Monday, November 24, 2008

Compare and Contrast

Robert Scholes, 1998, describing Pacesetter English developed in partnership with NCTE:

Literacy involves the ability to understand and produce a wide variety of texts that use the English language--including work in the traditional literary forms, in the practical and persuasive forms, and in the modern media as well. Whether students go on to higher education or enter the workforce after graduation, their success will depend to a great extent on their ability to understand and use the English language. That is why this course makes language itself--and its use in various forms, genres and media--the center of attention.

Language can be as personal as the pronouns I and you--or as impersonal as a tax form. To live as mature human beings and functioning members of society we need to be able to communicate with others. In some cultures the ability to speak and listen carries the whole burden of communication. But our culture is organized by the most complex system of textuality the world has ever known. We need speaking and listening skills, to be sure, and we need to be literate in the traditional sense: able to read and write. But we also need to be "literate" across a various and complex network of different kinds of writing and various media of communication.

It is this complexity that has led us to the use of the word text in designing the Pacesetter English course. Poems, plays, stories, letters, essays, interviews, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television shows, yes, and even tax forms, are all different kinds of texts. What the course aims at, then is to increase the textual power of the students that take it: to help them learn how to read in the fullest sense of that word. Reading, in this sense of the word, means being able to place or situate a text, to understand it from the inside, sympathetically, and to step away from it and see it from the outside, critically. It means being able to see a text for what it is and to ask also how it connects--or fails to connect--to the life and times of the reader.

This is textual power, but textual power does not stop there; it also extends the ability to respond, to talk back, to write back, to analyze, to extend, to take one's own textual position in relation to Shakespeare--or to any kind of text. Shakespeare wants audiences whose love of language and ability to respond to it matches his own textual power. A tax form (like most other bureaucratic forms) wants a person who can follow directions. Ever text offers its audience a certain role to play. Textual power involves the ability to play many roles--and to know that one is playing them--as well as the ability to generate new texts, to make something that did not exist before somebody makes it. That--all that--is what this course is about.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008 in cooperation with the NCTE, 21st Century Skills Map.

I hope NCTE get a mess of pottage in the exchange for their intellectual birthright. The problem is not that these texts are directly opposed to each other, but that one is (in part) a hollowed out shell of the other.

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