Cycle (part 1/2): School and Making Knowledge and Process

<< It is at this point that I hope to bring together the many strands of conversation I have previously threaded through this webtext. From Trimbur, we have learned that educators have historically stood in a unique position with respect to the ongoing material and rhetorical shifts of literacy theory and practice. Particularly with the nineteenth-century turn to schools as locations where individuals acquired middle-class embodiments, Trimbur emphasizes that school became a place of learning “how to accept supervision, follow directions, and concentrate on tedious and repetitive tasks” (289). Foucault helps us understand that this form of disciplining requires a particular kind of body: one that is passive and moldable, able to be shaped so that it can practice those techniques schooling hopes to instill. In Digital Nation, we continually confront bodies that are active rather than passive with respect to literacy. These bodies are not seeking literacy instruction but instead are orienting themselves toward reading and writing embedded in non-school contexts. Our notions of literacy are being radically fragmented and reassembled by the continued empowerment of unschooled digital literacies.

Why Are Educators' Positions Particularly Important?

As educators, we must begin to make sense of this dynamic precisely because our positions are not disinterested. Again, Foucault’s theory of discipline might help us better understand our positions. Foucault suggests that within the classical age the power of institutions lie in their ability to enact power from a dual position of privilege: they both dictated standard techniques and produced knowledge that legitimated those practices. Describing the eighteenth-century army, Foucault says, “it was a real force, an ever-threatening sword … because it was a technique and a body of knowledge that could project their schema over the social order” (168, emphasis mine). As Foucault often references in Discipline and Punish, the academy presents an interesting example of this phenomenon, responsible for imparting operations and processes as well as for creating the knowledge that rationalizes them. Students sit in rows, their time is scheduled, and their bodily movement is regulated. At the same time, the academy through both scholarship and underlying values transmitted through pedagogy simultaneously makes decisions about what literacy is and how it should be conceived and measured. In the current political/educational climate, these techniques and knowledges are frequently subject to strong forces including increasing corporate power as well as that of national, state, and local government forces that operate outside academic institutions. However, it is important for educators to take responsibility for our own roles in positioning literacy, even on a day-to-day basis in our classrooms. To conclude my analysis of distracted student bodies, I will focus on this dynamic by briefly exploring how Digital Nation represents distracted brains through neuroscientific evidence, a move with the potential to newly reposition student bodies as passive and literacy as cognitively measurable. >>