Saturday, January 31, 2009

Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies

I am always looking for progressively appropriate definitions of literacy. I recently read Howard Rheingold's chapter from Joi Ito's fabulous new release, Freesouls. HR's chapter is entitled Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies and, per usual, is helpful in formulating the impact and possibility of how "people do complicated things together". Rheingold's notion of literacy is foundational and seems better than a lot of what I've read from careerist academics; it's an encompassing and intelligent conceptualization that covers what society has done, is doing, and can do with technology when collaborating and communicating. Rheingold writes that literacy is:

the set of skills that enable individuals to encode and decode knowledge and power via speech, writing, printing and collective action, and which, when learned, introduce the individual to a community. Literacy links technology and sociality.

Rheingold continues:

If the humans currently alive are to take advantage of digital technologies to address the most severe problems that face our species and the biosphere, computers, telephones and digital networks are not enough. We need new literacies around participatory media, the dynamics of cooperation and collective action, the effective deployment of attention and the relatively rational and critical discourse necessary for a healthy public sphere.

The activist pedagogical project at hand for Rheingold, and me, is a simple one...positive social change. It is not valorization of the liberal arts and their historically specific texts, cultural literacy, or discovering truth in physical logocentrically bound decaying media (i.e., books). It is not insistence on centering traditional "reading" or "writing" skills (though that is very important). Nay, the project is driven by, any means necessary, that "the more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation".

I would encourage critical educators to scrutinize their curriculum and their own skill set to see if they are doing this. If not, how might they retool to do so? It might require work and effort, but is certainly well worth it.

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