Friday, March 10, 2017

Reflective Essay #1 EDC534

When I consider the many concepts and skills we are exploring in Digital Authorship EDC#534 at URI this Spring, I am most drawn to wanting to summarize, analyze and synthesize the following concepts:  Lange’s notion of representational ideologies and Hobbs’  identification of digital representation and the nature of digital transgressions.

1st They Say:  Lange (p. 157)
In a world where images proliferate, the stakes of making personal media are high.  That images remain online with the potential to circulate indefinitely presents problems.  People often fear the "nightmare reader" (Marwick and Boyd 2011:125-126)or unintended viewer such as a relative, teacher or employer who exercises judgments that may negatively impact one's future.

1st I Say:

As Lange opens the chapter of her book on representational ideologies I can see that her concerns about representation have direct correlation to my role as educator within the Church specifically as one who teaches about the Church.  Lange explains how the individual must take the responsibility for portraying his or her family with some degree of accuracy when engaging in autobiographical media. This reinforces for me that teaching tenth grade boys about the history, nature and context of the Catholic is indeed an art and science sometimes being performed on intellectual tightrope.    I love teaching about the Catholic Church and its rich tradition and complex past and I have a feeling that I have a pretty good sense of my audience of sophomore students.  So I know that to this end I cannot (nor would I want to)  demonize various Protestants or the Eastern Orthodox Church,that is  the larger ecumenical family,  in order to achieve these goals.  My theological education was at mainline Protestant divinity school and I studied, happily, side by side with persons from dozens of communions and denominations.  Yet I have been a lifelong Roman Catholic and so I need to acknowledge my fears that I could have nightmare readers on both sides of my life.   I do not want to be in the classroom, online or anywhere else, appearing to be a snobbish, parochial Roman Catholic triumphalist in the eyes of my many and dear Protestant friends but with having the education I just described, neither do I want to appear to be a liberal relativist (which in Church lingo is sometimes called a modernist), which is not true to who I am either.   I sometimes joke, but with a touch of keen serious defensiveness, that I am an arch-moderate, trying to live my life and religious identity with a sense of balance.

2nd They say: Lange continues (p. 158) , “The concept of representational ideologies emerges from a tradition of scholarly reflection on who beliefs about communication and media intertwine with behavioral norms and values in a social group.  In this context, ideologies are sets of beliefs that motivate action and promote particular socio-cultural hierarchies.  Representational ideologies draw from the concept of media ideologies (Gershon 2010a), a term that owes its legacy to scholarship on linguistic and semiotic ideologies...In other words, ways of speaking have a deeply normative, moral associations about what is considered right or wrong for members of particular groups.”  

2nd I Say:  In my role as a teacher of the Roman Catholic tradition I cannot deny that Lange’s explanation of representational ideologies can be readily seen in the structures and the articulated behavioral norms manifested in the Catholic Church.  There is no hiding that the Church has a socio-cultural hierarchy.  Similarly, The Catholic communion no doubt has “deeply normative, moral associations... for members.”   It’s conservatism in these moral prescriptions relative to modern dominant American culture places at the opposite spectrum from that culture, only less stringent than a small number of other conservative or anti-modernist faiths like Orthodox Judaism, Latter Day Saints and a certain niche of Evangelical Protestants.  

My concern about Lange’s assessment of representational ideologies is that it seems inescapable in scope.   While I think she’s correct that we have to account for the fact that any articulated political, religious or economic system has a center of power and boundary for inclusion or exclusion, to what extent then is any communication not propaganda?  More broadly, was Al Franken right in 2006 when stating that there is a legitimate valid distinction between ideology and philosophy.   If he is right that there is a valid distinction and that ideology is rigid and philosophy is open ended I think Lange’s articulation of representational ideologies needs more qualifiers as it gives me the impression that we are all perpetually entrapped within systems.   I would like to offer two examples, one practical and one conceptual, but both media oriented,  that demonstrate that having a philosophy is part of the Catholic tradition embedded within the larger ideology.    
After the commencement of the pontificate of Benedict XVI in 2005, there has been in the USA and at the Vatican an attempt to investigate the work, mission and agenda  of the LCWR, The Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States.   This has culminated in conclusions made during the pontificate of Pope Francis.   Throughout these proceedings the questions have included ideas such as, do women religious (commonly referred to as sisters or nuns) in the United States emphasize the full scope of the moral teachings of the Church in their apostolate(religious activity and ministry as lay women in the Church)?  Do they promote an ideology of feminism at odds with doctrinal teachings of the Church regarding the complementarity of humans as male and female? And a number of other questions.   So the representation ideology is indeed about the consistency and coherence of members of the Church having a united front in relationship to a secular world.  Yet at the same time this investigation, its precursors and outcomes reveal a more complex picture on what is ideologically acceptable and allows breathing room for philosophical diversity.  For women religious in the United States there has existed since 1992 two leadership conferences to which the leadership of congregations (religious orders) can collaborate and associate.   The older of the two, the LCWR, is the one that would be considered the progressive or liberal one and the newer is, the  Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), is the more traditional or conservative one.  In the intervening period before investigations started, their co-existence seems to be a gift to the life of the Church in that these diverse approaches to religious life create  opportunities for community and service for women of a billion member strong world religion.   I find that such a diversity makes it incumbent upon me as a teacher of the tradition to expose my students to both the lives of St. Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) and Sr. Dorothy Stang (1931-2005).

3rd They Say:  From Renee Hobb’s Teaching about Transgressions lecture (3/6/2017)

Called the Scary Maze Game...out comes a a scary face and he freaks out...
And it turns out in that sharing of feelings emerges a discussion of representational ethics about what are the obligations between the filmaker or the digital author and the person who is being depicted and the audience... consent, free will, intentionality, consequences, social good and spectatorship...

3rd I Say:   As I lesson planner I am an author.   As a teacher in the classroom I am an audience member when we watch something together.   (I rarely can grade papers in the back of the room even if it is the fourth time I’ve seen a video as I want to be attentive to what unfolds in the viewing by that section of students.)   As the teacher who is challenged I am sometimes the subject.    I want to uphold the dignity of my students and preserve the common good of my students.   But I want to prank them occasionally.  I could rephrase that and say that I provide them with an awakening experience as described in the lesson planning format of David Lazear…

...So the past few years I have pranked my classes when we talk about the new organization some of them join, Young Men for Change, which seeks to raise consciousness about personal decision making and redefining masculinity.    I talk to them about why it is important to be truly invested in such an organization if they choose to join and not just take the path of least resistance and buy a T-shirt with the logo of that organization.    I tell them this after we watch first the 2012 Justice Collective video.  It is a British charity single covering the Hollie’s He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother that the performers have recorded as they seek to help redress the injustice that lingers from 1989 Hillsborough disaster in England when ninety six people were crushed to death in a football stadium because of improper crowd control and management.  Right after they see that “good cause” video, I show them Africa for Norway by Radi-Aid, a fictional group actually made by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund.  Once students watch that I ask if they also want to get involved with this good cause of sending radiators to Norway to help those cold people just as some of the Africans have done in the video.   Eventually the conversation progresses to the point at which we have to talk about why Radi-Aid is not a real organization and why the video was a parody.   I have them put their heads on their desks and acknowledge by a raise of hands who thought the video was real.   Whether it is an accelerated or honors class I get about a third of each class to admit that they could not recognize the video as a parody or a fake or in some ways a prank on those who are not as media discriminating as others.   So ultimately my pranking student with a fake charity song/parody does not intend them any harm but rather as an initial inoculation against being unprepared for media manipulation and of course that brings it full circle to considering representational ethics that Lange articulates in that we discuss why Norwegians would be inaccurately portrayed in the Radi-Aid video as weak helpless people who can do nothing in their frigid plight but wait for the arrival of used radiators from Africa.    The song also includes the lyrics “Here in Africa we’ve had our problems too, with poverty corruption, HIV and crime, Norway leant a helping hand and now it’s payback time…”   We discuss how this is veiled criticism of the Norwegian or developed countries’ limited and stereotypical view of Africa.

I find that the most important thing happening to me in this course is that my intuition and skills are being affirmed as a critical educator.  I’m doing a number of things already in class to have my students move forward as digital learners, authors and conscious consumers, but I’m gaining new insights each week on how to name those realities.  I’m also well aware that the shift I need to make involving my students’ empowerment and move to a more constructivist classroom model so students can more actively engage in these processes and DO something or a number of things that are socially beneficial and personally rewarding.  
Works Cited
Armadilloze. "Ideology vs. Philosophy by Al Franken." YouTube. YouTube, 17 Nov. 2006. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
Hobbs, Renee. "Digital Authorship." Digital Authorship. Professor Renee Hobbs, Harrington School of Communication and Media, University of Rhode Island, 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
Jft96christmas. "The Justice Collective - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother (Official Video)." YouTube. YouTube, 04 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
Lange, Patricia G. "Chapter 6: Representational Ideologies." Kids on Youtube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies. Walnut Creek: Left Coast, 2014. 157-58. Print.
Lazear, David G. "New Instructional Methods for Teaching with Multiple Intelligences." Teaching for Multiple Intelligences. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1992. 24. Print.
Radi-Aid Awards. Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.