About the Tools

In comments, John writes:

I will agree that we haven’t developed many good tools for helping students re-enter their word-processed drafts. Or, perhaps more accurately, Microsoft has not incorporated the kinds of tools that writing teachers might recommend. There’s an interesting question: why hasn’t our profession (and groups like CCCC and WPA) found a way to challenge Microsoft to incorporate useful teaching tools into Word?

To which I want to say: I like the sentiment, but no, no, no, no, no. Don’t teachers who employ digital technologies in the classroom already do enough unpaid sales and marketing work for Microsoft? Aren’t we already doing more than enough to lock ourselves into using the tools of big corporations so that they can wring ever-increasing amounts of cash from our educational institutions?

Charlie Lowe is doing really good and important work with the open source community on developing digital tools for writing teachers, and the open source community is likely to be much more responsive (or at least responsive for the right reasons) in terms of developing those digital tools than Microsoft. Please, let’s get away from this logic that favors the relentless increase of privatization.

Personal, Political, Economic

Geoffrey Nunberg just did a fine piece on NPR about the discourse of the “personal” versus the “private” and the accompanying rhetorical concerns of ownership. His piece stands as good evidence why copyfighters — of whom, yes, I’ll finally admit to being one — need to be thinking about the work of both Peter Elbow and J. K. Gibson-Graham, about how the act of engagement with ongoing discussions about intellectual property constitutes the seam or suture joining personal, political, and economic concerns.

Sorry I’m late.

4Cs: Owning Knowledge

I gave my presentation this morning, along with Krista Kennedy (as read by John Logie) and Charlie Lowe. Charlie was in his usual relaxed, easygoing talking-through-the-points mode, while John did a fine job of reading Krista’s stylistically compelling sophisticated theoretical essay. I didn’t do quite so well, largely because I was trying to talk a point-by-point presentation for the first time; in the past, I’ve always read my presentations from papers, and I do a fair job of that, I think. But my lack of comfort with the talking-through-the-points format was highly apparent in my voice, in the somewhat rushed delivery, and in my hesitation to deviate from those points. As is the case with students whose papers display a marked increase in correctness errors when they grapple with materials or genres unfamiliar to them, my presentation was marked by my delivery’s evidence of my inexperience with the genre. Which is disappointing; with the preparation I put into this, I would have liked to have done a better job.

If you check out the presentation, you’ll see that it’s highly inductive and paratactic, and those qualities are only accentuated by the cuts I made after rehearsing it and having it come out at around 22 minutes: I tried to get rid of the points that seemed least essential, but that resulted in a highly “gappy” feeling in a number of places. What I was trying to do in the presentation was simply to look at ownership issues as connected to student writing through an economic lens, in the hopes that such a lens might help the audience see how student writing — when considered and practiced as “open source” rather than as scarce and solely owned — can give an increased and more diverse valuation to the labor of everyone (students, teachers, researchers, and the various permutations thereof) in the community of first year writing. An additional difficulty, I think, is that the complexity of the theoretical stuff I was trying to present actually really doesn’t lend itself to the and/and/and qualities of parataxis, and is much more easily understood via the subordinating conjunctions of hypotaxis. Which I knew intellectually, but — since I’d never tried to do a presentation like this before — not practically.

On the good side, these points comprise the core logic of Chapter 5 of my dissertation, so I’ve got my revision work laid out for me. I’ll also say that I think my classroom focus served as a nice complement both to Krista’s flights of Deleuze and Guattari high theory and to Charlie’s explicit working-through of the implications of the Open Source development process for composition, and this seemed to play out in the really excellent Q&A that followed our presentations, where a lot of people offered insightful and provocative comments and questions (including several from Bradley Bleck that I couldn’t answer, which gave me considerable material for future thought) linking Krista’s rhizomes, Charlie’s development process, and my own concerns of valuation. So sometime in the next week or so, I’ll be cleaning up the presentation some; right now, I’m grateful to Charlie, Krista, and John, and to all the folks who joined in the discussion.

Doctor Chadwallah (who was apparently attending incognito, and who Krista explicitly referenced in her presentation) offered no questions, to the regret of many who were present.

CCCC Presentation Work

Some of the basic concerns that I’ll need to demonstrate in my CCCC presentation:

  1. Writing, as information, is a non-rivalrous good: what I get from reading a paper doesn’t take away from what you get from reading a paper.
  2. University pPlagiarism policies in higher education, in order to give students the motivation to write, impose an artificial scarcity upon student writing that helps to firmly anchor it as a commodity with economic exchange value. (This follows from Bruce Horner’s attention to the Marxian difference between the use value of student writing and the exchange value of student writing.)
  3. Writing is produced by economically valuable student labor.
  4. Under the neoclassical economic model, students’ upward class mobility is predicated upon their becoming more productive writers/knowledge-workers. (Note that what neoclassical economists call “increased productivity,” Marxian economists call an increased rate of exploitation.)
  5. Just as there is more than one definition of “class,” there is more than one definition of “class mobility,” although both terms bear unavoidable economic implications.
  6. While some associated with the FLOSS movement offer the dictum “free as in speech, not free as in beer” to help others understand the goals of the movement, it should be noted that both senses of the term “free” — gratis and libre — bear economic implications, particularly when understood in relation to the concept of ownership.

So that’s what I’ve been working through lately — it’s also, in very condensed form, the groundwork for my dissertation’s Chapter 5. Which of those, to you, seem to demand the most proof; what have I left out — and what implications are you seeing that I’m missing?

More on the Party Line

I was dismayed to see that Charlie characterized my response yesterday to his and Clancy’s posts as “fisking”, since my intent was only to say that (1) I don’t like the “party line” approach which suggests, as Charlie and Clancy do, that those who fail to use open-source software aren’t doing enough to support the open source movement, and (2) I think the finger-pointing that Charlie and Clancy have done is counterproductive, in that — as Cindy points out in her comment — it’ll alienate those who are already on your side, without gaining any converts. I intended towards Charlie and Clancy none of the hostility characteristic of fisking, since I like and admire both of them a lot and am ideologically in agreement with them on the positive points of the open-source movement. My post yesterday expressed disagreement only with the “party line” position that I saw Charlie and Clancy as taking in their finger-pointing, rather than the point-by-point deconstruction characteristic of fisking. And I completely agree with Charlie’s point “that copyfighters use of open source software could be better represented than it is”: in fact, this seems to me to be practically a given, which is why I didn’t engage with it.

Furthermore, I’ll completely agree with Charlie that individual rhetorical practice contributes to building one’s ethos as a teacher, and am happy to say, with Charlie, “Open source software use should be better represented in the copyfighters’ area of the blogosphere. Use provides positive example to others.”
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Open Source Party Line

I don’t buy the analogy Charlie poses, where we ought to “Imagine if all the active members of Greenpeace drove Ford Expeditions and Chevy Tahoes and failed to recycle any of their paper, plastic, and aluminum goods”: for one thing, the “all” in that quotation is a nifty little argumentative slip. Charlie also supposes in his example that all of the goals of Greenpeace members are identical (again, the party line), yet I wonder how he’d feel about a hypothetical Icelandic head of state who drove an SUV and refused to recycle yet passed legislation permanently outlawing the hunting of Minke whales. Political positions are not all-or-nothing.
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The wiki died, and I don’t know why. I think I might have misconfigured the directories.

You know what’s most intimidating about installing these things? The documentation is absolute crap, and I went with OddMuse because it seemed the easiest of the bunch. Programmers need to learn how to write. I don’t know what went wrong, or I’d rewrite the documentation. But John and Chris — thanks for contributing. I’ll do my best to get it up and running again as soon as I can.

Dammit. Maybe Perl and Unix are easy for some, but I’m not that skilled. That’s a lot of brain-work gone.

Wiki Up

Hey! I got it up and running, all by myself!

The ‘it’ in question is the wiki I was talking about here and here, as a means to start exploring the ways open source practices might work in the first year composition classroom. So the wiki, which I’ve rather pompously titled the Open Writing Classroom, is at Right now, content is negligible — I was happy just to figure out how to make it work — and so I’ll be trying to add to it over the next few days. I hope you’ll feel free to dive in and play around and make whatever changes, additions, or improvements you like, if you’re so inclined. I was serious with that suggestion about trying to have one product of this project be a collaboratively-authored essay detailing any conclusions at which we might arrive, to be submitted to an academic journal.

Call and Response

I started typing this up as a response to the kind writers who responded to my call for collaboration, but it’s become sufficiently involved that it merits a post of its own. Here goes.

First off, Derek really pushes my thinking further in his first paragraph, to the point where I’m like: yes, this can work; let’s see how far we can take this. The only real experience with anything similar to what I’m suggesting has been much like John’s, in a creative writing seminar where part of the class, exhilaratingly, co-created a story via e-mail; a story where even the failed attempts, questions, and asides were incorporated and rewritten into the action. But in this sense, what I’m proposing goes far beyond the universal syllabus John suggests, and while first year composition tends (like pornography) to be fairly recognizable when one sees it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t vary widely from institution to institution: in fact, both the syllabus and the texts produced at the institution where I got my MFA differed radically from the syllabus and the texts produced at my current institution.
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