aid workers in 2010. It was filmed by humanitarian staff and freelance filmmakers from around the globe (over 50 contributors in total) with all time donated.

[6] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/09/13/remarks-president-barack-obama-prepared-delivery-back-school-speechAnd the strength and character of this country have always come from our ability to recognize ourselves in one another, no matter who we are, or where we come from, what we look like, or what abilities or disabilities we have. I was reminded of that idea the other day when I read a letter from Tamerria Robinson, an 11-year old girl in Georgia. She told me about how hard she works, and about all the community service she does with her brother.”

[7] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/foundationnotes/Pages/melinda-gates-100902-view-change.aspx Melinda Gates, “To me, the stories I hear underscore the fact that, no matter how different people’s circumstances, we’re all linked by a common humanity. When I meet mothers, it’s clear to me that we all have the same goals: for our children to grow up healthy, and then get an education, so they can realize their full potential.

At the Gates Foundation, we think a lot about telling stories. One of our partners, LinkTV, is creating ViewChange.org, a multimedia website that uses stories to show how investments in global health and development are making real differences in real peoples’ lives. The website is scheduled to go live in November.

This summer, the ViewChange team launched a contest urging filmmakers to submit short videos about progress toward the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – global commitments to dramatically decrease poverty, hunger, and disease in the developing world. These films will be used to raise awareness, motivate action, and accelerate the world-wide movement for global equity.”

[9] Links to MacArthur projects are shown first and then a variety of other activities that might merit exploration.


Renee Hobbs at Temple U. The mission of the Powerful Voices for Kids program is to strengthen children's abilities to think for themselves, communicate effectively using language and technology tools, and use their powerful voices to contribute to the quality of life in their families, their schools, their communities, and the world. The program consists of these components:


Digital Youth Network in Chicago. The DYN model focuses heavily on the sixth- to eighth-grade experience through explicit connections to school-based curriculum, interest-based clubs that require youth to use new media literacies in order to participate, and remix competitions and “open shop” times (both virtual and place-based) where youth are supported in using new media literacies to explore their own questions and push their imaginations.


Carnegie-Knight Institutions (including UMCP) for Journalism work:


The goal of the instructional component of this website is to provide journalism educators with material that can help their students to develop knowledge-based journalism skills. The student assignments are designed to inform and deepen the reporting of policy issues by connecting it to scholarly policy-based research.

Great topics for reporting:



Creating Digital Worlds of the Future By: Michael Silverberg September 1, 2010

Under the theme "Build Your Own World," more than 100 artists are creating fanciful universes in the hopes of prompting civic engagement at this arts-and-tech biennial in San Jose. We peeked at six intriguing projects.


Global Kids (New York, NY), a strength-based youth development organization with over two decades of experience working with young people and technology, constantly seeks new ways to explore and answer these questions with diverse groups of youth. This article describes a pilot project that linked youth detention centers with community libraries in two cities, to work specifically with incarcerated youth and new learning technologies.


MEET ME AT THE CORNER, Virtual Field Trips for Kids, is a dynamic, interactive site, which encourages individual expression and participation through video submissions from children worldwide. Through these video pod casts we hope to create a community of children, who learn the art of self-expression and storytelling through video.

In the beginning, the video pod casts highlighted the people, events and history of New York City. As this site grows through children’s submissions, we hope to highlight the people and events of other towns, cities and nations. To date we have video podcasts from California, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, and Maryland. We are always open to the people and events in your corner of the world.


Glynda Hull, UCBerkely. Most recently, with colleagues from India, South Africa, Norway, Australia, and Singapore, she has developed a social networking site, space2cre8.info, which links youth around the world and fosters the exchange of digital artifacts.

http://newlearninginstitute.org/21stcenturyeducation/student-centered-learning/online-learning-for-disaffected-youth.html Notschool.net and http://www.comein-project.eu/index.php



Digital storytelling, participatory media and easing access to mass media for public expression from Wales BBC.