Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wanna Vs. Hafta

Imagine a frustrated parent with a more frustrated child who whines, “I don’t want to write a stupid paragraph with all those vocabulary words!  I want to watch my music videos” while secretly texting friends.  Many of us, adults and children, are stuck in a forced-choice dichotomy in terms of literacy attitudes and practices.  Either I do what I “want-to” (yippee!) or what I “have-to” (groan).  Even the Common Core Standards risk this problem as in the continuation of the artificially-hard separation of fiction vs. non-fiction when real-world discourse has narrative and description across text types.

If we cling, consciously or less so, to the old separation of style and content, we limit the capacity for the integration offered in new media.  For example, composing in digital media allows the verve of visual images and musical soundtrack to propel idea generation and stronger voice, but not so much if we insist that the script (the content) gets written before the digital media program (treated as style) gets opened.  Teachers who incorporate digital media witness much more commitment to revision, but this happens best when persons move fluidly across the visual, vocal, text-on, and other tracks.  Persons composing in Web 2.0 also get excited as they connect with real audience and while they are reaching personal insight, but not when same-old pedagogy of read-the-teacher’s-mind and write-for-the-teacher gets imported into the new technologies.

As we move toward big picture literacy,[i] therefore, the chances for success are enhanced as we dissolve the false dichotomy of want-to vs. have-to.  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Henry Jenkins & MacArthur Foundation) emphasizes the need for increased play in our work and for creativity in our problem solving.  In order to embrace the new technology and to shift into the participatory culture of Web 2.0, teachers simply have to give up the dominant model of knowledge and authority.  Because the media changes so rapidly, no one commands the knowledge; in contrast, it’s collaboratively constructed, de-constructed, and re-constructed with multiple perspectives.  The one-right-answer increasingly is illusion, and teachers who fear losing control in a participatory culture where no one commands stored-up, pre-digested, knowledge are simply lost.

If not one-right answer, we can still insist on better responses.  Some opinions, processes, and productions can be conceived and judged better than others when we advance in intellectual and ethical development.  To make these judgments of quality, we need “big picture” standards that allow for the artistic, the creative, and the cooperative.  This progression in consciousness and in civilization also advances peace and justice

For educators to enter and to negotiate big picture literacy successfully, we’ll need to act with passion for our profession, commitment to a renewed understanding of our discipline, and engagement toward collaborating with all participants.  Metaphorically, we need the firebird.  In the story of Ivan and the Maiden Tsar,[ii] the firebird doesn’t appear until Ivan has managed to pass the false-dichotomy test twice.  Still, the burning opportunity might be missed if the stage had not been set by the early advent of the beloved and by the bold break with the dominant culture.  Ivan had to do away with the tutor and instantly leave home even though the destination was completely unmapped.

For our journey into tech integration to be successful, we need to contain both intrinsic (want-to) and extrinsic (have-to) motivations.  Like Ivan on the firebird, we’ll need a scary spirit of collaboration, flying across to a changed paradigm of literacy where composing in all media, including digital, engages the joy of personal creativity along with the satisfaction of meaningful social relationships.  

The requirement of leadership, mentor text, and authority does not disappear, but it must transform.  This blend of want-to and have-to also pushes for a more sophisticated management of frustration, a more complex view of disfluencies, and more inclusion of artistic standards.  These challenges are marked for exploration in subsequent blogs.

[i] Supt. Wilcox’s Theory of Action: “Big picture literacy is a critical twenty-first century skill. Reading, writing, speaking, thinking, viewing, understanding and fluency with technology are literacy skills.” Washington Co. Academy, Aug 2012, slide 10.

[ii] Sources and interpretations on this story include:  Alexander Afanas'ev (Collected by). Norman Guterman, Trans., Russian Fairy Tales. NY: Pantheon Books, 1945. "The Maiden Tsar," pp. 229-234.  
Bly, R., & Woodman, M. The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine & Feminine. NY: Henry Holt, 1998. 
Meade, M. Men and the Water of Life.  “The Firebird,” p., 209-. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.