Category Archives: rhetoric

Speaking With Clarity and Purpose

As I browsed Feedly today, I came across two blog posts about the words we use. Brad Currie pushes back on those who would discourage educators from using buzzwords. Peter DeWitt, meanwhile, names 10 educational words that should be banished. Ironically, I can’t tell you what those words are except that one is technology, because DeWitt’s list is now hidden from me behind the EdWeek paywall.

I come down on the side of letting people speak, and Currie makes an interesting argument around using buzzwords:

Last I checked people have the freedom to say what they want, when they want, and how they want. If educators are committed to taking risks and evolving over time, then they should be allowed to use whatever words, phrases, paragraphs, etc they want.

The important point here is that using buzzwords is acceptable as long as we are using them to move forward. So, if you’re a principal or superintendent who calls yourself a “lead learner” then you should walk the walk of a lead learner.

From what I remember, DeWitt suggests banishing the word “technology” because it continues to make it seem as though technology is an add-on. I don’t disagree, but I think  instead of banishing the word, how about asking educators to be more clear about why and how they are using technology. Are they fostering collaboration through the use of Google docs? Or encouraging creativity by integrating a tool like Animoto? We can use the word to foster clarity about the use of technology as it supports pedagogy.

Also, I think DeWitt is overlooking the fact that, for many of our schools, technology is not so ubiquitous that it can become invisible. Sadly, technology use is often still a novelty, something of comment, as teachers sign out carts to bring into their classrooms or line up their classes to head to computer labs.

So, rather than banishing words, let’s take Currie’s approach and allow their use as long as we are more clear about their meanings for us and how they inform our work as educators.



Just An Old Curmudgeon

Lately, as I’ve followed the conversations about teaching and learning in the 21st century, I find myself increasingly taking a negative stance. It may just be my natural need to be the devil’s advocate, but I think it’s also a frustration with black and white rhetoric in which old is bad, new is good, ALL teachers are luddites who are stuck in their ways, EVERYONE should have an online professional learning network, and the ONLY way to teach is through project-based, student-centered learning. I could go on but I think you get the picture.

The irony, of course, is that I am a denizen of the digital world with an extensive online PLN, and I have adopted project-base learning methods in the courses I teach believing it is the best way for my students to engage with the content in my course.

So, what’s the problem? Why won’t I jump on the 21st century bandwagon? I think the main reason is that, as I complete my 5th decade on this planet, the biggest lesson I have learned is that the words “always,” “never,” “all,” and “none” are simply not useful. Our propensity towards polls and statistics and nice, neat charts tends to blind us to the infinite variety of experiences that exist in the world. We want to be able to make our case for the best way to live, work, teach and learn, and gray is not the appropriate color to use when we paint that picture.

It’s summed up simply in that old saying, “There’s an exception to every rule.” So, while I don’t lecture, I have known some wonderful lecturers in my day whose words have stuck with me over decades. And while I find it comfortable to engage with community online, I understand that others prefer to be in the same room. In my own realm, I was an early adopter of electronic books but I am also, even as I write this post, surrounded by thousands of books and have no intention of abandoning that habit. I guess my preference is to focus on the exception rather than the rule.

Or maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon.

Looking At: The Art of Calligraphy

My parents run the second-hand shops at their retirement community and are often passing along interesting items. For Easter, they gave us a tackle box (for my husband) and I got all the calligraphy pens that they found in the box. A big pile. And tonight I decided to try out some of the pens. I have beautiful bottles of a dozen different colors of ink. So, while I listen to all the tracks in iTunes that are named “Track 1” etc, I am going to fool around with calligraphy.

This would normally not really be the stuff of blogging for me except that I had the big revelation when I googled “calligraphy.” I found a terrific article by Julian Waters at the Calligrapher’s Guild: Calligraphy, Lettering and Typefaces. He quotes Chinese calligrapher Wang Hsi-chih: “Writing needs meaning, whereas calligraphy expresses itself above all through forms and gestures. It elevates the soul and illuminates the feelings.” Calligraphy is really a forerunner of electronic text that invites us to look at it rather than through it to the meaning. It enhances the meaning but also appeals to the viewer in its own right. It’s funny to stumble upon rhetoric in this way. There’s the toggle that boggles the mind, being able to look at and through. A little theoretical twist to my artist’s date!


As I conduct my content analysis of media literacy definitions, I think I’ll start with Richard Lanham. In The Electronic Word, he points to rhetoric as the appropriate field of study in this era of the network: “This revival of our traditional paideia includes those parts of contemporary literary criticism and cultural studies which have rediscovered that all arguments are constructed with a purpose, to serve an interest–a rediscovery symbolized by Terry Eagleton’s reflection, at the end of his literary-theory survey, that we might as well call the whole subject ‘Rhetoric.'”

Continue reading Rhetoric

Making Connections

Haven’t posted for awhile. I took a vacation last week and mostly just read including Margaret Mackey’s Literacies Across Media. It was a report of her research into how children interact with various media from printed texts to video to computer games. One of her conclusions is that students don’t seem to prefer one medium over another. Instead, they have ideas about how media and content relate to each other. For instance, they don’t like the e-books, feeling instead that books are a more appropriate format for printed text. (Can’t curl up with a computer, they suggest.)

I am particularly interested in her work with video games. How are students learning when they play a game? What kind of critical thinking skills are at work? Do they use/learn content knowledge?

I think in terms of research I am also interested in trying to define media literacy skills and see if/how they are being implemented in contemporary classrooms.

So, the connection that I made was that media literacy is really just an updated term for rhetoric, both studying the “texts” that others have created as well as creating on your own. Media replaces printed text, a broader word that takes into account the new ways in which we can share and archive information. But this new media rhetoric also takes into account a widening of access so creators can become as prevelant as consumers. We can speak up, speak back, speak out, in ways that simply weren’t available even a decade ago. It is a new rhetorical universe–postmodern, postdisciplinary, postelitist–in which we learn to question every word and image, learn to look for manipulation even from journalists and scientists, who claim objectivity. Because we all have access to the tools of representation, we understand how these tools can be used to misrepresent. Yet, the irony is that everything we see, hear, read are representations. There is nothing pure, nothing sacred, nothing that can escape representation. And with that representation must, in this subjective world in which we live, come interpretation from both creator and viewer. There is no single message that exists beyond those interpretations.