Thackery in a Bunker?

NCTE 2011 may have ended on Sunday, November 20, but it’s been tumbling in my head since then. Rather than offer a blow-by-blow description of events, I want to pull together some thoughts that continue some from the post that came before this, “Missing Thackery.”

I was lucky to have been invited to present on a panel with Jen Roberts and Sarah Fidelibus and coordinated by Jen. In our presentation, “Fly Me to the Moon: Rocketing Our Way to Digital Pedagogies” we aimed to provide a slightly different look at digital tools by talking about experiences with specific tools in the high school and college English classroom. What was a little different was that we framed the discussion of tools within the broader context of the revolutionary social and cultural shifts the World Wide Web has catalyzed.

There are shifts that seem most relevant to English folk, especially those of us who teach writing. The digitization of information, the sheer volume of information that digitization makes possible, the speed with which it’s conveyed, the potential access that all people have to the information as well as to the channels for publishing their own content, well, it changes everything.

  • We can communicate, create, and publish without being constrained by time or space.
  • We can represent our ideas, the information we want to create and convey, in words, but also in sounds, images and any combinations of these we can think of.
  • We don’t need permission from anyone to publish. We are our own publishing houses.
  • We get to consciously choose and create the face(s) we present to the world.

What can result is a sense of personal agency, a sense of being connected to others in the world in new ways, opportunities to embark on creating content with others– I could go on and on. But please understand– I’m not a cheerleader for the World Wide Web, I’m a cheerleader for what the Web makes possible, in our own personal and professional lives, the lives of our students, and in the world around us. But the Web makes it possible only if we take charge. So, how do we weave a personal Web?

To put it simply: we try out tools that could add new dimensions (and new efficiencies) to our own lives. Here’s the slideshow I created.

I’m accustomed to teachers being unfamiliar with Web-based tools. But, and it’s a big but, something more seems to be happening. Yes, I heard uncertainty about how and where to begin weaving a personal Web.  But I sensed more than wariness or polite equivocations about the “technology thing,” as it is sometimes called. There were sessions affirming (asserting?) the primacy of literature in the English curriculum and in the lives of “educated” people. There were strident claims. For example, “English teachers are the last bastion against barbarity.”

I don’t want to get into discussions of the history & values of English. I just wonder who ever said literature wasn’t important? More specifically, who implied that technology should muscle out literature from the English classroom?

I am earnestly hoping that we’re not moving into the land of either/or. I hope we’re not drifting into the assumptions that if you’re for technology, you’re against literature and the richness of literary traditions. That if you’re for technology then you’re against writing, opposed to developing the critical thinking that comes with crafting an argument, a paragraph, a beautiful sentence.

We may face a pretty steep curve as people learn to make their place on the Web; we may have to have lots of conversations about how to approach teaching within the new cultures the Web seems to afford. It’s probably all going to feel messy and confused.

But barbarity? I have a image of English teachers standing watch over a bunker where Thackery and Woolf and zillions of others have been stashed. For their own good, of course.

How about a different perspective?  Here’s a representation of the World Wide Web in 2003. A computer programmer figured out how to do the complex math it took to produce this; it can be remade every day to reflect that day’s activity. (He did it on a bet made over a beer, on his own time. One of the images hangs in the Museum of Modern Art. That’s some kind of talent, eh?)

1st Full Internet Map, 11.22.2003. The Opte Project CC BY-NC-SA 1.0


Look closely. There aren’t any bunkers in this Web. There are only a gazillion connections, people linked to one another, creating new content, sharing information, making new understandings.

Thackery’s in there. And Shakespeare and Browning and everybody else.

We all are.  O.K.?



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