I Believe I Can Write - Dangerous Literacy
Do you ever imagine sunflowers (students) thirsting for the sun's light (self-directed learning) blocked by darkness of other's brilliance (curriculum)?
|Image Source: Sunflowers at Sunset|
One of my favorite quotes about technology in schools with "poor students" appears immediately below:
"Economically disadvantaged students, who often use the computer for remediation and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent students, who use it to learn programming and tool applications, learn to tell the computer what to do. Those who cannot claim computers as their own tool for exploring the world never grasp the power of technology...They are controlled by technology as adults--just as drill-and-practice routines controlled them as students."Source: Toward Digital Equity: Bridging the Divide in EducationThe quote comes to mind as I read Linda Aragoni's Positive Self-Talk is Writer's Muse, which points out the following, a point I thoroughly agree with having witnessed time and again:
Struggling writers believe they are doomed to failure before they pick up a pencil. Before you can teach them to write, you have to convince that writing is something they can do.
Technology and writing can be combined as tools of empowerment and liberation. Students can learn to blog what they are learning, what they are reading, and share that with a global audience. It's an obvious observation in these times when so many blog, yet it remains an unknown truth in schools where everything students do is about pushing a curriculum that is focused solely on achieving objectives others have decided on.
"Powerful literacy involves creativity and reason -- the ability to evaluate, analyze and synthesize what is read...it is also the ability to write one's ideas so that another person can understand them."
(Source: Patrick Finn, Literacy with an Attitude)
That's what makes Jada Williams act of connecting Frederick Douglass' work--a book provided by her teachers--to her own experiences in schools so powerful, and offensive to the educators in that school. One might imagine--perhaps incorrectly--that the book was provided students so that they could explore how Douglass made a difference in his time. In The Power of One (book | movie), this exchange in the midst of apartheid South Africa resonates:
St. John: History disputes you. P.K.: History takes too long. St. John: Yes I know it does, but it's never kind to those who try to hurry it.
It is focused on bringing about change, about teaching the language of power to the disempowered. As teachers we may imagine we are empowering, but the truth may be simpler than that--how can we teach empowerment when we are disempowered ourselves?
But if students take learning, transform it and make personal connections with their writing, as teachers we should not be surprised...because that IS what we're supposed to be aiming at. Finn describes it quite well, and we are left to wonder if our education system isn't just about domesticating education rather than powerful literacy:
"First, there is empowering education, which leads to powerful literacy, the kind of literacy that leads to positions of power and authority. Second, there is domesticating education, which leads to functional literacy, literacy that makes a person productive and dependable but not troublesome. Over time, political, social and economic forces have brought us to a place where the working class (and to a surprising degree, the middle class) gets domesticating education and functional literacy, and the rich get empower education and powerful literacy. We don't worry about a literate working class because the kind of literacy they get doesn't make them dangerous."
It's not that teachers' should stop teaching or not have objectives, and allow learners' vision to bloom and turn in the direction of their interests. Only that in the face of such determined focus, blacking out the sun of self-directed learning, it may be that only the learners who are self-confident, positively supported at home, can learn to innovate on the teachers' inventiveness with the curriculum.
Update: Stephen Downes suggests this story of Native Americans working to change perspectives an example of the main ideas in this post.