Friday, October 12, 2012

Leapfrogging Past I-Dunno

          When my college students genuinely say, “I don’t know,” I want them to check out the kind of knowing that they’re referencing.  I’d like them to realize that only one kind of knowing appears to be unavailable.  But don’t stop.  Don’t turn up the earplugs.  Don’t tweet.  Instead look for an opening into other knowings.  Then “I-don’t-know” might start transforming. 


Instead of that ever-red stop sign, it might even make a Hogwarts-porthole.  It might offer scary admission into personal authority and crack open a closed system.  Formal education has discredited so many knowings.  The red squiggly line that pops up under “knowings” documents the prison bars that arrest our freedom and keep us from claiming creativity and reaching insight. 
            English teachers, like me, have responsibility for grammar school instruction that inclined the developers of this Word program to impose the default that says a singular knowing is superior to knowings.  Our education system has put in prison phenomenology, analytical psychology, instinctual knowing, knowing by “feel,” the essence of many spiritualities, and many other –ologies as if one epistemology has the iron-fist authority of truth.  That’s criminal.
            Perhaps I’m making a big deal, but think about what’s happening when highly intelligent young adults stop their inquiry process with the phrase “I don’t know.”  They do so because twelve years of schooling has force fed the lie that knowing equals a direct link to a textbook line or lecture note.  I’m especially agitated because I see the affordance of digital media endangered by this stranglehold.
            In our course on Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, when I don’t respond critically to “I don’t know” and when instead I encourage the student to go on anyway, I love seeing color come into washed-out faces.  Eye-windows clear and open onto greater vistas.  I hear wonder, wandering, and imagination even when the articulation breaks up into disfluencies.  Sometimes then I glimpse the wanderer wincing, probably in memory of being struck by the iron glove for not sounding rehearsed and fluent, for daring to diverge from third-person, from objectivity, from the straight-lined highway. 
            Robert Bly published Leaping Poetry about 37 years ago, opening with his translation of Ortega y Gasset: “So many things fail to interest us, simply because they don’t find in us enough surfaces on which to live, and what we have to do then is to increase the number of planes in our mind, so that a much larger number of themes can find a place in it at the same time.”  Bly invokes the ancient "time of inspiration" and calls for dragonsmoke: “a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.”  On the waves of Web2.0 today, our imagination sniffs dragonsmoke, anticipating being powered up with multiple knowings and leaping in digital media productions.  But this potential explosion of creative energy will not vitalize schools and classrooms that are managed by wardens instead of inspired by poets.
            Right about here I’m wanting to leap in two different directions.  One goes on the smoke trail that offers to inform the nascent genre/s of digital media production into a different discursive form, one that leaps with the creative associations begging in the buzz of adjacent image, word, sound, and effects.  The other direction keeps more to the initial track in this post about dealing with “I don’t know.”  So for now, let’s simply footnote for later elaboration the dynamic in “leaping poetry” that links to the psychoanalytic construct of “amplification” (Jung on the nature of psyche) and that keys the design of high-quality digital media production.
            For now, while leaping poetry points to a special discursive form, the focus here is to liberate knowing.  Learning should be free to romp in multiplicity.  Learners can highlight LEAPING as an essential attribute of knowing; we don’t have to show almost mindless reaction to a break in straightline thinking as if it’s a command to stop.  “I don’t know” could signal a leap; we don’t have to hear a command to stand at attention until the external authority gives the next straightline step. 
            For an example of a wrongheaded action along these lines, look at the Common Core Standards, at least as I fear they are interpreted and enacted and assessed.  The emphasis on expository writing threatens leaping because the tradition in exposition emphasizes straight lines.  Straight lines can be good; but when play and creativity and imagination risk extinction and when an innovative resource comes in the door, the point of emphasis needs to wise up.
            The search for meaning and purpose and identity signal the promise land, and kids of all ages scent the lip-smacking flavors in digital media.  But devices never automatically make us free and good.  We’re at such a huge moment in education with the dramatic potential of new technologies.  Let’s not kid ourselves about the power they bring for engagement.  The chance for liberation flips equally or more likely to greater control.  Let’s not lock the infusion of new technologies such as 1-1 iPad/equivalent devices and co-learning with smartboards in the jail cells; when the testing industry and political jailers cling to the laws of print culture, they’re marking innovative practice as criminal.  That’s bad.
            Digital media promise civic responsibility, creativity, cognitive growth, and much more (see eight essential elements of digital literacies); this horizon honors collective intelligence, negotiation, play, performance, and much more (see Confronting the Challenges ofParticipatory Culture). Digital media production promises so much when it gives good visual images that are composed artistically along with powerful words on screen and in voice tracks as well as authentic sound and purposeful movement.  Note that all the resources (visual image, text on screen, voice track, sound track, transitions and other effects) are led in by crucial modifiers (good, artistic, powerful, voice, authentic, purposeful); quality in the infusion of technology demands professional leadership.  In today’s culture, teachers are not trusted to do this, and the failure of our political system is to substitute test for trust.
            What tyranny to test out, to extinguish with high-stakes assessment, these essential dynamics and their potential for advancing peace and justice because they are not as easily red-lined with “standards” of spelling, pre-digested topic/thesis statements, “the” 5-paragraph essay, number of syllables, “t-units,” and similar analytics of a dead monarchy.
            One closing note for now: I’m not advocating abandon.  All opinions are not equal.  Real education includes learning to tell better composition, more sound thinking, more just ecologies, and responsible liberty and justice for all.  Learning worth having affirms leadership that enthuses authority and loves.