Sunday, August 25, 2013

The World Needs More Digital Literacy (and Togas)

The internet is good for many things: connecting people who want to be connected, connecting people who don't want to be connected, providing the opportunity for people all over the world to laugh collectively at the same video on YouTube, and, most importantly, democratizing our society.

Yes, it happens to do that, too. Let me explain:

Like this, but with an absurdly large number of people,
and presumably fewer smiles.
Think back to the beginning of democracy. In a place known as Athens, Greece and in a time known as Ancient, the idea of direct democracy was beginning to flourish. Humans in the area had set forth a system of government that required every individual (so long as you were not a woman, child, or slave) to meet and vote on the laws proposed by the central rotation body of 500 men. This system made it illegal to not participate in the legislative process that shaped society, even though meetings of all citizens under the model of Direct Democracy must have been a logistical nightmare.

The setup of this system, however, had an interesting effect on the values of the society which created it. Because the idea behind this was to give everyone a voice, oratory skills were among the most highly regarded skills. To be able to stand in front of your fellow citizens and speak your mind in a way that was persuasive was important. However, once the population size increased to the point where convening to vote on every law was just impossibly inconvenient, later democracies would follow the Roman example, and elect representatives to vote on those laws for us. That's how the United States and other democratic republics today are set up, and oratory skills among us commoners, though valuable, are no longer as essential.

So what does this have to do with our readings? What does this have to do with the contemporary American classroom? How does this relate to us, the internet, and how we communicate? I'm just one man! Slow down with your questions, and listen:

I almost miss Xanga.
The Digital Age is changing our society. The internet, through resources such as blogs, wikis, YouTube, comment boards, and social networks, has given everyone a voice. When men were given a physical voice in Ancient Greece, the emphasis on the ability to speak persuasively was incredible. And now, when every man, woman, and child with access to an internet connection and a working keyboard is given a voice online, is it at all surprising to see that Digital literacy is now being seen as an important facet of our English classes? The only surprise for me is how slowly we are to adopt this form of literacy. In our readings, it is written: “Media and digital literacies are rapidly being recognized as more important for language arts teachers to address, given the importance of students joining or our online and digital ‘participatory culture’” (Thein 38). This participatory culture is something that has grown much more rapidly than our classrooms have grown to accommodate it. Digital writing in school for me was never seen as anything more than a tool to get information across. It was not viewed as a medium of exchange that could ever stand up to the literary quality of classic paper and print.

But I think it's high time we embraced the use of digital writing in our classrooms, and I am glad to see more emphasis placed on it. Will digital writing eclipse novels, poetry, and other classic forms of writing? Of course not. But to ignore that the times are changing (and that our students and their interests are changing) is the wrong course to take. The questions now are: Which aspect of digital literature will we want to teach? How will we responsibly guide our students into "good" and "bad" digital writing? What do those terms even mean? Those are questions that can be debated, but I feel as though we must move past the question of whether or not digital writing has a place in our schools. The moral of the story? Grow or die. I think we, as responsible teachers tasked with the duty of preparing our students for the world outside of school, should grow, and allow our students to grow along with us.

Works Cited:

Beech, Richard, A. Thein, A. Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

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