Technology in the Classroom

Digital technology does have a place in the composition classroom, but I feel that sometimes we start to get too dependent on it. There may not be students who have the same level of access to the required technology as others, but those students are entitled to the same education as the rest. This was an issue I had to deal with during my first year of teaching, especially with my composition lessons. The high school had only one shared computer lab, in which on any given time there were only about fifteen working computers, and for one period the lab was used for the computer literacy class the seventh and eighth graders took. Even with the small collection of computers I had in my classroom, it made things difficult for those students who needed the extra time with the computers since they did not have access to them otherwise. Granted, I had some students bring in their own personal laptops to help ease the burden, but the inequality of access was still present.

In terms of what responsibilities the composition teacher has in terms of teaching technological skills to student, I’m afraid that outside of learning proficiencies with the basic programs—which they hopefully will have learned by the time they completed high school, or middle school at the earliest—that duty falls upon the composition instructor. In most schools, except for those that embrace the concept of writing across the curriculum, students learn the bulk of their researching skills in the composition classroom. While it would be nice if the burden could be shared with other departments, the composition teacher is the one to teach the fundamentals of identifying credible sources online, how to formulate a research argument, etc.

But these skills are almost always involved preparing students for college. Now unlike many of my classmates, I have had to prepare students for life outside of college as well. In cases like those, I can definitely see the role of the composition teacher growing to include more of the technical communication skills students would need in the non-academic world. That is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive; a composition teacher could use podcasts in class to reinforce discussions about audience that could benefit all students.

Then again, I have seen composition classes that are very technology-oriented, so much to the point where the teacher has to double as an IT consultant in addition to their teaching responsibilities. In that case, are students really getting the best education they can get through the integration of technology when they have to wait for their teacher to get their laptop to work after the three other students ahead of them? This comes back to my original point in that sometimes composition classes can be too dependent on technology to the detriment of the students’ education. It falls upon the instructor to find that balance so that when the technology decides not to cooperate—which it inevitably will—they can continue to give their students what they need.

“Crossdress” response

Where do I start? Since 2005, when I was still in the Army, I had to do this all the time, since it was that year that I finally accepted my sexual identity as being gay. This was back during the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” so I had to keep myself closeted during my work with the military. During the time when I was in the reserves, it was not as bad since my unit lived 4 hours away in another state, but when I was called up to active duty for Iraq it became a major issue for me having to, as Skinner puts it, “crossdress” to survive in the conservative heteronormative  culture of the Army. Given that my role at the time was that of a journalist and media liaison, I had to maintain the dominant discourses of the military as a whole when communicating with the press. It became difficult to “tell the Army story” when I was having to present a front that, albeit involuntarily, condoning the practices of the institution as a whole when they seriously conflicted with my own views.

In the same situation, I had to “crossdress” even the aspect of my race. The unit I was assigned to in Iraq was predominantly black and Hispanic…and from New Jersey (which I still think was one of the aspects that made things worse, but I digress). Given the racial disparity amongst the ranks, I had the “wonderful” experience of having my race thrown at me like never before. It got to the point where I started to identify myself as Native American—which I am—and altering the way I talked so I could avoid having to be the lone representative of white culture in the office I worked in—particularly in this one discussion about police brutality, I ended up copping out of the discussion by saying to the other white person in the office, “You’re on your own, White Man.”

Ideology in the Comp. Classroom

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “ideology” as : “1) visionary theorizing 2)a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture/b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture/c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program” Anyone who has been through the American public education system from either side of the classroom can rightly say that the purpose of education in this country—sadly and inherently—is to maintain such a body of concepts. While there are the individual teachers who try to buck that trend, the system as a whole strives to maintain that hegemonic stasis. I will admit, during my year of teaching in Bison, SD, I felt the inordinate pressure from the school’s administration to keep my classroom keyed into the local culture: namely that of conservative, Christian, Caucasian rural America. There were numerous times in which I was reprimanded by the superintendent because of the complaints I received from parents about what I was teacher—primarily how I was making an effort to introduce ideas that were not part of the dominant culture of the community. Looking back, maybe I can see that maybe I was trying to put a little bit of my own liberal ideology into the classroom. I had made attempts to introduce more pluralistic pieces into the curriculum, to offer a counterpoint in classroom discussions to facilitate dialogue. I did my best not to have this come off as my own personal ideology, but instead as offering other ways of thinking that may not have otherwise been considered given the immensely insular culture my students were being raised in…but I digress.

As I mentioned earlier in the week on Twitter about the role political ideology should play in the composition classroom, I stated, “Composition classes should not be politically motivated, nor should they be politically neutral. It should foster political discussion.” It is not our place as educators to impress our own values and principles onto our students, which would cause them a disservice in their development as critically thinking young adults who can go out into the world and make those decisions for themselves. Instead, we should make our classrooms a place where there can be a free exchange—within reason, mind you—of ideas.

This issue ties back in with the concepts of collaborative learning advocated by Rebecca Howard, in which students should be allowed to learn from one another. If schools did not want students to be able to formulate their own opinions about political issues, then such high school mainstays as Young Democrats, Young Republicans, and the debate team would not be sanctioned. I see no reason why the same tolerance to ideas cannot be used in the composition classroom. Maxine Hairtson advocates that such discussions are left for other venues, but it becoming plain—at least to me—that she has little-to-no experience teaching composition in a secondary setting. It is hard enough engaging students enough to write about something they care about or have an opinion on, rather than bland and inoffensive prompts…they get enough of those on the standardized tests they are required to take. While some, like Hairston, can look critically at composition from behind the wall of the Academy, some of us have to use whatever we can get to keep our students engaged. At least with the discussion of ideology in the classroom, students are, hopefully, exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.