15 August 2009

Customers Who Bought this book....

Hmmm...I wonder what the connection is between queer theory/television studies and 20th century visual culture in India???

Click the image for a bigger version:

09 August 2009

The Open Source Textbook

Reading this morning in the on-line NYT:
“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

Let's unpack this. Because my stodgy, textbook-based education enables me to do so:

multitask: do many things at once. unable to concentrate on one thing at a time.
transpose: mix things up, confuse one thing for another
extrapolate: make things up. unable to understand the difference between productive synthesis and fiction
knowledge as infinite: too much information. therefore, I don't need to know any of it at all. also: I can make it up because it's infinite and therefore also undefined/undefinable, limitlessly expandable.

I actually think that wiki-style knowledge production is fascinating and potentially productive. I'm in favor of using wikis in the classroom to help students build their knowledge and understand how synthesis (not transposition or extrapolation) works. But anyone who has done a google for a subject slightly outside of the mainstream will find multiple sources cut-and-pasted from the same place (with no record of which source the initial text comes from). This repetition also takes place in textbooks, to be sure. But the responsibility of the authors who write the textbooks, the peer reviewers who approve them, and the publishers that oversee these processes means that experts contribute, whether directly as authors or editors, or through reference to their latest research. Textbooks are a limited number of steps away from the archaeologist at a new dig in central America or the physicist working at the new supercollider. In the face of infinite knowledge production (read: making crap up as much as you want because you read it online somewhere), I worry that education will go the way of journalism: a bunch of folks, repeating the same memes in blogs and calling it knowledge.

Textbooks are boring to read--I get that. And they're expensive. But shouldn't we try instead to provide incentives for experts in their fields to work in schools as teachers? For those same folks to develop new materials to teach with? Shouldn't part of schooling be to learn how to think differently than one "wants to" or is comfortable with? Breaking old patterns--patterns encouraged by quick cut, advertising-driven media--and developing skills that might enable, say, reading a book (and not just Harry Potter) from beginning to end? Maybe a book that at first you don't immediately "get"? That doesn't immediately "hook" you with snappy dialogue written for a movie? (It could be a short book! Or a play!)

And finally (for the rant is now getting out of control): textbooks are a site of great political strife and contestation. This is important, because knowledge is never neutral. But we do, like journalists of yore, need to struggle to maintain our integrity as knowledge-producers, even in the face of economic and political pressure to do otherwise. Once we move this to an "open" platform, how do we understand, say, the problematic, religified terrain of geologic time? Or the history of Christianity itself? Or pick any war history, any history of partitioning of peoples, any colonial past. Will we be subject to the mob's decision on these things?

Am I misunderestimating the power of the collective wiki??

05 August 2009

Shop Movies

Our current home, in the workshop of F's uncle, has a number of advantages. Big-screen TV is not one of them, and yet we are watching films, in the spirit of mtg and tg, on our laptop, seated at the only table in the place. This is largely due to the lovely public library in town--they have a good, surprisingly wide ranging and eclectic contemporary film collection on DVD (including a whole batch of Brazilian indie films I haven't even brought up with F as a possibility, but there you are). We have watched several films, and if you know us, you know that we are trepidatious about watching film because we tend to, well, dislike in the extreme and/or have such scathing critical analyses afterwards that in fact we reduce said film into a puddle of ooze, and said discussion is summarized to others with a grunt and a "meh". So, herewith the 5p film reviews of the works we've seen thus far:

W: OMG boring. maybe this film was made for the generation after us that didn't live through this? was it supposed to be funny? why did I find myself offended at the thin/stupid/silent portrayal of Condi Rice? Yikes.

I've Loved you So Long: see it. amazingly well-acted, written, directed, and not as French as you worry it will be. we found the ending to be a cop-out, but hey, we are constitutionally unable to like any film wholeheartedly. Kristin Scott Thomas is amazing; Elsa Zylberstein is utterly transcendent.

Capote: F didn't like Capote himself--that is, he thought Capote was a bit of a twat. which he was, so the movie did a good job there. the film fell short of offering up an arc of: wow this guy is conceited---look how he has a crisis---look how he's fallen... because frankly, you don't really like him anyway, and he's never not conceited. the acting was good, but in a "I'm supposed to think this acting is good" sort of a way. I wanted it to be about Harper Lee instead, but whatever.

King Corn: very well put together, small documentary about corn. See it if you've driven through Iowa (or similar) and wondered who eats all that corn, anyway, in order to discover the horror that is our food system from a slightly different perspective. props for not going all Michael Moore on us.

03 August 2009

photography books

I finished Richard Powers' Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance, based on an August Sander photograph from just before WWI (see Getty collection). It goes without saying really, that it is a wonderful book--in part he does what I do for a living (close readings of photographs/images etc.) but since he's a novelist he gets to spin out the stories he sees in the work. What's wonderful about the book is that he gets photography: photographs are stories, are histories, are moments that spin out both backwards and forwards in time, producing an eerie simultaneity.

I thought, therefore: wouldn't it be fabulous to teach a course on photography through novels? Three Farmers, of course, and then also Rushdie's Ground Beneath Her Feet, which despite being about music was also, at base, about a photograph, its photographer, and immortality. Other suggestions?