10.0845 times & standards

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 9 Apr 1997 21:55:27 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 845.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu> (73)
Subject: Re: 10.0838 times & standards

[2] From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org> (24)
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

Date: Wed, 9 Apr 1997 12:59:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0838 times & standards

Mark Gardner responds:

>> But isn't it sad when we Humanists forget about Eros?
>Well, *I'm* not doing this for the money...

Mark, your recent remarks have both chastened and encouraged me, as it
becomes clear that we are not so far apart. But this whole thread (which
started with an incredulous question: "How can it be that students in this
generation can't navigate www links?" as a stunned variant on the more
usual "can't use a dictionary" or "can't use a card catalog") has raised a
critically important set of questions not only for parents and educators
but for us more removed scholars, especially those who may be emerging as
engineers and architects of new forms of knowledge and literature.

Mark's own description of how he discovered rewards in the drudgery,
finding himself able to sound out words he'd never read only to discover
he knew them and so forth, shows where the missing connection is.
"Education had made us independent learners in spite of ourselves" because
there was a correspondence between the techniques education instilled
(spelling, construing complex sentences) and the medium by which Mark
informed himself about his passions (dinosaurs and space travel), namely
the printed word.

For a television generation, this suggests we should offer kids experience
with acting and scripting, with video cameras and video production, with
codes of filmmaking. This is difficult not only because of the economies
and organization involved: how many teachers are literate in these forms?
The means of production which really count are no longer on the factory
floor, but in the studio, and in a consumption-oriented culture structured
by such access, we pretty much do only what we're told we can.

One reason our role is so critical is that it is largely we who will
decide whether the Worldwide Web will be like this, or rather whether
individual students will be able to participate meaningfully in production
as well as consumption, allowing the creative loop to be closed again.

But we have raised an even deeper question in this debate. How much is
literacy dependent, how bound to, psychic structures of childhood trauma,
what we recall as "hours of meaningless labor," maybe deliberately
forgetting the emotional stresses, in family or school, which would have
been our only other option? To what extent is the power that comes from
curtailment and concentration -- fitting myself to the regimens of
learning, becoming strong thereby -- dependent on earlier experiences of
being threatened, implicitly or outright, if only (!) with the fear of
losing a loved one's approval?

Despite our fragmentary depictions, in reality my childhood was not
entirely a paradise of curiosity indulged, and Mark's was not an endless
labor without rewards. But if literacy is built at all on trauma (however
low-level) at the hands of parents or educators, leading to subsequent
accommodations -- identifications -- with authorities and ideologies whose
grip we have given up struggling against, then this might help to explain
some of the absurd psychic struggles we still get involved with, building
our conceptual fortresses and fighting wars along imaginary borders.

If nothing else, e-mail and the net dramatically depict our tendency with
the written word to project our own fears and expectations onto what we do
not really know. Maybe we do this, right and left, because our powers to
recognize and understand (and to recognize what we don't understand) have
been distorted by our authorized need to subject ourselves to particular
technologies and techniques of seeing -- the inscribed letter, the printed
word, the computer, the television news spot -- which then naturally
become fetishes.

Such readiness to project thus goes hand in hand with the passive relation
to media generally which we accuse others of. The flame wars have only
started: stay tuned.

But enough psychological cookie-dough from me. Maybe we should hear from
some parents who can reflect on how kids actually do learn? How much do
they have to be forced, and at what price? What's up with the
eighteen-year-old who can't navigate hypertext links? Is that a big deal
-- will she pick it up as soon as she is ready, and cares to? If not, what
is she suffering from, and whose is the moral failure?

My easy answer? I'd like to live in a world where

(1) Kids could experience what print, video, the net really are, learning
their forms by participating as creators, and
(2) We didn't trouble ourselves to threaten them about it.

Wendell Piez

Date: Wed, 09 Apr 1997 12:11:06 -0700
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org>
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

Thank you, Wendell Piez, for pointing out that drudgery is just that!
Learning should be interesting and when it is, students (and everyone
else) will respond. I find this negative attitude toward middle school
very typical of our society: let's keep them corralled until they're old
enough to put to work. Doesn't anyone remember that age 13 (right in the
middle of middle school) is when Jewish boys/girls become men/women? And
in the church of my own Presbyterian upbringing, we were considered adult
enough to join the community at the same age. So what's the problem?

In my opinion -- and some of you may have heard me say this before
because I've felt this for many years -- our greatest wasted talents are
the middle schoolers! Their brains have developed by then, their bodies
are giving them fits so they need some important to do, and what do we do
with them? NOTHING useful! That's the age when we should apprentice
them to our own adult projects and goals. Share with these youngsters
your own joy of learning. Let them help you think about the problems of
our society and give them some hard thinking to do! Whether the problems
are scholarly or technical or environmental, I think we would all be
surprised by their capabilities and interest and WILLINGNESS TO WORK!

Off the soap box now.

Mary Dee

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D.			202-387-0626	
Language Technology, Inc.		202-387-0625 (fax)
2153 California St. NW			mdharris@acm.org
Washington, DC 20008			mdharris@aol.com