Sunday, October 01, 2006

Some vexing questions

I've spent the last week transcribing interviews from the California trip and writing furiously, which is good. So much has happened, of course! There's the release of the Spellings Commission report, of course - that's coming to serve as a great example of one of my vexing questions. Then there's a pretty robust discussion on Kairosnews initiated by Charlie Lowe's post (something carried over from Charlie's blog, Cyberdash), featuring a letter that Charlie and Ellen Schendel wrote to the powers that be at Grand Valley State University about their plans to acquire a it-who-shall-not-be-named "plagiarism detection service." An employee of the company that markets i-w-s-n-b-n decided that he would participate in a discussion with various Kairosnews posters (me included, once I learned about it) about the service; meanwhile, the alternative position - as represented by Charlie and Ellen - has gotten some attention, which is nice. Becky Howard, too, was interviewed by the Bloomberg news people about the alternative position - also excellent.

But I started this post with the heading about vexing questions - so let me put those out there in the light of what's above. The q. has to do with some different ways of thinking about the goals (short, medium, long) of this work that I'm thinking about in the OMB, and people are above as well. One of the central tenets of strategies associated with community organizers for, say, the Industrial Areas Foundation (and the organizer I shadowed for this research works for the IAF) is that it's super important to be pragmatic. Doing the right thing - even if it's for the wrong reasons - is the most important thing. This parallels, I think, the idea of tactical strategies outlined in deCerteau's _Practice of Everyday Life_ - short term, tactical, take what you can and run, strategy of the weak, etc. Put this next to one of the central tenets of the idea of framing, that what will ultimately lead to change is reframing the ways that issues are represented. This is in some ways equivalent to deC's idea of strategy, because it's about big picture, long-term, views that shape things.

They don't go together too well. Take the Spellings doc. If we - and by "we" I mean the alleged consensus from which people speak when they speak of comp/rhet as a field (and I'm not sure that this exists, but that's another question entirely, also one I'm dealing with in the OMB [though not yet])... sorry. If "we" work with the Spellings Report in one way, it might be possible to use it as a wedge to 'get' some of the things "we" value. For ex., the Report mentions that it's important to support collaborations among hs/college teachers, that FIPSE should be re-funded (not refunded as in "give money back," but re-funded as in "give money to"). We could even take its calls for increased assessment and make cases four our assessment efforts. This all makes good sense to me - it's pragmatic, it works with what we've got. And that's sooooo important.

But then there's the frame of the report. And is it possible to work for what we want, with the report as incentive, without validating/participating in that frame, even if we're pushing against it? (I know, yes, that this is the way that most of "us" frame the work that we do in our comp classes, too... we say, to selves and to students, 'we are working with the conventions of these dominant discourses so that you/we can push against them and broaden them, so that are values are represented, etc.') Education, in this report, is a lot like building a car, and getting people ready to be better car builders. Even Spellings herself used this: "Choosing a college should be as easy as buying a car." And educating students is no longer about the whole 'democracy' thing (and I'm not sure I love that frame, either - more on that in a sec) - it's now about better, faster, stronger citizens who can be better, faster, stronger workers. Sort of like the 6 Million Dollar man, again.

So there's a vexing question.

Another thing I've come to realize, another vexing q. I've had my issues with the pedagogical strategy known as service-learning for a loooong time - since it became hot, in fact. But I finally was able to distill *why* I have issues, and it goes back to something I wrote a long time ago (almost 12 years ago, in fact). Even when it's done super well, it seems to me that s-l is framed as something that, as Bruce Herzberg put it, "helps students ... take responsibility for communal welfare." They gain a big picture view, they learn that problems aren't isolated, etc. (This is also a position that's represented as a good thing for framing social issues by orgs like The Opportunity Agenda.) But put that approach next to the IAF/Saul Alinsky's Iron Rule: Never do for people what they can do for themselves. I don't think students should be educated to take responsibility for social welfare; I think students should be educated (and again, this is a point I made a long time ago, so it's no new news) so that they can make some choices for themselves about when, where, and why they want to be heard, and raise their own stink if that's what they think is important. Maybe these aren't too different - though I think that they are. It's the difference between "being done to" and "doing for selves." I think the different ways of stating this frame two different assumptions about what students know, too. In the first, they don't know so much - for ex., about how to be responsible. In the second, they do.

It's something I'm thinking about/playing with, anyway....