Gunther Kress Book Review, Minus the Review and Book Stuff

At the present moment my review of Gunther Kress’ book, Literacy in the New Media Age, is at best an imagined outline sketch of what a real book review should look like. What is real and present are my own, as Kress would put it, struggles that the “reading paths” that this thing called a thesis has me driving down. In other words, the certain limitations and restrictions put on us based on the format, genre or order of words they’re written in, that lead us down a specific path of interest and understanding. The difficulties on my own reading path, in regards to thesis functionality and formatting, then becomes: How do I deviate from this predetermined path and forge my own road amongst the dirt ridden waste of unformulated thoughts scraped, etched, and embedded across the badlands of my mind, as well as gracefully succumb to the formatting and content norms coffee stained to my blank pages even before I write?

Now, I’m not looking to use this space to come to any large claim or conclusion about how to combat or overcome this issue, and I’m not looking for sympathy or any sort of emotional reaction. I’m just throwing it out there publicly as to why I’m flaking on the other work in my life that is equally important, yet cannot become priority based on the restrictions and constraints in place that surround the thesis and my own life schedule.

So I guess in a way this space has just been used as my personal forum to globally circulate and distribute my issues in hopes that it will better serve as socially useful knowledge to those who are moving up the ranks and ready to attack the beast that is the thesis.

Good luck. Don’t procrastinate. And know it will end no matter what, so Nike this motha f#@%er and Just Do it!

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Literacy Narrative from 8 to 90

So I don’t think we had a blog due per the calendar, because it said “No blog next week: work on Literacy Narrative”, but I know we always got somethin’ to post. So here are some answers from my Literacy Narrative thus far that I really enjoyed.

When asked where you see writing in the next ten years, or how important it will be, my interviewees said this:

“I’m afraid its gonna be erased. I don’t even think the telephone will be the telephone. It will be all clones (in reference to automated operators). We depend too much on the machine and not using the brain as we should.” – Diana 90

In the next ten years, I’m “Pretty sure you won’t know how to fucking read or write because the computer will do it all for you … People are going to rely solely on computers”. – Angela 36

“It will be an important thing in my life. Something like I have to do for life. (brief pause) I just think when I’m in college, because I’m planning to go to college – even though it’s nothing to worry about at my age , it’s going to be important for my grades and stuff. Do you know what I mean?” – Jayden 8

“Oh! Everything. But it’s gonna be online…well, not everything…but a lot of it.” – Summer 15

And when I asked about the importance of computer literacy, they said:

We need computer literacy “So they know if the machine is operating as it should. If we don’t understand the machine, it could tell us anything. If you take it as gospel there could be problems”.

She compared these statements to going into a store and the register stops working. The guy who just took your dollar for the sixty five cent item doesn’t know he owes you thirty five cents because the machine didn’t tell him. Or how many times have you went to a store that the power is out or the registers are down and they say they can’t ring you up? Can’t they legibly write it down and transfer that to a bookkeeper somehow? “Has the world stopped spinning just because the computer has stopped. It’s frightening. It’s really frightening.” – Diana

“If computers do everything for you, you have to know how to command it. You have to know something. But I’m sure there’s an app for that”. – Angela

“Totally” – Jayden

“Yes, internet literacy would be great! Because it would be nice to know what you’re doing, especially if they are going to expect us to do everything online.” – Summer

This is Getting Deep

The thing I grabbed from the Scribner essay, Unpackaging Literacy, was the idea that literacy may not make you more advanced than the next person or that different levels of literacy exist and function in the world with or without each other, but what they didn’t find in the Vai community were poetic or transactional writings; ones that reflected on feelings or emotions, or others that presented persuasive arguments.

I go back to our discussions around Plato and Aristotle and think about the ideas they were promoting and how writing allowed an individual the chance to document and reflect on what it is that he or she was mulling over, in turn promoting a more in depth analysis of self and the relationship of self to that world.

This reflective quality of writing is definitely something I’ve taken notice of more since thinking about literacy and why it is looked at like “magic bananas”.

Tying it In

The Goody & Watt article was a beast! It spanned the history of our oral and written literacy through their own understanding as to the events that shaped our society based on literacy practices and didn’t seem to skip a moment.

For my own research, the shift from oral to written Myths became significant because I am currently looking at the way Euripides takes the oral and written Myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece and adapts the story in his attempt “to wrestle with the problems with which the changes in the cultural tradition had faced them” (323). I had been looking for ways to describe this shift and how or why the story and its genre as a play and adaptation function, and this article can help me make more sense of that, as well as the continued debates around literacy that focus on these same issues.

And this did continue in the Collins and Blott article, which pointed out that the argument between oral Myth and written is not so much about literacy but about genre. When I read that, it made perfect sense. If we think about the affordances of genre, or the way we tell a story, it really plays into the factors as to what should be included and what left out. As well, the period with which these stories are told, whether orally or written, changes the genre with which the author chooses to write his or her piece in.
For example, if we look at Euripides’ play “Medea”, which continues the original Myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, we find that the play takes the focus off our hero/anti-hero, Jason, and centers it on the wife, the woman, Medea. This choice to put it into a play is derivative of the times and the calling for such writing and entertainment. The choice to focus on Medea as the main character and the things she faces and overcomes as a woman is done to address societal concerns around gender.

If we take this simple analysis of the story and shift to modern times, a play may never get the same message across. Now, we may use something like a Super Bowl commercial that highlights a concern with a hashtag. The #likeagirl campaign from yesterday comes to mind. Or the mass amounts of Father/Daughter and Father/Son commercials. Again, the point here is that genre is a key component to the understanding of why or how affective a story or message is.

Now that I’ve strayed far enough away from the article to have you wondering where the hell I’m going with all this, I leave you so I may research more around this idea of genre and adaptation before the spark is gone.

Better Early Than Never

For this first entry I’m channeling my inner Mark and jumpin’ the gun because in every Dr. Jaxon class I’ve had, Mark was in it and he would be on point postin’ before class and even before the prompt was up sometimes; like he had the Jedi blog trick or something. To add, I in no way am drawing all of Mark’s awesomeness at posting and his ways with words. I’m only leaving my own procrastination behind and following suit, posting early…also, I figured we would be doing brief Blog intros and I know that it will get away from me if I don’t do it now.

So, with that, my name is Jeremy Wallace and I am a graduate student in the English department with an emphasis in Literature -or possibly Language and Literacy- and in my final semester. I have had the privilege of teaching two literature courses here –ENG240: Literature for Life and ENG258: World Literature- as well as two sections of ENG130: Academic Writing.

Currently my colleague, Daniele Astengo, and I are working on a classroom model that would enable two or more literature courses taught at the same campus to collaborate via their shared classroom website. We will be presenting this work at Arizona State in two weeks with the hope that it will highlight key components to the success of the course, such as: the hybridization of course content and engagement –evenly dispersing the time between face-to-face and online interaction; the importance of using your own web space and not a school based Learning Management System (LMS); discussion around weekly “make sessions”, films or seminars, as well as the shared benchmarks that would culminate in a piece of department published collaborative fiction and an adaptation, remix or remake of their own doing in the medium of their choice.

At the moment I’m interested in discussing ways we can reimagine and redesign the literature classroom to better address the needs of the 21st century student and learner. Also I’m really curious about “make” spaces in the classroom and the possibilities of putting together a future Chico State Humanities Lab.

The Real Why

Why should students take my course? Because…

…it isn’t so much my course the students are taking, but rather our course that we will co-construct as colleagues throughout the semester.

…I can only provide the skeleton bones of the course and add assorted meats to the structure; students are the Dr. Frankenstein of the whole operation who bring that spark to old and new materials, making them come to life.

…everyone has the ability to engage in meaningful discussions about things they are interested in and should be given the opportunity to do so with colleagues and peers in an open space where they feel comfortable enough to share ideas and can actively participate with, push against  and challenge those around them in order to further whatever “the thing” is.

…as individuals in the world we can make an impact, but as a collaborative whole we can make a difference.

…learning and discovering new things shouldn’t suck.

This isn’t an all inclusive list, but by adding your “Why” -just one thought or line-  in the comment feed, we can gather up a collaborative list of things that can make the educational experience not suck for everyone.

So I leave you this time with the question Randy Bass, Cathy Davidson and Mike Wesch posed…What is your Why?

Wow!…Gardner Campbell’s Keynote -Ecologies of Yearning…Mind Blown!

Before I get up on a digital soap box, or maybe on my IBM PCjr. –the 80s computer geeks equivalent- I wanted to just say wow, that was inspirational stuff right there for anyone who is even remotely engaged with the world around them and especially interested in where we are headed in education, or better yet, the process of critically thinking about ourselves and the role we play in the world around us. Any way you spin that talk, Campbell drove it home when he was breaking down this idea of “networked transcontextualism” being key to learning and understanding, primarily because it is comprised of “some deep experience, of the richness, the complexities of the ecologies of yearning, that inform our desire to make meaning out of our experience, which we must do together; (and here he paused only for a blink and said with an unmistakable honest joy) because that’s where meaning lies”. Again, wow!

Now to connect this back to a point I wanna make, which is how awesome this all is and how lucky I am, again, to be engaging with so many great people about things that I have now become time-consumingly passionate about: writing, literature, teaching, but most of all the ways in which we can effectively engage with and further the 21st century learners’, students’ and educators’ abilities; I must bring in a bit of my own transcontextual material stemming from time I served in the educational system as an adolescent and what it is that really motivates me to want to do more with all this cool stuff.

Without further ado, my story leading up to this goes a lil somethin’ like this:

So, being that I am a product of old school methods that conditioned us to sit in rows and the emphasis was always put on what you did as an individual and not a collective whole, I was never a fan of getting in groups, riffing off others or even considering what others had to say in the way of my thoughts. “What thoughts were ever solely mine anyway, right? As if peers of all walks had anything to do with my awesomely unique thoughts…silly boy.” But again, it was what I knew at the time and it was supposed to be that way…or so I thought.

As I matured from the elementary and junior high level to high school, and I use matured loosely, I was presented at every turn with, what I would come to define later in life as, painted cattle guards – sets of rules or ways of being that are then imposed on you that present themselves as genuine hurdles or road blocks to overcome, but in reality completely conquerable with a little push back in the form of questioning, considering possibilities, thinking deeply about the issues as a unit to overcome this obstacle in front of us or whatever approach you choose. In short, not faking the “double take”, right?.

Yet still, even with a new self and voice I felt like I had acquired during this time, the educational conditioning I received made me feel at times like I was a child who was to be seen and not heard; spoke only when spoken too. Not every educator I came across fits this negative image I’m painting, obviously, but as I moved through high school, it seemed to be more and more evident that this was the model that had been passed down and preached. My most memorable, and ultimately inspirational, of these interactions with changeless educators was in my junior year when I failed a poetry test based on my opinion of the author’s intentions/meanings. When I asked the teacher why I failed, she told me it was “Because that’s not what the scholars say that poem means”. Ouch! Not only was I wrong, but she made me feel, at the young impressionable age of sixteen or seventeen, like what I had to say maybe didn’t matter, and there were plenty of smart people, “scholars” –whatever the hell that word meant to me at the time- ,that knew far better than I did. Needless to say, that may be inspirational now, but at the time it made me go from being an A student to a C and D student because I lost the confidence to speak my mind and question the things around me and comment on the things I knew the answer to. Again, not all were like this, or even many, but enough were like this to where a change in the guard was necessary but not in sight.

It wasn’t until I went to Shasta and Butte College to finish my general ed before transferring to Chico that I finally had a chance to express my thoughts on something I wanted to talk about and in the way that I wanted to say them. My English professors at the time, Tony D’souza at Shasta and then Sarah Pape at Butte, both had a way about them that was inviting, engaging and yet eager to learn from you as a student, which in turn pushed you to not only do what they asked, but to do it to the best of your ability because you knew they sincerely cared…or just faked it really really good. Still though, when I talk to these professors, just as I would with anyone who I’ve come in contact with and grown through, I thank them for everything they’ve done and remind them that the time spent with them in their classes and outside of it are what gave me the extra push I needed to pursue furthering my education and become the aspiring scholar, educator, colleague, friend and human I aim to be.

What’s important to note about this positive change that we come to expect from going between high school and college is it didn’t come for me until I was in my late twenties, so you can imagine how different the classrooms were in a ten to twelve year span, as well as the person that I had become –not to mention I went from hustlin’ in the streets, to hustlin’ mattresses for Sleep Train, to physically hustling to get my education done as the economy fell around me, my wife and two kids (now three). What I aim to point out with this bit of info is that it wasn’t all the changes in me and society that made these professors awesome at what they did –and many who follow them as I continued- it was/is their understanding of the materials that they were working with and their ability to engage the student on a real level through their own secret superpowers. Adding to this was the fact that they were incorporating the tools and technologies of the time to better support and promote deeper thinking and the sharing of ideas –i.e. by building around communities of practice and creating affinity groups before it seemed to take hold, using new theories around revision and workshop, introducing us to different forms of media and mediums and being knowledgeable about the current events, television shows or music or movies that appealed to different demographics, connected us to the locale through civic engagement, and the topper, they were normal people who never forget what it was like and for them and what it means to be a student in present day… also, not necessarily digital tools either.

All this sounds very basic and normal now, but as we can see from Campbell’s Keynote in 2012, D’souza and Pape were ahead of their time, as were the educators who taught and paved their way. What they took from the people before them and incorporated into their own styles was the key component that Campbell is pointing to when he talks about transcontextual materials being important. It’s the idea that these seemingly insignificant and irrelevant ideas that arise from reading and discussing, let’s say, William Faulkner or Charles Bukowski or Lev Vygotsky or James Gee, in relationship to things that you understand and know about the world around you are key. Your ideas may not be what the scholars think, but that’s because you don’t think like anybody else; you’re an individual with your own ideas and emotions which in turn will change the way we as a whole look at whatever or whomever that may be in the discussion.

Okay, phew, (wiping the sweat from our brows-ers), we made it through my sad existence in the unified school districts of San Jose and were forced through my reentry into the college system; so if you’re still here, then you must of followed the tangents fine and are ready to wrap this up.

For me, the educators that stick out in my mind are those that are doing something that everyone else looks at as crazy or feels their ideas are just a little too far outside that invisible box we keep trying to push them out of but packing taping them in when we don’t agree with or understand what they’re saying. You see a little connection now? My whole thing is is that I’m fascinated by all this new “stuff” I’m learning and am just so eager to keep this ball of excitement rolling inside me and can’t wait to see what the future will bring. Now that I have barely got wet and tipped my toe in the deeper waters –this blog thing here- I feel like I’m learning to take the floaties off and venture further, yet I can’t help but think about Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakwening” and imagine myself in her position, looking back at the shore we’ve left behind and swimming further, until –in my case- I hope to get picked up by this ship we’re building together; otherwise it’s the smell of pinks filling the air and the sounds of bees buzzing in my ears, ’cause there’s no turning back now.

I just want to say thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and sorry for the lengthy piece, but this was a free flow of info and emotion that I didn’t want to quit, brought on by Gardner Campbell’s talk and it seemed fitting to just go with it. I leave you to think on this for yourself now:

What motivates you to want to “make the thing (whatever it is for you) not suck”?

–paging Dr. Jaxon, I stole your line; it’s just that good.