Sunday, February 24, 2013

Michael Wesch-From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able---Reflection

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny, and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.-Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury”

I’ve chosen to begin with this particular epigraph, an excerpt from Audre Lorde’sPoetry is Not a Luxury” because I feel it details, in a wondrously poetic fashion, some of the framework that I will be working from and the perspective I am critiquing the Wesch text through. Hopefully as you read this post you will more clearly understand why I’ve chosen this particular Lorde excerpt, but if anything is unclear in my choice of quotes or anything I bring up throughout this post then please feel free to ask for clarification and shoot me questions in the comment section.

Michael Wesch
            In “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments” Michael Wesch discusses the ways in which the predominant current teaching methods are no longer apropos given the new technological age that we are currently living in. He posits that the current teaching methods, and the classrooms themselves, are:
built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher…the ‘message’ of this environment is that to learn is to acquire information, that information is scarce and hard to find (that’s why you have to come to this room to get it), that you should trust authority for good information, and that good information is beyond discussion. In short, it tells students to trust authority and follow along (1).

He goes on to note that the new digital age has given people the ability to access knowledge in a new way. In this new way of accessing knowledge they are not simply taking in information that an authority figure is spewing at them but rather they are directly engaging with the information; they are aiding in its creation, its delivery, and everything in between. He argues that knowledge, as it stands now, is not something that can simply be fed to an individual, it is something that must constantly be interacted with and in order to keep up with the way that the digital age has allowed students to engage with information classrooms and teachers must change up their stale authoritarian routine and find ways to “move [their students] from being simply knowledgeable to being knowledge-able” (1). This means that they need to learn how to truly engage with the material, they must be able to critically look at texts and analyze them, not simply memorize ‘important’ facts and reiterate said facts when an exam comes along.
            Now, just because I am able to summarize his general argument (at least in the way that I read the text) does not mean that I completely agree with the points that he uses. There were a few moments when I had to disagree with his statements, and other moments where I felt he was simply not delving deep enough.
            Given that Wesch chooses to use the language of revolution, it is disappointing that he doesn’t really deliver a deeper analysis of some of the systems that he rails against and for. One of the dominant discourses of society is that of Individualism. As the State has gotten more powerful it has worked to eradicate a sense of community and collectivism amongst people (this is clearly an attempt to stifle resistance, for no resistance can occur if people cannot develop a collective consciousness). This idea of individualism and submissiveness (to the State and those who represent the state i.e: Authority) is taught to us in many ways and settings, and one of those settings is within the classroom. Wesch notes that the current teaching methods often rely on the educator being seen as the authority figure and that all of the students must follow the instructions of said authority figure very closely. Lecture style classrooms do not breed community, they breed submission and regurgitated thinking (regurgitated thinking: we spit back out the same thought/ideas/lessons that we take in. The delivery will more than likely be in a different order from the original thought digested but the content will be exactly the same). Wesch states that the “Web 2.0” breeds a “spirit of interactivity, participation, and collaboration” (1) and that new model classrooms and teaching styles should invoke the same spirit. Doing so fosters community; it fosters connections between students with their peers and their professor. It allows knowledge and information to seem more dynamic instead of static and stagnant. The current teaching methods simply reenact the same dominator/dominated; authority/submissive narrative. In order to have a social resistance, whether it is within the classroom or beyond it, we need to advance beyond the current methods into something that creates a new, more revolutionary, narrative.
            Throughout the reading I took issue with Wesch's assertion that within new media we are able to be “creators” of information, he states this first when he talks about bloggers crating information (2). I have to strongly disagree with that. We, as bloggers or writers, are not creating information. We are vessels for information. Blogging has simply given us a new way to share said information that we have within ourselves with others. Yes, perhaps we are providing this information in a new way, but I would be hesitant to say we are “creating” it. We are simply furthering the path of information. What we are creating…what we are producing…is thought. Thought based on the information that we have collected, but we are not creating information itself. We are compiling the information and turning it into something. On a similar note, I did not appreciate Wesch’s argument that “our old assumption that information is hard to find, is trumped by the realization that if we set up our hyper-network effectively, information can find us” (2). He then goes on to use an example of a web app that I have never heard of, which feeds into my opinion that his argument comes from a place of privilege. I could make the argument that within academia there is SO much information, it seems limitless and like it is constantly coming at me. However, to say that statement and that statement alone would be ignoring the fact that academic information is hard to find for some people. Web information, even with the ubiquity if the internet, can be hard to find. Some people do not know what to look for, where to explore, or what to explore. The question becomes: How do we share our knowledge with a wider audience? Simply putting it online is not enough. How do we cultivate the appropriate audience? What even is the appropriate audience? If we limit it to fellow academics like ourselves then are we simply moving the traditional classroom onto the internet? And if we choose to broaden our audience base how do we ensure that we get as many people as we can, and how do we guarantee that we are actively engaging with them?
            A bit later Wesch discusses the idea of the “crisis of significance”. He states that we need to “bring relevance back to education” (2). I would argue that we would first have to define what education is. And this is not only the job of the educator but also the job of the person being ‘educated’. Why do they want to be ‘educated’? What do they see ‘education’ as? What is the goal of their ‘education’? For me, education for liberation is my goal. Therefore, the types of knowledge that catch my attention are most of the things that I can find applicable to resistance, resistance mobilizations/theory, forms of resistance, and foundational to revolutionary action. This framework makes many concepts quite significant, even if it doesn't seem so at first. To use this class as an example, learning about media as a medium for ideology is critical for me, as I must be able to see all of the ways that the ruling/dominant class works to manipulate and further repress others. If I cannot see how they are working against us, how could I possible begin to address ways in which to dismantle the system/structure? I think that it is our duties as students, as active engagers with knowledge, to question what our guiding framework is and what our goal is. Are you simply learning in order to eventually get a career? If so, why is that? What has taught you that in order to be ‘complete’ you need to learn things that may mean nothing to you in order to be in a job that also may mean nothing to you in order to earn a paycheck? There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, what’s wrong (or perhaps "problematic" would be a better word) is following a narrative that has been written for you without ever stopping to question what the narrative is and why you feel the need to follow it. We must all develop a working framework for how we seek and ingest knowledge/information.
            Because this post is plenty long enough I will attempt to wrap it up by addressing Wesch’s “Not Subjects but Subjectivities” section while incorporating another quote from the magnificent Audre Lorde. This is, perhaps, the section that I had the least complaints about (other than my overarching complaint that Wesch does not delve as deeply into some of these concepts as he could/should). Wesch states that “learning a new subjectivity [ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world] is often painful…You have to unlearn perspectives that may have become central to your sense of self” (3). How could I note read this as “DECOLONIZE/LIBERATE YOUR MIND!”?? Our knowledge, our current subjectivity, is not our own. It is the dominant society’s knowledge/subjectivity. We are often taught frameworks that do not allow us to further analyze our surroundings, at least not in ways that would allow us to truly QUESTION, TRANSFORM, and RESIST. At the end of her poem But What Can You Teach My Daughter Lorde states that “even my daughter…knows/what you know/can hurt/but what you do/not know/can kill”. We need to teach that! This should be our working framework! If this were our framework then would we not all be interested in gathering as much knowledge as possible and engaging with it as much as we can? If we acknowledged the fact that the knowledge that we allow to slip through our fingers could prove fatal (be it literally or metaphorically in the sense of social or civic death), then we would try our hardest to take in as much as we could, and not only that, but we would try to understand it and work with it to the best of our abilities? And with the more knowledge that we take in, the more that we develop our working frameworks for life/knowledge-gathering, the more successful we will be at dismantling the system that works to oppress/repress/suppress us!

To try and put my questions and comments into one section would be impossible! My questions for the class are strewn throughout this post. I suppose my biggest question(s) for the class would be: what is your guiding framework for knowledge-intake? What is your goal when it comes to education? How often do you question the goals that you have that seem to be natural to you?

And, because I love this poem so darn much, I will end this post with it.

But What Can You Teach My Daughter
What do you mean
no no no no
you don’t have the right
to know
how often
have we built each other
as shelters
against the cold
and even my daughter knows
what you know
can hurt you
she says her nos
and it hurts
she says
when she talks of liberation
she means freedom
from that pain
she knows
what you know
can hurt
but what you do
not know
can kill.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.
Lorde, Audre. "Poetry Is Not a Luxury." Power, Oppression and the Politics of Culture: A Lesbian/Feminist Perspective. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
Wesch, Michael. "From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments." Academic Commons. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.

First image found here
Second image found here
Third image found here


  1. I agree generally with your critique that bloggers are vessels and not creators- except what if bloggers are first vessels and then those posts, writings etc presented for public consumption are edited or dissected and re-pieced and then become part of something larger? What happens if the discourse changes as a result? Are they then creators? Or are those the same vessels?
    Thoughtful critique

    1. I think your questions are somewhat addressed when I note that while bloggers and others like them may not be creators of information, they can be producers of thought (and that thought is made up of information they have taken in). "We are compiling the information and turning it into something.". So those that read our posts are then compiling the information they've read, edit/dissect/re-piece/what-have-you and are producing 'new' thought but still with information they've taken in.

      The person who goes out into a community, interviews people in the community and does an ethnographic study and then goes and writes a paper may produce a 'new' theory or 'new' ideas but they are in no way "creating" information.

      My issue with Wesch could be a simple matter of semantics. But, for clarification I find it important to note that by calling these people vessels I'm not saying they are completely unoriginal and that we can never be creators/producers. I simply do not believe 'bloggers', as Wesch states, can be creators of information. They produce thought, but they don't create information.

  2. first off, your page is lovely and second i love the poem you posted