Hi everyone! I’d like to thank everyone here at Libraries and Transliteracy for inviting me to participate in a valuable discussion. Here’s a start…
I’ve been thinking a lot about Matt Richtel’s recent New York Times article, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.” This article has generated a lot of buzz and some fruitful conversations. However, in looking at some of the responses to Richtel’s piece, I have come to recognize an interesting form of binarism pervading certain attitudes towards the future of education in the digital age. Whether past vs. future, digital vs. analog, book vs. ebook, or focus vs. distraction, the binary standpoint manifests itself in many ways, but the message is usually the same: we are in the midst of a paradigm shift between incommensurable literacies, outmoded pedagogical methods, or technological biases. For my first post here at L&T, I’d like to say something about the role of transliteracy in a world of supposed paradigm shifts.
For some, the incommensurablity of “traditional education” and the digital is symptomatic of the profound effects (real or perceived) of the internet on cognitive development. One group laments the intellectual life that will be lost as concentration is completely supplanted by instant gratification. Call this the traditionalist account. Counter to the traditionalists, another current of thought points to digital ascendancy as the final nail in the coffin of an outmoded Enlightenment or Industrial Age hegemony over education. This approach sees an immanent paradigm shift in which the “old” ways of teaching and learning are phased out to meet the demands of a new generation. Call it the revolutionist approach. In both cases, the “traditional” metrics for understanding and evaluating the educated mind are soon to be completely replaced.
Examples of the traditionalist approach are plentiful: Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, or Maggie Jackson’s Distracted are just a few of the more recent jeremiads. To their credits, each author ultimately advocates a balance between the digital and analog, albeit with some hesitation and an unfortunate insistence on keeping competing literacies separated. For the traditionalist, the picture of civilization on the brink of an irreversible collapse into a digitally-induced attention-deficit disorder is pervasive.
As to the revolutionist approach, some theorists embrace the demise of traditional models of the intellect. These theorists see the digital age as the chance for a revolution in education. A prime example is the HASTAC project at Duke where the emphasis on incommensurability is clear, for example, in Cathy Davidson’s response to Richtel’s article:
We’re only fifteen years into the Information Age. It took 150 years to build the educational institutions for the Industrial Age. It is a challenge to rethink education from the ground up, but we need to…[f]or the sake of our children, it is time to stop complaining and looking backwards.
Indeed, a quick read through the archives at HASTAC will reveal an organizational commitment to an educational paradigm shift away from the hegemonic Industrial Age model to an interconnected Digital Age model. It is argued that the advent of social media and pervasive contact with information sources is evidence that the old ways are holding us back. Just as the Industrial Revolution demolished the quadrivium as pedagogy, the Digital Revolution will demolish the remnants of 19th Century progressive education, setting the stage for an interconnected, networked pedagogy that plays off of the hyper-focus the traditionalists so lament. So long Sustained Silent Reading and essay assignments, hello collaborative media projects and real-time feedback.
Granted, I am describing each position in somewhat reductionist terms. There is a lot of nuance and even some points of agreement. But, generally speaking, these are two common trends in discussing the digital era, and on both accounts I call shenanigans. I would like to propose transliteracy as a “Third Way” approach to educating the digital millennium..
Transliteracy as an alternative
Transliteracy, by definition, is no party to the either/or approach to the digital future. In fact, incommensurability is anathema to the transliteracy project because transliteracy is predicated on the ability to maneuver between competing “paradigms” of literacy. From books to tweets, transliteracy as pedagogical practice seeks to encourage a literacy that crosses through several domains; rather than treat digital literacy as the successor to the analog, transliteracy sees digital literacy as a complement.
This is important for several reasons…not least of which is the fact that transliteracy qua theory allows practitioners to embrace multiple pedagogical practices: there is no need to reinvent the wheel as the revolutionists assert, neither is there a need to abandon the current methods, as the traditionalists fear. With respect to literacy as a cornerstone of education, transliteracy neither seeks nor accepts paradigm shifts; it rises above by acknowledging that humans have the remarkable ability to learn and create in multiple literacies simultaneously. This is what attracts me to transliteracy, namely, its answer to the question “How should we address the future of literacy in a digital age?” The traditionalist answer is to view digital literacies as bastardized versions of “real” literacy. The revolutionist approach is to move past quaint and homely literacies of the past. The transliterate approach, analogous to Andy Woodworth’s recent post about Big Tent librarianship, is a “big tent” approach embracing all literacies past, present, and future as integral parts of the human experience.
In coming months, I intend to explore the traditionalist and revolutionist attitudes towards literacy. I intend to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of transliteracy. I intend to examine the epistemic implications of transliteracy. But, above all, I hope to bring out some lively discussion.