Post-Pedagogy and Kairotic Techne

Today's post builds off yesterdays in connection with a conversation on Facebook. A friend tagged me in a query on teaching blogging, so I pointed her toward my blogging syllabus as an example of post-pedagogy. What marks that curriculum as post-pedagogical to me is that it requires students to make rhetorical decisions not only about their topic (what will I write about?), but also their audience (who will I write with?) and their methods (what kind of writing does this group employ? how should I write when writing to them?)

Byron Hawk ends his chapter on "Technology / Complexity / Methodology" by arguing that methods of invention sensitive to affective, vital, complex, network dynamics

[...] must start with the structure of particular constellations and the invention of techniques for and out of those specific occassions; it is thus more attuned to co-responsibility, kairos, emergence, and ambience. Composition theorists should be striving to develop methods for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques, that in turn reveal new models for action within those specific rhetorical ecologies. Method in this context is happening at two levels when approached pedagogically: the techniques or heuristics that teachers use to situate students in learning contexts, and the techniques the students produce in and through those specific contexts--some of which are conscious, some of which remain bodily and intuitive. (206)

The blogging class we've put together tries to speak to both of these levels--there is a negotiation between myself and the students while they generate topics. I have clear parameters for what constitutes an "A" project--these expectations are imposed top-down. But I also stress the wide variety of inventive approaches students have used within these parameters: blogs on bar hopping, shooting shit (the actual title), MMA training (title: "I lift things up and put them down"), Sun Tzu, representations of female fashion and bodies in Victorian literature, parenting, etc. And, beyond just the variety of topics, there is a variety of writing style and voice developed through the blogs--from intellectual to hipster to authoritarian to neighbor. The course, I believe, holds true to post-pedagogical aspirations by explicitly articulating its impositions while also making space for legitimate student invention.


Post-Pedagogy as Performing Empathy

Week two of trying to post something every day. I spent this morning working on an article responding to Martha Nussbaum's Not For Profit. Here's a snippet dealing with post-pedagogy.

In place of pedagogies of control insisting upon the traditional forms of cultural/Socratic critique, Rickert advocates a pedagogy of surprise in which

[...] we might advocate our own particular pedagogies with insight into education's general culpability [its will to control and ironic performance of compulsory liberation] to the extent that we grant students possibilities for a writing that would be their own Act. This asks us to acknowledge that we do not always know best how to rectify social problems for them, and this further necessitates a partial relinquishing of control and learning from students. (Acts of Enjoyment 165)

Rickert's qualifying hedge is important here, since he makes it clear that he is not merely echoing calls for a decentered classroom in which students and teachers share power (or where power relations are dissipated, etc). Rather, he calls for what he terms a remodification of power relations, such that teachers reflexively inhabit their authority and explicitly discuss that inhabiting with students. The egalitarian classroom is an ideal made impossible by the institutional demands placed upon us. Unless one is willing to give up grading (or convert all courses to pass/fail), then the teacher will always occupy a hierarchical position of authority--and virtually any attempt to subvert that power, no matter how noble the intention, is more likely to amplify the cynicism pervading 21st century life. Of course, the remodification for which Rickert calls requires an appreciation for risk that runs counter to the economic model of contemporary education--one that increasingly turns to standardization as a form of investment insurance. But this is the battleground for post-pedagogic education: a realization that empathic training concerns both what and more importantly how we teach; our institutional and disciplinary systems have to be comfortable with the surprising possibility of alterity if we hope to foster a citizenry appreciative of difference.


Yeah, We Already Knew That

Via the Blogora today, a piece in Newsweek on evolution and irrationality. It probably shouldn't irk me that the piece makes no mention of rhetoricians, but it does (its got philosophers and cognitive scientists, but no rhetoricians). Its clear the article wishes for a rational world (which, if I remember my Jonathan Swift, isn't necessarily utopian), but at least it concludes recognizing (somewhat) the priority of human emotion.

I wish, however, that the article lived up to its title and endorsed our "fallen" emotional flaws as a necessary component to social and cultural development. I was writing today about Burke and Alphonso Lingis--respectively the ideas that identification requires division and that the construction of a "universal rational community" requires the exclusion of the strange(r). In both cases, there is a recognition that the violence of exclusion is essential to any act of defining, and the hope that we can acknowledge such an act--live up to it, so to speak.


Blogging Pedagogy & Academically Adrift

Today is the final day of my summer Expository Writing class. I build all of my classes around themes; this semester was dedicated to blogging. Mxrk, Ryan P. Weber, and I will be putting together an article dedicated to the class in August (did you know that Ryan? Mrxk and I will bang out a draft and send it to you once he gets here). I constructed a pretty rigorous course site for the blogging class, with almost daily notes. One of my colleagues, Carl Herndl, will use my site and syllabus to teach Expository Writing later this summer; I think that will be a great test for the pedagogy since Carl is an admitted techno-novice and has never taught blogging before.

On a side note, I required us to read two books during the course: Nussbaum's Not For Profit and Arum and Roksa's Academically Adrift. I'm writing an article responding to Nussbaum, so I'll hold off commenting on that one here.

Arum and Roksa's book is a worthy read for anyone working in higher education. It is by and large and empirical study documenting just how little the majority (80%) of today's college students are learning. They use a comprehensive and (by my limited judgement) reliable qualitative test to measure students' gains in writing, complex reasoning, and critical thinking during their freshman and sophomore years. They acknowledge that many students might be learning other things, particularly things geared toward their majors. They openly acknowledge in several places that the importance of their study lies in the reader prioritizing writing, complex reasoning, and critical thinking as central to University learning (and they show that the professional sector is calling for increases in these abilities, so there's a rhetorical element to this prioritization).

One point: many of us working in rhetoric and literature would not identify what they call "critical thinking" as critical thinking. For instance, one of the qualitative assessment tests asks students to read ten documents dealing with a specific kind of plane and its likelihood of crashing and then write a memo to their boss arguing whether s/he should buy the plane.

Arum and Roksa spread blame for the lack of learning on students, faculty, and administration:

  • Students simply are not studying enough. The average student studies around 12 hours a week, with much of their remaining time going to socializing activities (data collected via self-reporting).
  • Faculty are too committed to research. Less than 60% of students at selective and less selective schools reported having to read more than 40 pages a week for a class, and less than 50% reported having to write more than 20 pages for a course over an entire semester (the numbers were 75% and 95% at highly selective institutions, respectively).
  • Faculty, however, aren't solely to blame for their focus on research and slighting of teaching. Arum and Roksa note that administrators--increasingly drawn from outside of academic ranks to focus on recruiting, branding, investment, and publicity--have increasingly edged tenure requirements toward publication and away from the classroom. I think a naive reading of Academically Adrift would frame it as an argument against tenure. I do not think this is the case. Rather, I believe they advocate for the transformation of tenure to place a greater emphasis on teaching. This argument deserves more time than I can give it this morning--but, recognizing how much of our research goes unnoticed or uncited (90% of Humanities scholarship),, I don't have a problem with such a move (I address this directly in my response essay on Levinas, metaphysics, and D. Diane Davis' Inessential Solidarity, currently in process with JAC, but there I argue for institutional recognition for inhabiting dialogical spaces rather than solely for individual publication). This is not to say that research and scholarship aren't important. But it is not the only important thing. Whether it is the most important thing is a question I am honestly not ready to answer today.

To reiterate, this is a book worth your time, and probably your students' time. I anticipated that my class would be a bit hostile to the book. But they weren't. And when I started to talk about how my blogging class stems from a recognition of many of the book's arguments, they were not only receptive but (dare I say) appreciative. There's always going to be the bottom 20% students who are unprepared, unmotivated, and unteachable. But, following Arum and Roksa's advice (the way to get students more invested is simply to raise expectations and assign more work), I think we can all acknowledge that we aren't teaching as much as we could (...should?), and we can do better.

P.S., my summer blogging course asks students to write 550 words a day (not counting in class writing) and a final 10 page paper. That's about 55 pages of writing in 6 weeks. So, while I'm always failing at something, at least I can tell myself I'm assigning a lot of writing. Now if only I could get a teaching assistant to grade it all...

Zakaria and Political Reality

I missed a post yesterday, so two posts today. First, a brief comment on Zakarias' article "How Conservatism Has Lost Touch with Reality. A friend has a rather scathing response to Zakarias over at his blog, arguing that Zakarias is practicing a kind of revisionist history, devoid of spirituality, and is hiding behind as ideological fantasy. I don't agree.

First, I think Zakarias' history shows something I've pointed to a number of times on this blog. Tax rates on the wealthy have never been lower than they are today. The current economic crisis is in large part connected to globalization of labor such that trickle-down profits, taxed less than any other point in industrial American history, are no longer fed into strictly an American system; as Casey notes--this makes labor a global rather than local issue, and makes any attempt to address inequality even harder. But that does not mean we should just throw are hands up and do nothing. Yes, the global median income is $9000, and the average American earns significantly more than that. Throwing contextualization issues aside (factors such as cost of living etc), this tells us that, even as we argue for increased taxation on the domestic scene, we keep remain open to global factors. We live in the meantime. One of my favorite aspects of sophistic rhetoric is that it is the art of the mean(ness) of time (and existence), addressing how we dwell with each other everyday, haunted by Idealism's search for absolute foundations, plagued by the problems that call us to be.

Second, spirituality is a complex matter. I think there is a rising "leftist" spirituality--the ecological turn I'll call it. It is a fundamental recognition that every entity on the planet comes into existence through infinite relations with other entities, nothing is born whole, autonomous, or ex nihilio. Of course, this dove tails with my work with Levinas. Such as metaphysical understanding of our Being does, I believe, generate ethical principles, even if the academic left has been slow to articulate them. But I don't think many of us are "postmodern" in the "classic" sense anymore. There's new problems and agendas. One of which, following Latour, is to move beyond critical thinking and critique (debunking, etc) and toward collecting problems (as Dr. Rivers puts it). As Gregory Ulmer puts it: "problems B us"; by articulating the problem, we kairotically emerge inhabiting the problem that infects/affects us. Any attempt to articulate a problem is always an act of self-fashioning. We are the people our problems make us. This, I believe is a thoroughly spiritual orientation, even if it suspends the issue of transcendence. One can be spiritual without a beyond. In fact, I would argue that assuring the presence of a beyond (whether it is God, Truth, Love, etc) reduces the infinity of the beyond to a known object. But that's a Levinasian argument, and a whole post itself.

Third, I think Zakarias is trying to collect such a problem, and the actants that form it. As I indicated in #1 above, I think Zakarias "collects a reality," Zakaria is referring to the increasingly cumulating statistics documenting 1) the rise of unemployment alongside increasing trickle-down economic and 2) the increasingly economic divide between classes. I don't think there is a "Utopian" vision underlying this problem--there is no suggestion that the solution to this problem lies in any kind of communist re-organization of capital. In fact, I think Zakarias' article implicitly calls for a moderate response to the problem he articulates: a better balancing of centralist infrastructure and free market investment and innovation similar to that operating during America's economic boom in the 1950's and 1960's.


A Troll Who Cares--Jonathon Paige & the Ethics of Blogging

Day two of my effort to put something here everyday.

Today I point to a very interesting post sent to me by mxrk, one that relates to our blogging class/project/article. An internet troll details how he created Jonathon Paige's twitter persona and corresponding SummerHoopScoop blog as an ethical experiment. Mxrk and I have our students do something similar in our blogging class, without the overtly critical and potentially unethical angle.

Near the end, the troll draws several morals to his story, and I think two of them lie at the core of my teaching and research:

  1. Only trust PROVEN sources that have a track record and accountability.
  2. Keep your ears open to bad news as well as good news. When you hear negative news about your school's chances with a recruit from a trusted source or all the facts don't add up in your favor, don't go in to denial about it. Just accept what you are seeing and hearing. A Scout.com analyst is not wrong just because he brings bad news. A random recruiting twitter account is not right just because it tells you what you want to hear. Be smart about what information you hear and where it comes from.

I'm thinking especially of the second bullet in connection with Rickert's Acts of Enjoyment. I've been using Rickert's final chapter (an expansion of his "Hand's Up, Your Free!" article) to point out a contradiction in Martha Nussbaum's Not For Profit, namely that critical thinking can foster empathy (I'm arguing that the Socratic critical disposition actually requires the suspension of empathy). But Rickert and Nussbaum share one assumption: that human beings are not fundamentally "fixable" creatures, that psychoanalysis begins with the assumption that we come with problems (Ulmer: "Problems B Us"), and that the "good" life (or the good pedagogy) begins by dwelling within this fallen condition (rather than seeking to remedy it once and for all, as if any such final solution was possible). Levinas also frames the individual as fundamentally flawed (in terms of his/her debt to alterity, a debt too great to ever be completely repaid)--and I think that overlap resonates with me.

I have a special place for trolls in my heart, since they occupied an important part of my dissertation; there I used Internet trolls to demonstrate that there isn't necessarily an essential "goodness" to digital connectivity. At the same time, I argued that digital trolls were the inheritors of the cultural studies/Socratic/counter-culture/American Transcendentalist/critical tradition. While I appreciate their intentions, I remain torn on the issue of their methods. But I like this piece for the way that it demonstrates the fluid nature of ethos in the digital age. What I take away: every individual needs to be savvy, attentive, and open.


Jameson's New Book

Blogora's sporting a link to Jameson's preview of his upcoming book today. I've never considered myself a Marxist nor a fan of Jameson, but I nod my head to this paragraph from the preview:

Now we can step back and assess the meaning and import of Capital as a whole. This is a book about unemployment: its conceptual climax is reached with this proposition that industrial capitalism generates an overwhelming mass of potentially uninvestible capital on one hand, and an ever-increasing mass of unemployed people on the other: a situation we see fully corroborated today in the current crisis of third-stage or finance capital.

I think Jameson's got his finger on the problem, but not necessarily the solution.

I'm working on an article skeptical of critique today. And while I am enthusiastic about investing energy in empathic pedagogies, I'm missing the ole ideological fantasy of liberation.