"Literacy after the Revolution." CCC 48.1 (1997): 30-43.
In this CCCC chair’s address from 1996, Lester Faigley speaks to the moment
of the mid-1990’s as a stark contrast to the moments (involving social
conditions) of the 1960s and 70s that gave rise to composition studies.
Sizing up composition against the historical moment in which it was more
"favored," Faigley points out the discipline’s changing status. More to
the point, Faigley is concerned with two counterpart revolutions: a
revolution of the rich and a digital revolution. Both revolutions are
interlaced, and they have major implications for composition studies.
The first concerns a changing political economy and related issues of a
redistribution of wealth, layoffs, economic depression, trends toward a global
economy (300-301), downsizing, and trust on the "invisible hand of the
unregulated market" (302).
With the second revolution, Faigley’s talk becomes anticipatory,
predicting the coming of the Internet as a force to have a major impact on
higher education. He names the "new literacy" of digital communications
technologies, and notes that students often already know these technologies
well beyond the scope of our limited encounters with them in our composition
curricula (he gives a nod to the curriculum at Texas): "I do not foresee
colleges and universities remaining unaffected by these developments for long"
(306). Faigley also says we should reserve judgment about the Internet
being good or bad, and we should recognize the overlap of online
communications and "significant public issues" (303). He is
especially concerned about the Internet’s role in social movements (307),
and he builds toward the realities of limited access (307).
Throughout, Faigley invokes metaphors related to water: wave, rip tide,
"swimming against the current" (302), tides. Given the new literacies involved
with technological change, he mentions the possible decline of the essay (308).
The outlook for composition is favorable, Faigley says, because "we are not tied
to narrow disciplinary turf" (309), "we can cut across traditional disciplinary
boundaries" (309), and "the need for what we teach will only increase" (309).
But he follows with a set of concerns in these three questions:
- Can we do anything to stop the decline in publicly supported education?
- Can we promote a literacy that challenges monopolies of knowledge and
- Can we use technology to lessen rather than widen social divisions?
To end the address, he invokes Berlin’s Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures
and also echoes the network concepts in Lloyd-Jones by reiterating the
importance of working together as opposed to working along.
"Most disappointing, the discipline’s success has not influenced institutions
to improve the working conditions of many teachers of writing" (300).
"I’m going to talk today about how larger forces of change affect how
we see ourselves and what we do. These changes are of such a magnitude that they
have been labeled revolutions–one a technological transformation called the
digital revolution and the other an economic, social, and political
transformation called the revolution of the rich." (300).
"Today no one is calling for taxes to ameliorate poverty on money earned by
speculation. Instead government is identified with bureaucracy,
inefficiency, and waste" (301).
"The revolution of the rich has been facilitated by another related
revolution–the digital revolution of electronic communications technologies"
"But as personal computers become enormously powerful in memory and speed,
they began to challenge the unproblematic relationship between
familiar pedagogy and new technology" (303).
"The ingenious solution was to flatten communications hierarchy,
making every node equivalent so that the loss of any one node would not collapse
the system" (304).
"We as teachers have little control over who gains access to higher
education and even less control over who gains access to the Internet"
- Related sources:
- Berlin, James A. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures. Urbana: NCTE,
- Birkets, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an
Electronic Age. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1994.
- Hairston, Maxine C. "Breaking Our Bonds and Reaffirming Our Connections."
CCC 36 (1985): 272-82.