“Open Letter to Educators”

Since I brought up one academic’s view on the state of the educational system last week, it’s certainly worth sharing the view of an outspoken non-academic–Dan Brown and his “Open Letter to Educators“:

What I find particularly exciting, is that Dan’s confrontation and engagement with the problems in institutional education has caused him to change his own actions. He plans to continue engaging in other important conversations after seeing the kinds of interaction and dialogue that can come from contemplating these important topics:

I think that is stellar cool.

Now, of course, some people would disagree with Dan’s thoughts/opinion. This guy, for instance:

Personally, I think they both do raise thought-provoking points, but I have to side with Dan on this one. Maybe it’s the other guy’s snarkiness and continual attack against Dan as a college dropout (which, I think, does not give him much credibility in understanding the amount of people who aren’t college educated), but, to me, arguing that “this is the way things have always been done, so we’re gonna keep doing it” is not a valid counter-argument. I fail to see what is wrong with creating an environment where students are engaged. Yes, each student is responsible for their own education and they should actively involve themselves in class discussions, exercises, etc. for their own benefit. I truly do believe that, but, as anyone who has spent time in a classroom environment knows, environments where students are engaged leads to better discussions. It’s leads to a better learning environment. And, for educators, shouldn’t that be the point?

I’m not trying to discount research. Of course, research is important and beneficial to our society, but it’s only one facet of the educational system. That’s why some fields delineate between researchers and those who practice that research. But, if we’re talking about “educators,” then they should be invested in and concerned with educat-ing. To me, that means also being open to better ways of doing just that.

via The Clever Sheep

Promiscuousness of Promiscuity

I just started going through a book called The Information Society Reader, a collection of foundational readings on the study of the Information Society, and a few pages into the editor’s introduction I had a déjà vu moment with this oddly familiar statement:

It can seem that the [concept of “Information Society”] is used with abandon, yet as such it is capable of accommodating all manner of definitions. Readers should look carefully for the definitional terms used, often tacitly, by commentators in what follows. Are they, for instance, emphasizing the economic, educational or cultural dimensions when they discuss the Information Society, or is it technology which is given the greatest weight in their accounts? One might then ask, if the conceptions are so very varied and even promiscuous, then what validity remains [. . . ]? (p. 10)

Webster, Frank (Ed). (2004). The Information Society Reader. London: Routledge.
(Or click here to see the text in Google Books)

Is this warning not incredibly similar to those we hear about the study of rhetoric? Varying definitions, an undefined scope of study, questions of validity? Lately I’ve felt lulled into a (likely) false state of security. How many times do we hear of academic programs stating with pride that they are interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity? Promiscuity is a characteristic more and more fields of study display with some pride. This crossing of borders has become something of an academic movement, but all movements have a beginning and usually an end, or even if it has lifecycles and never entirely dies out, the times when it tapers out can be painful – as the history of rhetoric can attest to.

What’s interesting to me about the study of the Information Society is that its inception has been some sort of uber-manifestation of interdisciplinarity. It’s flowed and found nodes of connection in the same manner as the Network Society itself. It’s almost like the global community’s entry into the Age of Information is what has made this move toward interdisciplinarity possible in the first place (both in terms of technology and of an emerging climate that condones and even celebrates such behavior), and it’s quite fitting – if not problematic – that the field purporting to study this new age should mirror it as well.

But I can’t help but think there’s bound to be a tide building against such breadth and promiscuity. And if so, I wonder when its time will come, what it will look like, and what the alternatives may be.

The Production of Knowledge — And the Harlot of the Arts

An excerpt from the introduction to “The Birth of Understanding: Chaste Science and the Harlot of the Arts”

Celeste Michelle Condit

Two metaphors dominate our discussions of knowledge. The “old” metaphor sees knowledge as something discovered. Through this looking glass, great individuals like Newton, Columbus, and Einstein have added to the treasury of knowledge, whether by apples dropped on their heads, misguided efforts to get to the Orient, or true genius. Today another metaphor is widely employed to describe the augmentation of the international human treasure—that of production. In spite of the Nobel prize’s obduracy in spotlighting individuals, most of us know that knowledge is produced by anonymous groups relying less on apples, genius, and missed directions and ever more upon inhumanly clever computers, research teams of aspiring academics, and public funding.

What, however, if we refuse to see knowledge as “discovered” or even as “produced”? What if knowledge is reproduced? “Born” of human interactions, ways of understanding grow or fail to grow to maturity (or paradigmatic status if you will). They either pass on their genetic structure to new generations or pass on. In such a metaphor we might find the capacity for exploring the intercourse between rhetoric and science.

After all, rhetoric (the harlot of the arts) and the social science of communication (the sanctimoniously chaste youth) have been pressed up against each other for something around forty years now. Each has experienced a different torment, locked in a tiny compartment of the university, scrapping for crumbs of academic prestige (fulfilling the destiny Henry Kissinger noted for academics, by fighting so viciously because there is so little at stake). Each denies any hanky-panky, protesting respectively, that “the youth won’t pay” and “she’s no lady.” There are signs, however of offspring; there are increasing numbers of lines of study that borrow from the scholarly traditions of both rhetoric and social scientific communication research. Are these offspring legitimate? Do they give us true “knowledge”? Examining the family traits may lead us toward a genealogical conclusion.

Communication Monographs, Vol 57, Dec. 1990.

Unveiling Harlot

Whew! It’s been a crazy few weeks (months, actually), and the unveiling of this project (ok, yes, pun intended) has gone about as smoothly as we could hope. In the process, we got a first-hand look at the ancient rhetorical concept of audience when our two presentations — first at our university as part of the LiteracyStudies@OSU initiative and then at the FemRhet conference in Little Rock — sparked substantially different discussions.

At OSU, a rather energetic debate followed over the word, harlot. I’d love to map out the evolution of the conversation (perhaps we should post a synopsis of it at some point), but I’ll just mention some details here. Concern was raised over whether the name is worth the potential amount of people who may be offended and turned away, worth the amount of rethinking we hope to spark with the OED definitions of harlot, the subtitle (a persuasive look at the arts of persuasion), the url (HarlotoftheArts.org), a description of the term’s relationship to rhetorical studies, and so on. How much are we willing to risk turning people away from this space before they even put effort into figuring out the philosophy behind the name?

Several people jumped in with responses in our favor — to the point where we nearly didn’t have to answer. My favorite response came from Jim Fredal (and I hope I paraphrase well enough): If in five years Harlot is still doing the work it seeks, the meanings (denotations and connotations) currently affiliated with the word will shift. The space of Harlot has the ability not only to question but also to write the ways in which symbols (words) are understood. And with this, we were momentarily struck silent with the grandeur of the idea. If only. . . .

An overwhelming topic that arose at the FemRhet conference revolved around issues of academic publishing. It was quite a shame that Tim, our resident student of academic publishing, couldn’t attend since he hadn’t yet been a member of our team when our conference proposal was submitted. His part of the presentation would have been very valuable for this crowd. Many voiced a desire to publish in a space like Harlot for reasons of philosophy and service. The problem, however, is that many scholars cannot put aside time to produce work that doesn’t directly apply toward tenure requirements. Many of the digital productions teachers spend time, energy, and thought producing are not recognized by current standards, and yet these productions are what bring scholarly work into the digital age, allowing networks and information streams to form and flow among professional scholars, students, and areas of study.

This discussion is probably what weighs heaviest on me right now. What standards must we put into effect to give academic authors a tangible reason for submitting to Harlot? In other words, if Harlot is supposed to be a space in which academic and public audiences come together on equal footing to discuss matters of persuasion in today’s culture, to what extent do we have an obligation toward scholars to produce submission criteria that would enable them to face their tenure and promotion committees and proudly present their accepted Harlot publications? Will we lose this part of our community if we don’t somehow oblige? When will the practicing of one’s scholarly philosophy in an online space finally become an aspect of academic work that is accepted, respected, and appreciated?

As always, for those of you who attended either presentation or who are reading our thoughts-in-progress in this blog, we welcome and urge your input. Establishing criteria for submitting to Harlot should be communally agreed upon . . . as in line with the philosophy of Harlot.