January 11, 2008
J.K. Rowling oversteps copyright... because fans are easier to pick on than academics?
The unique ways lawyers and authors try to stretch and distort copyright laws are reaching new levels of absurdity.
At first, I thought the article below was going to go toward a new argument about derivative fiction authorship (a case I believe can and should be made, but a more difficult argument than the point I want to make here).
Then, I realized that Rowling was actually suing what is essentially a critical VOCABULARY guide to Rowling's works.
What? What sort of absurd assumptions sit behind this suit? That the Encylopedia Britannica and the Oxford English Dictionary should have obtain copyright permission for every entry they include for a term or an entry that has a clear author with copyright?
It gets even sillier. It appears to me (check out the article below and see for yourself) that Rowling and her lawyers are going after FANS of her works largely because they are a less empowered group, rather than target FAR BIGGER offenders of the type of behavior the lawsuit seeks to punish.
What offenders am I referring to? Why, tenured academics in the humanities, of course! There is not an academic in the humanities in the U.S. who has not received tenure specifically for writing about and critically analyzing (and professionally profiting from) someone else's copyrighted work!
If what these fans are doing is a copyright violation, then nearly every scholarly book in the humanities, perhaps every college student's research paper which cites as sources CREATIVE AND COPYRIGHTED WORKS is, by virtue of the reasoning in this lawsuit, is ILLEGAL.
What a bizarro world this is.
J.K. Rowling's Dark Mark
Why she should lose her copyright lawsuit against the Harry Potter Lexicon.
Posted Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008, at 7:59 AM ET
As I wrote in October, over the last few years, the relationship between fan-written Web sites and the copyright owners of the content they draw on, if legally murky, has at least been peaceful. Once it dawned on media companies that fan sites are the kind of marketing that they usually pay hard cash for, they generally left the fans alone. But things turned sour in the fall, when the Harry Potter Lexicon Web site announced plans to publish a book version of its fan-written guide to the Potter world. Author J.K. Rowling and publisher Warner Brothers have sued the Lexicon for copyright infringement, exposing the big unanswered question: Are fan guides actually illegal?
At issue are the giant fan-written guides like the H.P. Lexicon or the Lostpedia (for the show Lost) that try to collect all known information on topics like Harry's pet owl or the Dharma Initiative. Rowling takes the position that she, as the original author, has the right to block the publication of any such guide. In her words: "However much an individual claims to love somebody else's work, it does not become theirs to sell."
But Rowling is overstepping her bounds. She has confused the adaptations of a work, which she does own, with discussion of her work, which she doesn't. Rowling owns both the original works themselves and any effort to adapt her book or characters to other media—films, computer games, and so on. Textually, the law gives her sway over any form in which her work may be "recast, transformed, or adapted." But she does not own discussion of her work—book reviews, literary criticism, or the fan guides that she's suing. The law has never allowed authors to exercise that much control over public discussion of their creations.
Unlike a Potter film or computer game, the authors of the Lexicon encyclopedia are not simply moving Potter to another medium. Their purpose, rather, is providing a reference guide with description and discussion, rather like a very long and detailed book review. Such guides have been around forever—centuries if you count the Bible, and more recently for complex works like the writings of Jorge Borges or The Lord of the Rings. As long as a guide does not copy the original work verbatim, it falls outside the category of "adaptation." And that's why it is largely unnecessary to discuss the more complex copyright doctrine of "fair use." Rowling's rights over the guide don't exist to begin with, so we don't need to go there.
Bizarrely, Rowling says that the fan guide would prevent her from writing her own guide to the Potter world. "I cannot," she said in a statement "approve of 'companion books' or 'encyclopedias' that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book. ..." To begin with, Rowling sounds entirely too much like a Death Eater in this quote. More generally, two products in the same market isn't called pre-emption—the word is competition. Why not let consumers decide which guide they like better? Rowling might object that the fan's guide will be strewn with errors or poorly written; but it is hardly the job of copyright to protect us from bad execution. And the fan's guide might actually be better, or at least different.
There are more ethereal reasons that Rowling ought not win. For reasons anthropologists will someday understand, volunteer encyclopedias have become the place to find what passes for our collective wisdom. Wikipedia is the clearest example: It may be wrong sometimes, but it is nonetheless a statement as to what we know. To her credit, Rowling accepts this and tolerates the online version of the H.P. Lexicon. But a general rule of the kind she is asking for isn't so generous: It would, by necessity, give copyright owners power over the content of Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias that discuss their works. Not the end of the world, but certainly a subtle form of thought control.
In the end, this dispute is about the current meaning of authorship. Rowling is the initial author and deserves the bulk of the credit, respect, and financial reward. But she has all of that. What she wants is a level of control over the Potter world that just isn't healthy. The authors of fan guides, like house elves, rarely get famous or rich. They deserve legal credit for their modest contributions, not the Wizengamot.
What bothers me above is that the author, Tim Wu, while making good points, is perhaps missing the most important point.
Wu is drawing some kind of unconscious distinction between critical study through works of of analysis and cataloging and documenting done by SANCTIONED and IMPORTANT author-types (a self-appointed class, as declared by the various academic credentialing or the established publishing industry) and ordinary people, hereto referred to by the diminutive label "fans."
He never mentions this distinction in the article, but he also never reaches or sees past it. What is the difference between a fan seeking to write the "definitive" piece of encyclopedic analysis and cataloging of Rowling's work and a tenured professor seeking to write the "definitive" piece of encyclopedic analysis and cataloging of, say, Emily Dickinson's work?
And no, the fact that Emily Dickinson is dead, or supposedly "canonized" by some massive sanction system called a "literary industry" doesn't count. Current postmodern scholars have easily collapsed distinctions between so-called "high" and "low" cultural products, distinctions that were only ever really enforced by repetition.
Further, before the advent of Modernism and New Criticism in literature, the PRIMARY "product" of literary scholars was a form of criticism known as "traditional-biographical."
That means if you wanted to be a literary scholar back in that time, you had two routes to follow:
1. catalog and link the author's works against a careful biographical analysis of events or aspects of the author's life, OR
2. catalog and carefully establish the exact chronology and literary development of various textual versions of the author's works, those first drafts that establish dates, the variorum editions that attempt to argue that Emily Dickinson used male and female pronouns interchangably in her love poems, or that Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night BEFORE Hamlet.
Oh yeah, and along the way, they'd argue over and create lexicons for specialized terms and metaphors, which, for authors such as Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll, mean unusual and otherworldly terms and situations, and the potential political points that were made through allegory.
Granted, literary criticism has evolved considerably since then, to the point of subjecting live and dead authors to psychological high colonics in order to analyze the symbolic systems that go along with the works (ala' Freud or Jung). Or they take apart the imperialist or foundationalist cultural assumptions an author makes (like Tim Wu above), or even just to do a micro-minutia focus on a single literary work alone, as if it doesn't even have an author, or better yet, treat it as if the work itself doesn't exist and only the reader does!
All of which FANS of ANY work can engage in and profit from just as viably as tenured academics, because the Commons is free for anyone to engage in independent and unaffiliated research, even ordinary fans, even (gasp) ordinary journalists, even ANYONE who gets up in the morning and puts her underwear on one leg at a time.
Imagine that. Shhhh. Don't tell J.K. Rowling's ambitious lawyers. Think of the field day they could have, if they were turned loose in academia.
January 11, 2008 in Academia, Art, Books, Fiction, Journalism, Literacies, Postmodernity, Public Intellectuals, Research Access, Service Learning, Teaching, Voice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2007
JK Rowling outs Dumbledore... and reveals tantilizing Harry Potter back stories
Oh man, I am LOVING this stuff! See, I always knew Dumbledore was gay. I am a total Harry Potter series nut, and I suppose at my age I should be embarrassed by that, but I never have been. I know why that series grabbed me and never let go (besides the phenomenal talents of Jim Dale, who brings the audio books alive even better than the films).
It was Dumbledore. I was always reading the Harry Potter series for Dumbledore. He was Harry's hero, but he was the reason I was reading the series, Dumbledore and hoggy woggy Hogwarts, which was my secret dream of utopia. There, I said it.
It's like, if you get to choose where you go when you die, the landscape of the afterlife, for me, it will be Hogwarts. Ooh, and I need Dumbledore to be there. The last few books were hard for me that way (no spoilers yet, don't worry), but in the end, JK gave me what I needed by the end of the last book.
And in her talk below, makes me realize why the Harry Potter series also makes me want to sit and watch Donnie Darko over and over. It's not the literary stuff I'm valuing (cuz high literature/film, it ain't), but the same thing is drawing me, just like, also maybe, Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.
Anyway, let's pull out some juicy bits below! Watch out. SPOILER ALERT!
Link: The Leaky Cauldron: J. K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall Reveals Dumbledore is Gay; Neville Marries Hannah Abbott, and Much More.
J. K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall Reveals Dumbledore is Gay; Neville Marries Hannah Abbott, and Much More
Posted by: Edward
October 19, 2007, 09:17 PM
Note: A preliminary transcript is now at the end of this post; please note that there may be some small errors in phrasing, and all questions have been paraphrased to save time; this is not a final transcript, but the accuracy of the questions and answers have been maintained.
Tonight, the one thousand grand prize winners (and their guests) of the Scholastic's Open Book Tour Sweepstakes along with a companion got the chance to see Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling read from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," answer questions and sign books at New York City's Carnegie Hall. We have exclusive information this evening on the myriad of "Deathly Hallows" questions she answered as well as in-depth details on a number of subjects she spoke about.
A caution now. Parts of the following WILL contain book seven SPOILERS.
First, the biggest revelation of the night came when Jo revealed to her audience the fact that Albus Dumbledore is gay and had fallen in love with fellow wizard and friend, Gellert Grindelwald. This elicited a huge reaction and prolonged ovation. So much so, it promoted Jo to say:
"If I had known this would have made you this happy, I would have announced it years ago."
The question was: Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?
JKR: My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that's how i always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair... [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, "Dumbledore's gay!" [laughter] "If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!"
Jo also said after revelation: "You needed something to keep you going for the next 10 years! ...Oh, my god, the fan fiction now, eh?"
[heh. That would about be the understatement of the year. hoo-eee.]
Jo also revealed that Neville Longbottom married Hufflepuff Hannah Abbott and she was to become the landlady at the iconic Leaky Cauldron Pub. She thought that people would find the fact of Neville's living over a pub particularly cool.
[Actually, I was more interested in Neville becoming Herbology teacher at Hogwarts. 19 years later, the other faculty had retired, but Hagrid was still going strong. Maybe half-giants live longer too, but big dogs don't live longer than small dogs. I was at least wishing Hagrid could have hooked up with Madame Maxime. And I expected Hermione to be Headmistress at Hogwarts, not running the Wizengamont (sp?)]
Equally large revelations were made concerning Petunia Dursley when Jo answered the question of what Petunia could not bring herself to say when Harry and the Dursleys parted ways before his seventeenth birthday. She would have wished him luck, saying:
"I do know what you're up against and I hope it's okay."
[Yeah, but how does she know? More backstory there? Hmmm. Not from listening to Lily and Snape through the bushes, that's for sure. The milk of human kindness still curdles in Aunt Petunia's breast.]
Information on the original Order members was also revealed during tonight's event. Jo related the fact that Remus Lupin, prior to the third book, was unemployable because he was a werewolf and upon his graduation from Hogwarts along with James and Lily, was supported by James using their own money. In addition to this she shed more light on the early days of the Order, saying James, Sirius, Remus and Lily were full time Order members. "Full Time Fighters," as Jo put it.
Jo also went into further detail about the many portraits in the wizarding world and their occupants. An occupant can only move freely to other portraits in their dwelling or to another portrait in which they are depicted. She also revealed that Harry himself made sure that the portrait of Snape made it into the Headmasters Office, but doubts that he ever went to speak to it.
[I dunno. He named his kid after Snape. I always figured either Harry or Hermione would be in that office one day, and neither would mind if Snape's portrait was there, even if it were as unpleasant as the other Slytherin former headmaster, Phineas Nigelis (it's so hard when you're addicted more to the audio books, you hear words, but can't spell them!).
Then there's the rule, I think, for getting to be a portrait in the headmaster's office. You have to swear an oath of allegiance to support the current headmaster, whoever that is. I think that they said something about that one time when Phineas Nigelis was pretending to be sleeping and didn't want to do what Dumbledore had asked him to do. So even if Snape's portrait were in there and ornery, he'd have to support the headmaster. But wasn't there something else, about abdicating his post, which may have disqualified Snape from being in there?
On yet a third hand, Harry could never do well in a class with Snape in it. I mean, geez, the guy defeats the Dark Lord, but cowers when Snape sneers at his potions? I mean, come on, Harry, get over it.]
Finally, speaking about her personal feelings and experiences of the past seventeen years with the boy wizard, Jo said finishing the first book and the seventh book produced very similar feelings. She also admits that she was very difficult to live with for the weeks following her completing the last book in the "Harry Potter" series.
A full transcript of this evening's event will be available on TLC soon. TLC will update throughout the evening with the latest from this event.
Some highlights have been transcribed:
How did you decide that Molly Weasley would be the one to finish off Bellatrix?
I always knew Molly was going to finish her off. I think there was some speculation that Neville would do it, because Neville obviously has a particular reason to hate Bellatrix. ..So there were lots of optios for Bellatrix, but I never deviated. I wanted it to be Molly, and I wanted it to be Molly for two reasons.
The first reason was I always saw Molly as a very good witch but someone whose light is necessarily hidden under a bushel, because she isn't in the kitchen a lot and she has had to raise, among others, and [Arthur?] which is like, enough... I wanted Molly to have her moment and to show that because a woman had dedicated herself to her family does not mean that she doesn't have a lot of other talents.
Second reason: It was the meeting of two kinds of - if you call what Bellatrix feels for Voldemort love, I guess we'll call it love, she has a kind of obsession with him, it's a very sick obsession ... and I wanted to match that kind of obsession with maternal love... the power that you give someone by loving them. So Molly was really an amazing exemplar of maternal love. ... There was something very satisfying about putting those two women together.
[I was actually sure of the rightness of Molly facing off with Bellatrix from the moment I saw what Molly's buggart was. That's how I knew she had to have her moment to step up and stand up to her fears. I just wish she were more of a full member of the order, instead of its mommy-cliche mad she-bear. After all, Charlie and the twins take after her more than dad. Of course she is a formidable witch.
As for this next one... oh dear, I knew this was coming. What a wonderful question! From the mouths of babes...]
Q: In the Goblet of Fire Dumbledore said his brother was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms [JKR buries her head, to laughter] on a goat; what were the inappropriate charms he was practicing on that goat?
JKR: How old are you?
JKR: I think that he was trying to make a goat that was easy to keep clean [laughter], curly horns. That's a joke that works on a couple of levels. I really like Aberforth and his goats. But you know Aberforth having this strange fondness for goats if you've read book seven, came in really useful to Harry, later on, because a goat, a stag, you know. If you're a stupid Death Eater, what's the difference. So, that is my answer to YOU.
Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?
My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that's how I always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair... [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, "Dumbledore's gay!" [laughter] If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!
Q: What did Dumbledore write in the letter to make the Dursleys take Harry?
JKR: Very, very good question. As you know, as we find out in book seven, Petunia once really wanted to be part of that world. And you discover that Dumbledore has written to her prior to the Howler...Dumbledore wrote to her very kindly and explained why he couldn't let her come to Hogwarts to become a witch. So, Petunia, much as she denies it afterwards, much as she turns against that world when she met Uncle Vernon, who is the biggest anti-wizard you could ever met in your life, a tiny part of her, and that's the part that almost wished Harry luck when she said goodbye to him in this book, she just teetered on the verge of saying, I do know what you're up against and I hope it's OK. But she couldn't bring herself to say it. Years of pretending she doesn't care have hardened her. But Dumbledore appealed in the letter you're asking about, so that part of Petunia that did remember wanting desperately to be part of the world and he appealed to her sense of fair play to a sister that she had hated because Lily had what she couldn't have. So that's how she persuaded Petunia to keep Harry. Good question.
[This next question the core for me, and I guess that means I identify as an older reader, but more, this is is where I owe my biggest thank you to JK Rowling. I'm just a sucker for people who can point out the bankruptcy of fascist, authoritarian thinking with such flair. I mean, it is troubling, she gives us Muggles, and yet in the wizarding world, there's the equivalent of Muggles too, like Fudge or Umbridge (I still love the names).
But maybe the lesson of the wizard fascists is that power corrupts, no matter what the source of that power may be.]
Q: Many of us older readers have noticed over the years similarities between the Death Eaters tactics and the Nazis from the 30s and 40s. Did you use that historical era as a model for Voldemort's reign and what were the lessons that you hope to impart to the next generation?
It was conscious. I think that if you're, I think most of us if you were asked to name a very evil regime we would think Nazi Germany. There were parallels in the ideology. I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is this great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world. People like to think themselves superior and that if they can pride themselves in nothing else they can pride themselves on perceived purity. So yeah that follows a parallel. It wasn't really exclusively that. I think you can see in the Ministry even before it's taken over, there are parallels to regimes we all know and love.
[Laughter and applause.]
So you ask what lessons, I suppose. The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry, and I think ti's one of the reasons that some people don't like the books, but I think that's it's a very healthy message to pass on to younger people that you should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.
Q: What did it feel like completing your first Harry Potter book versus completing the last.
JKR: What a great question. It felt strangely similar actually. Both feelings were more alike than with any of the other books. When I finished the first book, there was this incredible sense of achievement that i'd actually written a novel, i"d actually finished my book. And it was after seven years of writing and making notes and rewriting. And then when I finished the seventh book, that was 17 years. WIth the seventh book there was a huge feeling of loss as well. I couldn't believe I was done. And it took me weeks, as my poor, long-suffering husband will attest. He's here. [applause] Yes, you should clap him, he's very patient! [ovation] He's not the type to stand up and take about but trust me. Toward the end of a book i'm not that easy to live with. Yes Neil would bear witness to the fact that for weeks, really... it felt like a bereavement. I knew it was coming. I was prepared, I knew it would hurt, and it was huge. So, that's why I'm glad to be here and talk about it. Thank you.
Q: Harry often wondered about his parents lives before he died. What did Lily, James, Remus, Lupin and Sirius do after Hogwarts?
JKR: To take Remus first, Remus was unemployable. Poor Lupin, prior to Dumbledore taking him in, lead a really impoverished life because no one wanted to employ a werewolf. The other three were full-time members of the Order of the Phoenix. If you remember when Lily, James and co. were at school, the first war was raging. It never reached the heights that the second war reached, because the Ministry was never infiltrated to that extend but it was a very bad time, the same disappearances, the same deaths. So that's what they did, they left school. James has gold, enough to support Sirius and Lily. So I suppose they lived foff a private income. But they were full-time fighters, that's what they did, until Lily fell pregnant with Harry. So then they went into hiding.
[Hmmm, I'm going to say something sarcastic here. So Dumbledore and the original Order of the Phoenix took in James, Lily, Sirius, and (we presume the Order would not discriminate against Lupin, would they?). If so, those are some pretty young wizards to be putting to work right off like that, just out of school, even if Lily and James were head girl and head boy. If Mrs. Weasley were around, she would have pitched a fit!
I mean, weren't there any older wizards who could be daring fighters in the Order? I'm sure there were, the names of the folks Mad Eye listed off, from that picture. Maybe they were just killed off first, the McKinnons and all that. Like Madame Bones, like Neville's grandmother.
I was just thinking, maybe Dumbledore was recruiting his army right out of school, maybe he'd been doing it for decades, just another version of Slughorn, eh? Maybe there was a good reason Fudge was so scared that's what Dumbledore was up to. Dumbledore's track record wasn't that good.
Also kind of illuminates Voldemort's goal in wanting to run Hogwarts. An innocuous little wizarding school it was not. It was prime recruiting grounds. Andover? Skull and Bones of the wizarding world?
I jokes! Psych!]
May 07, 2007
Ditching the Laptops: What are the implications for computer-assisted pedagogies?
This is a secondary-school level problem, but supposedly it propagates out to the post-secondary schools as well. I've taught in laptop programs for many years, and encountered at one time or another every issue raised in the article below.
The question is: are these obstacles enough to justify ditching the programs? And perhaps a bigger issue (one for a great academic study in a secondary school setting): WHAT is causing the biggest roadblock? I mean, is there a McLuhan-esque cognitive ratio shift going on in the classrooms, or are the one-to-one laptops simply the wrong technological tool at the wrong time? Is it a flawed tool, or is the pedagogical model itself flawed?
The kids appear to be doing precisely what we knew kids would do. And technophobic teachers are also doing precisely what we knew they would do. But my mom taught third graders with Apple II's in the 1980s, and had them programming in Logos, making books, doing all kinds of really neat stuff. She was so pissed in the 1990s when they took the machines out of her classroom and made the students take "computer classes."
I think that's when the problems started. The the teachers who were coming up with neat projects (self-selected, integrated) to incorporate them into regular classrooms were taken out of the loop (or else roped into teaching those "how-to" classes), and then moved into separate (segregated, if you will) "computer classrooms" (not integrated with other class topics). THEN administrators tried to re-integrate computers into ALL classrooms (one-to-one laptops). You completely lose control of pedagogical innovation, and try to make the laptops into just another classroom tool, like a piece of chalk.
Obviously, some teachers will respond better to technology in the classroom than others, so there are also issues in HOW the programs are being evaluated. Are they studying the programs across the board, or looking at the cool things that are being done?
That said, I've done such an evaluation of a university laptop program, a pilot I participated in, with original student research. I have mixed feelings about the entire endeavor, related to some issues I raised in this CNN.com column. I'm not saying these are definitive takes on the project, but I'm highly suspicious of the evaluations reported below, of the methods by which the programs are judged, as well as the methods by which the programs were implemented. I suspect both were flawed, and ditching the programs risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Meaning, I DON'T like the way the programs were set up in the first place. I'd say they were set up to fail. And while I would not teach with laptops exactly as I have in the past (I still don't want the machines on and part of the process 100% of the time, nor do I want to DENY ACCESS in the classroom either, for specific projects), I don't think schools are going about this the right way at all.
Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops
Narayan Mahon for The New York Times
LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).
Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.
So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.
Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not.
“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
Liverpool’s turnabout comes as more and more school districts nationwide continue to bring laptops into the classroom.
Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.
Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.
[I don't know about you, but I don't give a lot of credence to most of what has come out of the current administration's Department of Education, esp. under the current secretary. The programs (No Child Left Behind), the secretly paid shills masquerading as journalists, and other agendas (like Neal Bush's computer educational materials being foisted on Katrina victims) all tend to leave the department with about as much credibility as FEMA, or the Department of Justice, or even NASA or the Department of Interior, where scientists' work is doctored for a political agenda.
So I don't see the study above as something I'd set total stock in. My guess is that this administration is just looking for a handy excuse to deny funding for some project to low income and minority school districts. I mean, if the tech project money is taken away, I doubt it would be replaced with anything else, for those districts. Unless there were some rabid right-wing "faith-based" outfit looking to seize control of it and start doing Chuck Colson-style indoctrination or something.]
Two years ago, school officials in Broward County, Fla., the sixth-largest district in the country, shelved a $275 million proposal to issue laptops to each of their more than 260,000 students after re-evaluating the costs of a pilot project. The district, which paid $7.2 million to lease 6,000 laptops for the pilot at four schools, was spending more than $100,000 a year for repairs to screens and keyboards that are not covered by warranties. “It’s cost prohibitive, so we have actually moved away from it,” said Vijay Sonty, chief information officer for the district, whose enrollment is 37 percent black, 31 percent white and 25 percent Hispanic.
Here in Liverpool, parents have long criticized the cost of the laptop program: about $300,000 a year from the state, plus individual student leases of $25 a month, or $900 from 10th to 12th grades, for the take-home privilege.
“I feel like I was ripped off,” said Richard Ferrante, explaining that his son, Peter, used his laptop to become a master at the Super Mario Brothers video game. “And every time I write my check for school taxes, I get mad all over again.”
Students like Eddie McCarthy, 18, a Liverpool senior, said his laptop made him “a lot better at typing,” as he used it to take notes in class, but not a better student. “I think it’s better to wait and buy one for college,” he said.
Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.
But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.
In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not, though some data suggest that high-achieving students with laptops may perform better in math than their counterparts without. When six of the schools in the study that do not have laptops were given the option of getting them this year, they opted against.
Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.
[Yeah, if that's the sole measure of success, "increase test scores"? Good god, I could drill and skill any class to death and increase test scores in two weeks, if that's all they want from education. Such teaching is merely indoctrination, and it produces good little robots. I'll give this guy credit, tho. He understands the study is limited.]
But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.
“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”
March 29, 2007
I disagree with nearly everything in this article, except this bit I quote here...
Joan Smith goes on a righteous feminist rant against misogynists on the Internet, and while I treasure a good feminist rant as much as the next person, I have to say that her rant is mis-targeted; her aim is bad.
Yes, there are misogynist nutjobs online, racist bigots online, fully-armed right-wing militia supporters online, Brown Shirts and goose-steppers galore. Without a doubt.
And hey, the tendency to flame, for rhetoric to escalate into polemic, to reach for higher or lower extremes in online contexts was actually the impetus that started me reading the scholarship that led to my dissertation ethnography of a politically-active online community. So of course I can relate to the issues she raises.
But blaming the Internet for the nutjobs, that seems off-course. I do argue in the conclusion of my diss that there are elements online that do allow like-minded nutjobs to find each other and be bolstered in their nut-jobbiness, more than they might otherwise. But I also point out that the ease of interactivity, the quick hit of the return key, also fosters the interactive challenge to too much preaching to the choir, with just as many flames challenging any choir's status quo as there are flames in favor of its party line.
And I argue that also escalates the rhetorical extremism, in what I called "the paradox of insularity and interactivity."
But EVEN WITH THAT, I won't go as far as the author below in blaming the Internets for the nutjobs who live there. Yes, death threats are bad, and people tend to go off the deep end. But blame that on the Blogosphere? Give me a break. The Blogosphere is the one thing that may single-handedly save us from a descent into authoritarian corporatism and fascism, and Joan Smith wants to blame the bloggers because somebody got a death threat? Like people never get death threats from nutters in real life?
OK, so aside from that, there's a bit in this article that I think is just spot on, so much so that I feel compelled to quote it in its entirety below, to remember when I may need it again. So here it is, the bit about the Internet's effects on writing intended to stand the test of time.
Joan Smith: Stand up to the bullies and stop this online abuse
Misogyny, while not obligatory, is one of the most persistent themes of the blogger
Published: 29 March 2007
If anyone can write, and much of what they produce is either information or complete rubbish, it's no wonder that the public is losing respect for writers who spend literally years finding the right form of words for a poem or a novel. The act of writing is being de-skilled to a point where it is no longer regarded as work, and what follows is a demand that all written material should be available to anyone who wants it without charge.
In this pseudo-democratic universe, the novel that has just taken me nearly five years to finish has no more value than a blog that someone dashed off in 10 minutes. The sheer quantity of words available on the internet has prompted a false analogy with the enclosures of common land in the 18th century, in which novelists, poets and historians are cast in the role of wicked landlords.
People who argue that the written word should be freely available on the net, regardless of its origin, behave as though the world is littered with glittering sentences and paragraphs, occurring as naturally as semi-precious stones. But what they are demanding, in reality, is the right to roam in my brain and my bank account.
I dunno. I mean, there are always voices threatened by any increase in populist or democratized art/literature, from Sir Philip Sidney, poet in the 1500s who refused to see his work in print because somehow that new printing press technology diminished poetry (and wasn't nearly aristocratic and elitist enough for poetry, not something a "real" gentleman would do) to those who reacted against the Romantics, with all their attention to idealized pastorals and rustics or chimney sweeps, to those who reacted against the Enlightenment and Renaissance, against Modernism, against any new movement that appears to cheapen anything some group in society holds dear.
I mean, which is better? The explosion of artwork that grew out of the great societal transformation and strife of the Renaissance and Enlightenment? Or the hermetically-sealed closed worlds of artistic and literary elites, with plenty of money and time to lavish on art and its production?
I've shared Smith's lament, as a photojournalist, knowing I was busting my ass every day for a throwaway front page photo, a clip that would yellow in my file, the anachronistic daily fishwrap. Nobody likes their best work to be cheapened. But should it be hidden in vaults, or should it circulate among greater and greater masses? I vote for the distributive model, and with greater democratization.
I'd also ask Smith which is worth more in the long run, the super-dooper powerful mainframe computer that nobody gets to touch, or learn how to code or use except a handful of people, or a bunch of weak, underpowered personal computers, sitting on every desktop?
Oh, and for what it's worth dept? This bit below, from the top of Smith's article, about the dramatic event of a popular blogger announcing that the abuse had gone too far and that she pulling out of the game and "never going to post a word online again!" appears over and over in my data, from the Xenaverse, from chat rooms, and yes, even back in the early 1990s, from studies on the life cycle of listservs that survive listserv flame wars.
In other words, it's a tired and overworn trope, the first resort of the Internet newbie who hits his or her first flame war and isn't up to flaming back. Anybody with any experience online has heard that expression over and over, usually with much dramatic flouncing, the removal of popular web pages, all manner of attention-getting behavior that ranks right up there with a teenager burning all his or her rock-n-roll records after a sudden religious conversion, because it is the "devil's music."
And then a few weeks after the conversion experience wears off, they have to go back out and repurchase all those records all over again. Just classic. The dramatic exits in the throes of flame wars, with equally dramatic returns, happened at least a dozen times in the Xenaverse alone.
Three days ago, a well-known American blogger launched an unprecedented attack on the forum she helped to create. Revealing that she had been the target of vicious personal remarks and death threats for the past four weeks, Kathy Sierra said she had cancelled an appearance at a conference in San Diego and was staying at home, terrified, with the doors locked.
"I do not want to be part of a culture - the Blogosphere - where this is considered acceptable," she wrote, adding that she wasn't certain whether she would ever post again.
What finally drove Ms Sierra over the edge was a picture of a noose, posted anonymously by a blogger who wrote that all he wanted to know about her was her neck size. Someone else posted a photograph of Ms Sierra, her nose and mouth obscured by a device which transformed her into "nothing more than an objectified sexual orifice".
February 28, 2007
Human Subjects Review Boards gone mad?
I ran into this kind of ridiculousness in grad school as well. The thing is, my study was massively attentive to research ethics, and I went far beyond whatever ethical requirements a review board might make, because the theoretical frame of my study took a strong position against the exploitation that comes with colonialist thinking, even with scholarly "territories."
But even so, I ducked out on the Human Subjects review with one quick trick. It may not have been the best solution, and, as the absurd issues pointed up in the article below highlight, the Review Board probably could have still taken an insanity pill and come after me.
Basically, even though I was technically conducting an ethnography in cyberspace, I chose to ONLY collect texts that would have otherwise existed in the public domain, a linguistic fiction that worked because communication in cyberspace domains is a hybrid of both published texts and live communication.
The article below accurately points out, such restrictions certainly limit the kinds of findings that can come from any research. To my end, I still did "informal" research, and just removed it from any connection to my formal data-gathering process, through forming personal and private relationships in the group I was studying, but keeping them out of the study. But they surely did inform my larger breadth of knowledge on my subject.
Another reason why this is just nuts occurred to me when working back in the field of journalism the last five years.
Since the journalistic enterprise is not constructed as formal "research," journalists can do many more things to gather information from human subjects than academic researchers can. How does this affect how knowledge is made, how truths are constructed, when academic censorship becomes a major influence in the social construction of that knowledge?
Journalists operate with a Jeffersonian epistemology of sorts, where the supposedly free flow of ideas helps them arrive at the best-guess contingent truths. Yet, by default, because academics stay in their disciplinary walled gardens and rarely participate in public knowledge-making as public intellectuals, the journalistic research methods construct more of our common truths than anything else, simply because academics have ceded the Commons to them.
Meanwhile, Human Subjects Review Boards seem to have morphed into Cotton Mather and the good folk of Salem, Massachusetts, seeing evil lurking in every nuance and human interaction, every specter, every hint of a specter.
And do you know why? It's because I've been coming into their homes in the night, during their dreams, and pinching them, over and over. Pinch, pinch.
As Ethics Panels Expand Grip, No Field Is Off Limits
By PATRICIA COHEN
Photo by Marko Georgiev for The New York Times
The panels, known as Institutional Review Boards, are required at all institutions that receive research money from any one of 17 federal agencies and are charged with signing off in advance on almost all studies that involve a living person, whether a former president of the United States or your own grandmother. This results, critics say, in unnecessary and sometimes absurd demands.
Among the incidents cited in recent report by the American Association of University Professors are a review board asking a linguist studying a preliterate tribe to “have the subjects read and sign a consent form,” and a board forbidding a white student studying ethnicity to interview African-American Ph.D. students “because it might be traumatic for them.”
“It drives historians crazy,” said Joshua Freeman, the director of the City University’s graduate history program. “It’s a medical model, it’s inappropriate and ignorant.” One student currently waiting for a board to approve his study of a strike in the 1970s, Mr. Freeman said, had to submit a list of questions he was going to ask workers and union officials, file signed consent forms, describe the locked location where he would keep all his notes, take a test to certify he understood the standards.
Review boards, first created in 1974, were initially restricted to biomedical research. In 1981 the regulations were revised to cover all research that involves “human subjects” and is designed to contribute to “generalizable knowledge.”
Yet precisely how to interpret these rules has largely been left to each review board — 5,564 in all. And while the regulations apply specifically to research that gets federal dollars, many colleges use Institutional Review Boards to monitor all research, no matter where the funds come from. This system of helter-skelter enforcement, critics say, has no meaningful oversight and no appeal process.
But to many faculty and graduate students, review boards are like a blister that gets worse with every step. Those outside of the hard sciences say the legitimate concerns over ethics and safety are largely irrelevant to most of their research.
According to a stack of reports, symposiums and studies by academic associations and scholars, the system’s “mission creep” is having a pernicious and widespread effect on humanities and social science research. Legal scholars also argue the boards violate the First Amendment.
The growing number of complaints in recent years apparently stems from an overall crackdown after a series of medical-research blunders beginning with the death of an 18-year-old in a gene-therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999.
In the past year, discussions about what some call the “I.R.B. wars” have sprung up in specialty publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education, conferences, scholarly journals and blogs. Although research proposals are rarely rejected, scholars argue that the requested changes in the wording of questions and consent forms can alter the nature of the study and scare off participants.
Bernadette McCauley, a historian at Hunter College, said she ran into trouble a couple of years ago when she tried to help students working with the Museum of the City of New York on an exhibition about Washington Heights. She asked if a few nuns who had grown up in that neighborhood and whom she knew from her research would talk to the students. And that, Ms. McCauley said, was “when things went haywire.”
The review board discovered the request and lambasted Ms. McCauley for failing to consult with it, she said. The board also demanded proof that previous research for a completed book did not use any archival material involving living people and banned her from doing any research.
Michael Arena, the director of communications at City University, said in an e-mail message that Ms. McCauley initially refused to send in a “brief description” of her research so that board members could determine whether federal regulations covered her work. Ms. McCauley hired a lawyer and after six months of negotiations, the board agreed that her research was exempt.
Ms. Dougherty, an associate professor of communications at Missouri, said review boards were needed because “historically, social science has done things abhorrent to human subjects.” Unfortunately the current process “obliterates a lot of research,” she said, because untenured faculty and graduate students on a timetable cannot afford to spend months waiting for approval. So, for example, “instead of talking to people who are victims of violence, you might look at newspaper articles,” she said, echoing a common complaint that the requirements cause academics to steer clear of controversial topics. Research decisions “should be guided by science,” she said, “not whether or not it’s going to get through the board.”
Ms. Dougherty said she was willing to speak openly, unlike many graduate students and faculty, because she had tenure.
Mr. Schwetz said there was no chance that some subjects like oral history and journalism would be altogether excluded from review, as some academic organizations have urged. “If we were just to say, ‘Assume you don’t have to take them before an I.R.B.,’ I think we would regret that,” he said. But he said the new guidelines “will give a lot of examples and will give more guidance on how to make the decision on what is research and what is not.”
Some critics fault the universities, placing blame either with overzealous panels or with university administrations that have not done enough to differentiate between research that receives federal money and research that does not.
Mr. Freeman of City University said that within the humanities “most faculty members don’t know these rules exist.” He added, “If they in fact followed these rules, the whole I.R.B. system would grind to a halt.”
February 28, 2007 in Academia, Art, Books, Feminisms, Games, Journalism, Literacies, Oral Cultures, Postmodernity, Public Intellectuals, Research Access, Science, Service Learning, Stories of Favorite Teachers, Teaching, Writing 101 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 14, 2006
Radical Geological Survey Scientists?
Those USGS folks. Wild-eyed nutjobs, you know? Keen on rocks and all that. Earthquakes, faultlines, platetechtonics. Oh yeah, and probably minerals, fossil fuels, stuff like that. Earth scientists. Gotta keep a tight rein on them.
What do they do at those geology conferences, anyway? Plot sedition with rocks? Don't they need physicists do that?
Election? What election?
Published on Thursday, December 14, 2006 by the Associated Press
Scientists Worried about Bush Clampdown at Publication
by John Heilprin
The U.S. administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, who study everything from caribou mating to global warming, subjecting them to controls on research that might go against official policy.
New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, documents show.
Top officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm said the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff.
"This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way," Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications, said Wednesday.
"I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow."
Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry the objectivity of their work could be compromised.
"I feel as though we've got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do," said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist who works for the geological unit.
"And to me that's a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship."
The changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews. In that process, scientists critique each other's findings to determine whether they deserve to be published.
From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers' as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.
President George W. Bush's administration has been criticized for scientific integrity issues. In 2002, the USGS was forced to reverse course after warning oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine caribou herd. One week later a new report followed, this time saying the caribou would not be affected.
November 09, 2006
Having some fun with Stanley Fish on the NYTimes Blog
I must confess: an evil streak came over me just the other day. Maybe it was all those planets in Scorpio, Mars in Scorpio, and then Mercury rolling retrograde.
The real reason is that the New York Times left the barn door open and the cows got out.
I am vehemently boycotting all the content on TimesSelect, you see. I hate that firewall and the price, and what it does to the quality of the debate in the public commons of the Internet. I ranted on this topic a bit in a recent post on my other blog. I mean, truly, I can't live without Frank Rich, and if I could have Frank, I'd want Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert too. My life is messed up without them in it, and it is all the Times's fault.
So, the Times offered me a free week to play in the TimesSelect playground, that walled garden that I find to be a purely evil place where Rich and Herbert and Krugman are being held prisoner, and there's no one to rescue them. (Thank goodness they didn't trap David Pogue, or I might have to storm the castle!)
I knew I should never have entered the rich kids' private playground, but I couldn't resist. And wouldn't you know it, they're keeping Stanley Fish in there too! You know, the noted academic and dean and distinguished professor? His provocative writings have shaped a great deal of recent theory in academia. He's associated with reader-response theories, interpretive communities, and anti-foundationalism.
Which is why, in private company, over a few beers, I like to pick on him. That's a safe thing to do, usually. Anti-foundationalism is such an easy target, sort of like the Star Trek time-travel paradoxes. Just a few quick moves, and everyone is all tied in knots.
Turns out there are some other academics, or former academics, or academic defenders, playing in TimesSelect too, either because they got a free week like I did, or maybe they like that elitist feeling of being a paid subscriber to TimesSelect. Pooh on that. E-vile, I'm telling you. TimesSelect is a sign of the apocalypse!
So it doesn't do me much good to quote too much of Stanley Fish's blog post, "Always Academicize," spinning off Frederick Jameson's "Always Historicize" maxim of a number of years ago. There's really no comparison between the two, because Jameson was making an academic argument, and Fish is just throwing out a quick hit blog post to the pseudo-masses behind the TimesSelect firewall.
He's also jumping off another post he did on a related topic in October, which I guess generated a bunch of sound and fury from pointy-headed people in the comments area as well. I wouldn't know about that, because technically, TimesSelect wasn't free to me at the time he wrote that piece, so I shouldn't be responsible for taking those argument threads into full consideration anyway, right?
Right now there are 104 comments on this Stanley Fish post. My anonymous comment is #39. I posted semi-anonymously because grad school conditioned me well. I figured I'd come off as a Fish dilettante, and some real Fish scholar would show up and wipe the floor with me.
Looks like some of them showed up and half-way liked what I had to say, tho. I had too much fun writing it to let the little piece rot in some secret TimeSelect walled garden blog comments field, so I've got a wild hair to share it, along with a few of the other commenters I admire. I also save it here for no other reason than because I don't know when my free week runs out, and I won't be able to access my own writing. Oh dear.
It raises some fun issues to think about, even if there is no way I can take Fish's thesis in the main blog text seriously, ever. It's just absurd, on the face of it. But that's OK, because there isn't a text in this class.
I'll just quote a bit of it here, to give you the gist, and then put my rant down below. I mean, how often do you get to do an academic-style flame on Stanley Fish, you know? It was just too much fun, and maybe I didn't embarrass myself after all.
Ah hell, I probably did.
November 5, 2006, 10:00 pm
By Stanley Fish
In my post of October 22, I argued that college and university teachers should not take it upon themselves to cure the ills of the world, but should instead do the job they are trained and paid to do — the job, first, of introducing students to areas of knowledge they were not acquainted with before, and second, of equipping those same students with the analytic skills that will enable them to assess and evaluate the materials they are asked to read. I made the further point that the moment an instructor tries to do something more, he or she has crossed a line and ventured into territory that belongs properly to some other enterprise. It doesn’t matter whether the line is crossed by someone on the left who wants to enroll students in a progressive agenda dedicated to the redress of injustice, or by someone on the right who is concerned that students be taught to be patriotic, God-fearing, family oriented, and respectful of tradition. To be sure, the redress of injustice and the inculcation of patriotic and family values are worthy activities, but they are not academic activities, and they are not activities academics have the credentials to perform. Academics are not legislators, or political leaders or therapists or ministers; they are academics, and as academics they have contracted to do only one thing – to discuss whatever subject is introduced into the classroom in academic terms.
And what are academic terms? The list is long and includes looking into a history of a topic, studying and mastering the technical language that comes along with it, examining the controversies that have grown up around it and surveying the most significant contributions to its development. The list of academic terms would, however, not include coming to a resolution about a political or moral issue raised by the materials under discussion. This does not mean that political and moral questions are banned from the classroom, but that they should be regarded as objects of study – Where did they come from? How have they been answered at different times in different cultures? – rather than as invitations to take a vote (that’s what you do at the ballot box) or make a life decision (that’s what you do in the private recesses of your heart). No subject is out of bounds; what is out of bounds is using it as an occasion to move students in some political or ideological direction. The imperative, as I said in the earlier post, is to “academicize” the subject; that is, to remove it from whatever context of urgency it inhabits in the world and insert it into a context of academic urgency where the question being asked is not “What is the right thing to do?” but “Is this account of the matter attentive to the complexity of the issue?” [emphasis mine...cb]
Those who commented on the post raised many sharp and helpful objections to it. Some of those objections give me the opportunity to make my point again. I happily plead guilty to not asking the question Dr. James Cook would have me (and all teachers) ask when a “social/political” issue comes up in the classroom: “Does silence contribute to the victory of people who espouse values akin to those of Hitler?” The question confuses and conflates political silence – you decide not to speak up as a citizen against what you consider an outrage – with an academic silence that is neither culpable nor praiseworthy because it goes without saying if you understand the nature of academic work. When, as a teacher, you are silent about your ethical and political commitments, you are not making a positive choice – Should I or shouldn’t I? is not an academic question — but simply performing your pedagogical role.
In fact, my stance is aggressively ethical: it demands that we take the ethics of the classroom – everything that belongs to pedagogy including preparation, giving assignments, grading papers, keeping discussions on point, etc.– seriously and not allow the scene of instruction to become a scene of indoctrination. Were the ethics appropriate to the classroom no different from the ethics appropriate to the arena of political action or the ethics of democratic citizenry, there would be nothing distinctive about the academic experience – it would be politics by another name – and no reason for anyone to support the enterprise. For if its politics you want, you might as well get right to it and skip the entire academic apparatus entirely.
My argument, then, rests on the conviction that academic work is unlike other forms of work — if it isn’t, it has no shape of its own and no claim on our attention — and that fidelity to it demands respect for its difference, a difference defined by its removal from the decision-making pressures of the larger world. And that finally may be the point underlying the objections to my position: in a world so beset with problems, some of my critics seem to be asking, is it either possible or desirable to remain aloof from the fray? Thus Fred Moramarco declares, “It’s clearly not easy to ‘just do your job’ where genocide, aggression, moral superiority, and hatred of opposing views are ordinary, everyday occurrences.”
Of course, there will also be excitement in your class if you give it over to a discussion of what your students think about this or that hot-button issue. Lots of people will talk, and the talk will be heated, and everyone will go away feeling satisfied. But the satisfaction will be temporary as will its effects, for the long-lasting pleasure of learning something will have been sacrificed to the ephemeral pleasure of exchanging uninformed opinions. You can glorify that exercise in self-indulgence by calling it interactive learning or engaged learning or ethical learning, but in the end it will be nothing more than a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
And here is my response to Dr Fish:
(I call him Mr. Fish in my post because that was NYTimes style, or appeared so. Later I realized I was speaking in affected Times Stylebook style, and he should have been Dr. My apologies, Dr. Fish.)
And here are a few pithy and valuable bits that were also posted by other commenters, which will soon be lost to posterity forever so long as TimesSelect is restricted access.
You know, as I go through and re-read these (and you will see a theme emerging, as I picked along my favorite angle), I was just struck by how many smart people are out there running around, thinking wonderful thoughts, and expressing them with eloquence and creativity, with no apparent reward or reason, just for the joy of doing it (I am struck too by De Certeau's "la perrique," "the wig," which I've written of before).
But most importantly, what I see in the comments below, what stirs me about the comments below to the point that I want to SAVE these words, these thoughts, this dialogue, is that they are thrashing around with an idea that is about as close to first principles (or foundations) as things get for committed teachers and scholars, people who are driven to do this work for reasons other than professional and career advancement. People who are passionately "other-directed" and can't live in a world where these humanistic (and to some extent Enlightenment) values cut through artificial surfaces and spin, through disciplinary boundaries and institutionalized social constructs, not because there's a capital "T" Truth we're seeking, but precisely because there isn't, and it's still a Grail Quest anyway.
Most of the commenters below are so riled up (like myself as well) because they're really close to where Dr. Fish is coming from, but his conclusions seem so utterly wrong for our common starting point that it appears he is deliberately ignoring the fact that he's doing the very thing he's condemning, out of a lack of self-reflexivity. It feels almost maddening.
But the comments below say it far better than I could. I'll put my favorite bits in bold. More than anything, I love the passion with which they speak. We're drinking this Kool-Aid together, we all are. Kumbayah.
November 9, 2006 in Academia, Art, Books, Feminisms, Fiction, Games, Literacies, Postmodernity, Public Intellectuals, Research Access, Science, Service Learning, Stories of Favorite Teachers, Teaching, Voice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 23, 2006
Designing for Blogs: A Brief Manifesto
I'm an unabashed fan of working smarter, not harder.
In 1999, before I first happened on blog software or even the precursor called "EditThisPage," I was working with a few student programmers on a similar system in PHP, for classroom uses, collaborative projects, and portfolio-based active learning. What I really wanted to do was get away from the limitations of WebCT and Blackboard for more student-centered learning, instead of reproducing traditional classroom structures online. And I didn't want to have to keep teaching students HTML in classes that had other work to do.
When I saw that EditThisPage, Radio Userland and other applications were already doing what I was attempting to build from scratch in my dining room, I realized that the idea was so simple and such a logical next step, hundreds of people were probably doing exactly what I was doing, in different arenas, to make publishing accessible to more people. I saw that I could use blog tools for just about anything I could imagine with HTML and Flash, and save myself a whole lot of work.
And why did the blog idea catch fire as the killer app, when content management systems on the corporate side were plentiful? I strongly believe the answer is a timely combination of the rise of Google along with RSS.
Even though feed readers are having difficulty reaching non-tech users, feeds and tags are becoming an intrinsic structure in nearly everything we build. Quite simply, I won't build another freelance/contract web site that is not RSS/Atom-enabled. It's a no-brainer. Blogs are the display and feeds give the display legs. Technorati.com would not exist without feeds. And the massive social movement that is the blogosphere would not exist at all without RSS behind it.
So these days, rather than endlessly re-inventing the wheel, I'm primarily designing for CSS and the content-management shell blog software provides, a shell I can pour nearly anything into. Do I ever wish for the old blank-slate, starting fresh with a new audience/user interaction model every time?
Sometimes, but Web functionality is
so crucial to interactive communities and a public commons that solo work in
empty to me, like an essential piece is missing. I think we'll end up
one day defining "interactivity" as something that essentially must
have more than one author, perhaps even many authors.
And lately, when I want to push on the limits of what interactivity can do, I find myself reaching for an even more robust system, pmachine's Expression Engine, where I can situate multiple blog modules in different contexts on the same page, and still retain my permalink archives and flexible CSS designs.
My only complaint so far is that I want some of the features I find in Scoop, features of audience-driven, "self-organizing" sites.
Not too long ago, someone asked me to predict where interactive media and the Internet would be five years from now. I refused to give an answer, because I don't get to decide. The beauty of a grassroots, bottom-up social movement like in the blogosphere is that the social structures provide an organic kind of direction and structure, and the social structure is the authority, not "industry leaders" or "futurists" or any other professional prognosticators striving for control or a first-mover advantage.
Interactivity is about giving up control.
What I strive to do as a designer and a participant in this grassroots social movement is to create tools that empower the most people with enough freedom to set their own directions. I'm not interested in herding cats. I am interested in watching and learning inductively from where cats go.
That's what Web 2.0 is about. That's why it rose from the ashes of the top-down corporate- and VC-driven creations that crashed and burned after all the money turned to vapor. What we valued most was what remained. Communities, interactions, strong ties, weak ties. Rich relationships over time. Rabid flame wars. Not endlessly pitching widgets while dropping names to bugger your Google/Technorati rank.
That's also why, in what some are calling a Web boomlet, I see business people desperately trying to appropriate blogs for various business models, proclaiming themselves authorities on their blog content niche as if they were following a stock professional copywriting formula, many diluting content in search engine-optimized blog sites that literally suck all the life out of the real reasons for blogging, the real reasons for writing and communicating online.
They claim they are dispensing value in a kind of knowledge-log "how-to" format, but as this genre of blogging multiplies, the sites look to me like little more than human-written, SEO-focused link farms, one step away from machine-generated link farms. Where is the real value in that?
Where I will stand in this new wash-out is with the commons, the spaces where real people talk, where conversations are alive with an energy of their own. The interfaces I will build for these communities and cybercultures will be interfaces that allow patterns of use to co-create the interface structures themselves.
The most creative, edgy projects I want to work on compulsively on my own time will not just employ user-centered design. They will allow social network structures to literally create their own designs.
September 18, 2006
Breaking the silence on discrimination against women in academic science and engineering
An interesting report out today from the National Academies, and it's a terrific counter to that odious garbage spewed by the former president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers. (Hey, Derek Bok's been doing some cool things since coming in in the interim! I didn't get a chance to post about it, but it is worth watching, his getting rid of Harvard's Early Admissions bias to the hoity toity set)
I'll offer the National Academies Press a kick in the slats for charging $44 to get a copy of the super secret elitist report, however!
Such a radical idea, criticizing the "depriving the U.S. of an important source of talent." I went to an engineering school and have taught at what was largely an engineering school, and I know my fellow women colleagues in science and engineering faced a TON of discrimination, and they told me so many horror stories.
At least with my own specialty in technology and interactive media, things are far more open and interdisciplinary than in the more established fields, even if women still are vastly underrepresented. I'm afraid to admit too much of that is self-selection, even with prominent women represented in so many areas of cybercultures, from Mena Trott to Donna Haraway.
But since being outside of that environment, an environment that at least paid lip service to the idea that talent should be rewarded, used as a valuable resource, I've been out in the corporate world, where the Peter Principle is in active force and people who "know too much" are considered trouble-makers who run the risk of commiting the cardinal sin, actually knowing more in their areas of specialty than their bosses do (the horror, the horror!). So interesting it is, to watch a reverse merit system in force, one that seeks out and tries to promote those who strive for greater and greater mediocrity.
Institutions Hinder Female Academics, Panel Says
Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures” in academia, an expert panel reported today.
The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford “such underuse of precious human capital.” Among other steps, the report recommends that universities alter procedures for hiring and evaluation, change typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and provide more support for working parents.
“Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering,” the panel’s chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” was made public.
Dr. Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services who is now president of the University of Miami, said part of the problem was insufficient effort on the part of college and university administrators. “Many of us spend more energy enforcing the law on our sports teams than we have in have in our academic halls,” she said.
The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of “innate” intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics.
If there are any cognitive differences, the report says, they are small and irrelevant. In any event, the much-studied gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more and more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing, the panelists said.
Nor is the problem a lack of women in the academic pipeline, the report says. Though women leave science and engineering more often than men “at every educational transition” from high school through college professorships, the number of women studying science and engineering has sharply increased at all levels.
For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minorities are “virtually absent,” it adds.
The report also dismissed other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families, and so on. Their real problems, it says, are unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes, and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”
Along with Dr. Shalala, the panel included Elizabeth Spelke, a professor of psychology at Harvard who has long challenged the “innate differences” view, and Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, who established a widely praised program for aspiring engineers when she was president of the all-female Smith College.
The report was dedicated to another panelist, Denice Denton, an electrical engineer who until her suicide this summer was chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a forceful advocate for women, gays and minority members in science and engineering.
The 18-member panel had only one man: Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. But Dr. Shalala noted that the National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the report had 10 men.
August 29, 2006
You know you want it. I surely do. Things of beauty. The smell of bindings. And my favorites have those seductive little catwalks that hug the curves of those high shelves of the more classic designs.
Link: Hot Library Smut.
Red-Hot and Filthy Library Smut
Now, coming upon this post as you are, unawares, I feel I ought to clarify the title (which was alternately going to be sex libris) straight away by telling you what this post is not, in fact, about. By “library smut” I am in no way referring to the photo books on native peoples, or the illustrated health manuals, or any of the other volumes which, in your childhood, you lurked about the library aisle to find with the sole purpose of sneaking guilty glances at naked bodies. Nor am I referring to the “risqué” novels by Miller, Cleland, Réage, or Lawrence you leafed impatiently through as a teenager. No. What I’m talking about here is the full-frontal objectification of the library itself. Oh yeah.
Yesterday I came across a truly gorgeous book of photographs by Candida Höfer titled, Libraries, a title which pretty much says it all, because that is just exactly what it is, one rich, sumptuous, photo of a library interior after another. It’s like porn for book nerds. Seriously. They are gorgeous photos, nearly all without visitors and just begging to be entered. (ha. sorry.)
Here are a few of my favs... but go to the link above to see more than what I've picked.
[...]BRITISH LIBRARY LONDONREAL GABINETE PORTUGUES DE LEITURA RIO DE JANEIRO
[...]STIFTSBIBLIOTHEK ST. GALLENHANDELINGENKAMER TWEEDE KAMER DER STATEN-GENERAAL DEN HAAG
[...]TRINITY COLLEGE LIBRARY DUBLIN