It is 5/3/13, middle of the night again.
I have just put down a pretty hefty sum to attend a national meeting of the National Association of Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE) in July, an organization I know very little about, even though I joined a few years ago. Given family responsibilities and my school’s accreditation crisis, I have wondered if this meeting is the right way for me to be spending my scarce money and time. Past experience did not inspire—conventions of English teachers were cold, impersonal affairs that my local colleagues rarely visited. If I were applying for a job, there would be a reason to go, but short of that…Let’s face it: teachers’ professional worlds center around schools, departments, maybe unions, but not professional associations.
My personal questioning leads back to questions about identity and disciplinary affiliation. I teach “English,” so what am I doing teaching about “media”? No, that’s too personal. The people who teach “media” (digital, TV, radio, film) have their own cubbyhole departments in colleges, primarily focused on craft: producing content in their respective media. NAMLE, and the media literacy networks that preceded it, have called for media literacy (what I like to call media-conscious education) to be considered a part of general education for all students (as it is in Britain, where it is largely taught within “English”). When I was a grad student, I was odd to composition scholars because I wanted to import visual (TV) content into English, not to transmit knowledge but to stimulate reflective critical viewing of medium and content. Now I am odd because I want to do something apparently similar with the internet. The problem is that people running American schools here are not convinced, and so media conscious teaching remains esoteric, marginal, a sideline.
Of course, what is “hot” in colleges is on-line education, and I have joined in, not to teach on-line classes (which to me are not an appropriate medium for most community college students), but to make “tech enhanced” content and activities a part of my classroom teaching. If I could throw myself whole-heartedly into that world, with its focus on how to deliver whatever content, (rather than the self-conscious use of and reflection about the media used), then I could go to meetings tied directly into the community college system of California, and have an internet “channel” to use. I talk with colleagues at school about tech teaching, but our concerns are disparate, and do not lead to the collaboration I am looking for.
To follow my visual interests I have gone local. Rather than pouring my energy into how to teach with and about YouTube, I have gotten most involved with teaching about, and working with colleagues on City College’s precious but overlooked Pan American Unity mural by Diego Rivera, which has led in turn to involvement with the campus’ visual art in general. For some reason I cannot explain, there is a sufficiently shared sensibility and interest in the cross-disciplinary “Works of Art” committee, that my interest in visual culture is encouraged, and everyone understands that the internet lends itself to communication about that art through word, image, and sound.
So why attend a convention in L.A.? I guess I am still looking for that disciplinary context, where people who teach about and through internet media can exchange ideas and practices. I’ve had occasional discussions with theorists and practitioners of media conscious education that spurred me to learn and create. But it has only led to brief exchanges. I’m looking for more, I’m not sure what. Yes I know I can “connect” with all these people through the internet, but without physical proximity and human presence, those possible collaborators are just pulsing stars on the other side of the galaxy, visible, but not able to exert any gravitational pull.