London Calling

The Clash of Meaning and Multiliteracies

Although I agree with the proposal that diversity on all fronts requires a differentiated kind of multiliteracies--new modes of meaning that will help out students negotiate the increasingly complex social and economic spheres around them--I respectfully submit the following: the primacy of "full participation" in public, community and economic life, as the primary gauge of whether students have "benefitted" from their education, reduces the role of the English teacher to a multimedia tour guide, while ignoring the importance of the reflexive building of the self.
Taylor Mali - Totally like whatever, you know on Def Jam Poetry

They seem to have predicted several significant changes in the way that students today are negotiating meaning from the ever-changing world around them: , perhaps most importantly to this discussion, the fact that their reality is in constant motion, as fluid and changing as scrolling down. If every time a new design is created, according to their three-fold notion of design, a new meaning is made because of not only the newly produced design, but the diversity of the designers themselves, then can’t we just continue to teach the written word, but just make everything reader response and call it a day? This multi-modal design seems irreconcilable unless it is being evaluated from some kind of external, objective standpoint....which, the New London Group might say, no longer exists in this age of diversity.

"If Canada in 1962 is a different society from the Canada of 1942, it can't be real society, but only a temporary appearance of real society......We live, then, in both a social and cultural environment, and only the cultural environment, the world we study in the arts and sciences, can provide the kind of standards and values we need if we're to do anything better than adjust." (The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye)

The inherent flaw in the multiliteracies approach is that it attempts to sell emotivism as a new and improved way to be in the—fluid and totally negotiable—world. And they hadn’t even seen Windows 8! If everything is seemingly up for grabs—because, let’s be honest, as English teacher, as people who have inexplicably, and unnecessarily, I might add, been moved by text, are we really going to subordinate the written word to tailor our overall vision to whatever design element is currently the most visible? Furthermore, if society now requires metalanguages that are built from existing media forms that are in flux and in constant relationship, how can we deliver any coherent way of navigating—let alone parsing—the world? If the human mind is situated and social, and heavily contextualized, then must we not admit how our multi-modal society frustrates students' apparently inherent attempt to make sense of it and carve themselves a place in it? If one of the goals of multiliteracies is the "full participation" of our students in public, community and economic life, then shouldn't we be teaching them to do more than "adjust"? They are assuming that the current cultural environment deserves our compromise and that modes of meaning--in this case, text--are no longer useful because they are not as frequently used.


Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the only way to fight the battle is to climb into the arena with them instead of shouting from the sidelines with our books in our hands. How can I teach them to fight ("negotiate"--it's a fight dammnit) if I am unwilling to pick up my sword? And yet, along Orwellian and Huxleian lines, I am suspicious if it isn't in the best interests of those in power to continue to restrict the power of words--and replace them, with, I don't know, say, images and sounds and moving colours--so that we will all be easier to control? My fear is that multiliteracies may look like word/text literacy in every detail and aspect, but how do we know whether it is really literacy, or just the most frequent phenotype.

"The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up." (Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad)

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