Saturday, July 22, 2006

connectivity and the oh-no second

You're probably heard the joke as often as I have.

"What's the complement to the nanosecond it takes for your email message to make it from your keyboard to the screen of your intended recipient?"

"The oh-no second. That's the moment you realize you should never have sent that damn electronic message. What could you have been thinking?"

I've been considering this current anecdote lately because I've recently received a number of emails in which the sender wishes to comment on one or another of the blog entries I've written, but does not want his or her responses made 'public' by posting them as a 'comment' on a given blog entry. So instead they send their responses as emails to me.

Now this is fine with me. I'm just like anyone else in this. I like to get email from friends, especially emails that respond favorably to something I've written. I enjoy reading these responses and I try to be as conscientious as possible in responding, recipient to sender, to each and every one of them.

But it's made me realize a bit more sharply just how potentially radical a departure blogging represents, how interestingly different from more 'traditional' forms of electronic communication.

Now all this is quite surprising, given that electronic communication in any form at all is still so new, still so inchoate as a means through which we're all beginning to discover our 'expressive potential,' as the personal growth people like to put it. Why might it be that this new mode of communicating with each other has already developed such an interesting and distinct sub-group, with one camp of internet users using the internet for email only and the other using the world wide web not only for for email but also for 'hosting' and reading blogs (see "first some facts" in my blog post of two days ago)?

I think the answer lies partly in individual temperament, since blog readers and blog writers span such a wide range in age and cultural backgrounds. Blog writers in particular also seem to be balanced about equally between males and females.

But might the answer also lie in what we envision as the significance and 'place' of our writing in relation to our larger world? Teachers in particular have become accustomed to doing their jobs within what many have defined as a "worker-supervisor" environment. The idea behind such an arrangement is that the higher paid supervisors are supposed to be held accountable for the productivity of the lower paid workers. It's an idea that originated in this country between the two world wars, when it was believed that the only people who would be willing to teach the 'unwashed masses,' most from southern Europe and most poorly educated, would themselves be upwardly mobile young woman from those same immigrant classes (see A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century [1986] for one of the better accunts of this history; this report, prepared by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, led directly to the creation of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, still very much alive and kicking today. (see ERIC report)

This was why teacher training institutions like San Jose State Normal School were created, of course, and this was also why it was so important for those supervisor level administrators and teacher trainers to establish 'norms' for what students at different ages and in different subject areas would be expected to know and be able to do. Without these norms, how would these poorly educated but upwardly mobile young woman who were teaching these unwashed masses know what to teach?

Of course the idea was preposterous from the beginning. What young immigrant, male or female, would choose to enter the field of teaching when they would 'soon' be able, historically speaking, to enter the field of investment banking? Teachers tend to be drawn from a highly self-selecting sub-group of the population, and the economic backgrounds from which they come, in my experience, vary across the entire income landscape. What they share, not surprisingly, is a conviction that one's income level is not the most important determiner of the value of one's labor.

But there has been one unfortunate consequence of this historical legacy of being employed within a "field" that was defined by this worker-supervisor model. Teachers have grown accustomed to not being heard, not being listened to in matters of both their own working conditions and even, more surprisingly, in matters concerning what makes their classrooms condusive environments for learning. Teachers have become very good at griping and grumbling, at teaching effectively behind closed doors, at coping. They have not become good at formulating clear and convincing arguments for creating more conducive learning environments for their students. In a word, teachers have grown resigned to a sort of learned helplessness--they do not believe they can be convincing advocates for their teaching practices or their working environments at either a local or district level.

Now I'm going to suggest, of course, that blogging has the potential of changing all that. It gives us as teachers a little bully pulpit, a chance to try out our wings in the arena of public advocacy without having to be on a first name basis with the chair of our local school board. It allows us to hone our advocacy talents in a relatively safe environment, with just enough 'edge' to make us realize the potential consequence of what we write but none of the inconvenience of having to figure out just what length and tone of letter is likely to make it into the "letters to the editor" column of our local newspaper.

And what I say is, let's begin.

1 comment:

Donna Emerson said...


I think it is a testament to the power of your blogs that people feel they need to respond, albeit in a private mode. I feel that need too. I agree that teachers have an obligation to speak up. “There are no victims, only volunteers.” Unless we continue to voice our concerns; we are saying, in effect, that everything is OK. A tradition of compliance has made the task even harder. I like that you have taken the positive route in giving a possible solution.