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Re: the computers and isolation blues
"Pioneers rarely sympathize with reluctants or understand their issues.
Pioneers have different needs and far more tolerance for frustration. They
rarely understand reluctants or how they learn. They find it difficult to
design professional development for reluctants that works."
Jamie McKenzie in "Reaching the Reluctant Teacher"
So, yeah, I get that and then some since a good part of my job, now, is to
reach teachers, reluctant and otherwise.
I don't think you're hearing me, though. You wouldn't put something like
Anson's "Distant Voices" into the critique category? Or Selfe's "The Perils
of Not Paying Attention"? I do, and I count all of the lesser-known of such
critiques in that category, as well. Thoughtful, careful, balanced things,
to be sure, but too often heard only by halves, especially among those
inclined breathlessly to absorb the warnings of the Vonneguts, the Postmans,
the Birkerts, the Alfred E. Neumans. That *is* us, I'd argue. We
contribute to that techgeist with every utterance in which we're at pains to
clarify that we aren't among those whey-faced technophiles who dream in
arcane programming languages and are uncritically convinced that computers
are on point of transforming everything, like it or not. Maybe folks will
object to my positing that they rub elbows with Alfred, but there it is: we
occupy that continuum, and might do well to examine *that* if we're really
inclined to wonder why folks routinely claim the isolating qualities of
things they've largely never even tried.
At the NEA Higher Ed conference this year, the pattern of anti-tech comments
was so pervasive that I ended up taking notes every time presenters or
audience members pointed to computers as the representative of all that is
evil: the corporatizing of higher ed, the loss of intellectual freedom, the
transformation of the professor into a "knowledge navigator" or an
"educational engineer." Those *are* our colleagues, and they, too, are MAD.
Interestingly, I mostly encounter this pattern when teachers are the
students--seldom, otherwise. As Lori, Nancy, and Ted can all attest, other
students often approach computers fairly enthusiastically, even when they
lack confidence or experience. It's far easier, I think, for us to cope
with students who *are* game (and they mostly are, I find) even if they
*don't* know what in the hell the "blue stuff" might be. For the most part,
my students end up at what I think of as fairly sophisticated philosophies
of the machine: they enjoy certain aspects of a cyborgian life (nearly all
of them make email interaction regular parts of their lives); they enjoy
courses that incorporate online elements (and often ask me why more teachers
don't take the plunge, which I can only say I'm working on); but they don't
expect or want computer mediated exchanges to dominate their lives.
Me? I don't carry a cell phone; hardly ever tote a laptop; am interested in
the hand-held web devices and would gladly play with them, but don't own or
lust after one; can't claim expertise or anything near it in web design,
programming languages, multi-media authoring or *any* of that. I'm happy to
be a student of the thing, and happy to offer myself up as living proof that
one needn't be either expert or whey-faced (okay, I'm a little whey-faced,
but I'll claim such non-tech oriented things as being an English teacher and
living in Northern Illinois where winter is, apparently, about ten months
long) to collect enough experience to read the Birkerts and the Ansons and
everything in between with a critical (but not paralyzed into myopia) eye.
The one time in my life that I've enjoyed the experience of being a preached
to chorister was at CW 99 in Rapid City at Fred Kemp's closing keynote. The
rest of the time, I'm wrangling with McKenzie's observation, which I think
is less a question of applying high-falutin' rhetorical analysis than a
question of simply working to become a good teacher, which is always a
challenge, but is a particularly so when fellow teachers are the students in
Kathy at C.O.D.
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