Being literate is a complex, multiple, diverse, on-going, and fluid process. Society is continuously communicating in various ways and through various technologies, which is why the definition of the word literacy is even more complicated than it was a century ago (Alvermann, 2011; Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008; Gee, 2015). Literacy has not so much changed, rather the perspective of literacy has. The meaning of being literate has broadened from a once narrowed view as a singular, autonomous concept with a fixed point to a plural, complex concept as a continuous process (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Street, 1984). New literacies practices take form in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, current educational practices do not reflect this type of diversity. Instead, most reiterate a singular perspective: that of a received view of literacy as the written word policed (consciously and unconsciously) by a historically dominant culture.
Cultural studies analyzes the everyday and commonly accepted practices within a particular culture to detect the underlying political powers that function within that culture and to call attention to how those powers implicate problematic consequences involving the marginalization of individuals based on gender, sexuality, race, class, as well as other areas in an attempt to trouble previously received, or accepted views of such practices through the means of an intervention. As Hall (1996) would argue, in order to understand the commonly accepted practices within education, we need a closer look at the historical trajectory of the written word. Or rather, we need an understanding of the articulations, or the complex connection of elements linked together to form a conditional unity, of literacy (Hall, 1996). To do this, I began by analyzing the definition of the word literacy, which ties together both reading and writing, two distinctive practices which each contain their own history and components. The word literate is not one thing but rather a combination of practices, beliefs, and relationships. Thus, I had to analyze these elements separately: researching the history of reading practices as well as writing practices including the associated technologies, both written and oral languages as well as the origins of the educational systems from Western Europe to America.
From my research, I inferred that both the written word and higher education were historically limited to the dominant culture that of white Christian males. These individuals of authority often used the written word as a form of control (e.g. interpretations of the bible, branding of slaves, as well as others) (Churchill, 2004; Cornelius, 1983; Edgar, 1998; Gee, 2015; Kurlansky, 2016; Monaghan, 2005; Smith, 2002). Therefore, the practice was restricted to those in power with a link that was rearticulated again and again over time to the written word. The iteration of these articulations contributed to a culturally received view of the written word as the more superior form of representation as compared to oral and visual languages. Further, material expenses limited the means for the production of the written word; only those with money could use the practice. Thus, the practice of writing was restricted to a small group of individuals that lead to a greater “cultural capital”, the value attributed to material or symbolic things in a particular culture (Schirato & Yell, 2000, p. 36). These cultural practices especially marginalized races, genders, and ethnicities that were articulated with practices linked to other forms of representation that were culturally perceived as inferior to that of the written word (Barone, 2008; Carson, 2017; Coiro et al., 2008; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Eisner, 2008; 1976; Dalton & Proctor, 2008; Flood et al., 2008; Gee, 2015; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; 2007; Leavy, 2015; McNiff, 1998; Siegesmund & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2008; The New London Group, 2000; Tseelon, 2001; 1995; Wilber, 2008).
I then examined the articulations of the marginalized groups as well as the articulations associated with the dominant group, tracing from Western Europe to what is now known as The United States. I identified from these articulations a binary system in which the perceived greater-than parts were elements historically linked to white males and the perceived lesser-than parts were elements historically linked to marginalized groups. Although the historically marginalized groups have gained more equality from the actions of numerous individuals including scholars and activists than previous decades, there still exists cultural practices and beliefs that continue particular forms of repression because they are perceived as the commonly accepted way of doing things from a dominant culture. The historical articulation linking males to public spaces (such as institutes of higher education), and the mind (including the written word and science) and females to private spaces (such as the home), and the body (including arts and fashion) presents particularly problematic consequences in todays traditionally accepted practices (Lurie, 2000; Monaghan, 2005; Tseelon, 1995; Schirato & Yell, 2000). It is not only important to question these taken-for-granted ways but to also call attention to the problematic consequences of such practices.
For example, arts based researchers are often required to make hybrid products, submitting a traditional paper in addition to a creative work, in order to be accepted as scholarly work. Dissertation hybrids (like Harvey, 2006) suggest creative works of art (forms of new literacies) are only acknowledged by institutes of higher education as intellectually valid if presented through the practices of traditional literacy (the written word); consequently, a rearticulation of the power of the masculine mind over the femininity of the body. The articulation of the mind over the body has further marginalized women in education (Green, 2001; hooks, 1997; Kaiser et al., 2001; Mitchell & Weber, 1999; Weber, 2011). From an early age, women are shaped to embody this articulation by the way in which they dress, or rather don’t dress (e.g. dress codes). Female scholars must conceal their bodies (rendering it invisible) in order to be validated intellectually by institutes of higher education, often adapting their wardrobes to reflect more masculine features (e.g. shoulder pads, suits, etc.) (Banim, Green, & Guy, 2001; Green, 2001; hooks, 1997; Kaiser, Chandler, & Hammidi, 2001; Mitchell & Weber, 1999; Weber, 2011). Because clothing has been articulated with the femininity of the body, fashion has been linked to frivolousness and beauty. Subsequently, scholars in clothing continue to struggle to be acknowledged as working in an intellectually valid field (Tseelon, 2001), particularly difficult due to the historical linkage between women with home economics (Monaghan, 2005). Rather than merely recognizing oppression, research in the field of cultural studies calls for the extension of practices to empowerment. These cultural interventions not only require historical and political motivation but also timeliness. The need for acknowledging a diversity of voices is especially important today as more and more people find themselves marginalized by dominant cultures across events currently within our society. Individuals have been particularly targeted across race, gender, sexuality, and religion by political legislation. Upholding practices because they have been traditionally done so continues to marginalize a diversity of individuals. Educators need to become more inclusive of various literacy practices to meet the needs of a more diverse student population rather than continuing to support guidelines that continue to marginalize them.
In fact, New Literacies Studies have been calling for educators to broaden practices for several years, yet they use the same written-based argument they are hoping to break out of. These scholars dedicated to the study of new literacies even bring attention to “the irony of a volume on new literacies research that appears within the pages of a 500-year-old technology” (Coiro et al., 2008, p. xii). At the forefront of literacy research are the advocates of new literacies, yet continue to produce arguments in print based forms. It seems literacy scholars know the importance of these practices yet educational practices remain relatively unchanged, focusing predominately on the use of “traditional” literacy practices (Coiro et al., 2008; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Lankshear & Knobel, 2007; Wilber, 2008). Take a look at the dissertation, the seminal piece of PhD research programs. A “nontraditional” format is defined as three written chapters instead of a 300-page book, the focus remains on the traditional definition of literacy. Some students have worked visual and performance arts into their dissertation research (see Harvey, 2006), but few have produced formats solely outside the written word (see Carson, 2017; Sousanis, 2015). Others produced an entirely different version of their dissertation to meet the formatting requirements enforced by the institutions (see Hughes, 2011; Hughes & Vagle, 2014). This creates a contradiction between what scholars in institutes of higher education are saying about new literacies and what they are doing: arguing for the intellectual validity of new literacy practices but not acknowledging the production of such practices as intellectual work. In other words, literacy scholars are encouraging new literacies practices in grade level classrooms but do not support the production of these practices with undergraduate and graduate students, who are eventually expected to teach the same practices to their students. This problem is crucial to the field of literacy as colleges in education prepare future classroom teachers (Coiro et al., 2008; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Dalton & Proctor, 2008; Flood, Heath, & Lapp, 2008; Gee, 2015; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, 2007; The New London Group, 2000; Wilber, 2008).
As the means by which communication takes place continues to broaden, it is imperative that educational practices focus on the production of new literacies and not just the consumption. Doctoral studies in the language and literacy field discuss the new forms of literacy but when are the methods modeled/experienced as a teacher educator? How do scholars prepare educators to teach the next generation of learners when they continue to rely heavily on the traditional forms of text? How can scholars infuse methods of the workshop/apprentice mentality into education in order to carry over to classroom practices, not just in the traditional perspective of reading and writing but with new literacies studies? In order to do so, it is important to not only experience but to also struggle with these new forms by personally producing products formed from new literacies practices before educating others about it. Teachers need to be taught how to model these practices and they need to have the extended time to explore practices with new literacies before entering their own classrooms. Therefore, scholars at the highest educational level must have experience working with these new literacies in order to prepare future educators.
Changes in current social practices are extending the ways in which individuals make and exchange meaning. I plan to call attention to higher education’s privileging of the written word to trouble the taken-for-granted traditional literacy practices that continue to marginalize students. Scholars must seriously rethink how literacies are researched and the ways in which they are practiced. Studies in the field of language and literacy discus the ways in which new forms of literacy are emerging. However, scholars in the field continue to rely on the traditional forms of text to communicate their research. A dissertation study in the emersion of new literacies practices might help to prepare others in the field. To effectively teach future generations of learners, I advocate for the infusion of workshop, apprenticeship-type, methods of learning into practices of teacher education in order for these practices to be carried over to the classroom. Further, I am advocating for a new literacies workshop rather than a traditional reading/writing workshop. My application of new literacies (broader definition beyond technology) at the doctoral level, which predominately privileges the traditional definition of literacy with print-based text, might help to demonstrate the possibility of this type of inquiry at the highest level in education. I believe through my own workshop experience of producing knowledge in a format other than the written word, I will develop a better understanding of the new literacy “ethos stuff” while also helping to address this contradiction from within my field (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 29). It is important to not only research new forms of literacy but to also experiment with these new forms through the production of my own meaning making.
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