So I keep accumulating little snippets of items and issues I want to blog about, writing them down, and then putting them off forever. So to help deal with this I’ve decided to write little blurps in series, much like I did in “Shotgun Blast” a while back. Okay here we go:
Babies in the Doc Study
As many of you know I’m a baby when it comes to comparison to other doctoral students, both in sociology and library science. In fact one of my friends in GSLIS has a daughter my age. Weird, huh? Yeah well nearly all of them are married and several have kids, which isn’t a big deal, except one of the students has now made it a habit of bringing her small child with her to work. He’s little, probably less than a year, and is typically pretty happy and well behaved. My issue is not with the baby, but what he does to what I would normally consider to be a place of scholars and quiet study. Every doc student but myself (and perhaps the detached foreign students) lord over the little baby and fuss about him for hours. I can’t possible work with it… I find it downright annoying. I got to thinking about it, though, and the feminist inside of me says I should shut up and deal with it. Why? Because women are often tasked with taking care of kids, and to exclude them from access to advanced degrees on account of it is something of a form of discrimination. So as much as the herd of fussing old PhD students and somber baby might annoy me, I should probably appreciate her right to bring him along, it makes our school a friendly place to young mothers. I think what perhaps bothers me more is the contrast it brings out between myself and the older mass of graduates. I’m so very different than most of them.
Urban Prairie Archeology
I had the chance to sweep down to East St. Louis last November and work with the Katherine Dunham Archival society. I dubbed the experience “Urban Prairie Archeology” because it was such a strange endeavor. East St. Louis has areas that are sometimes referred to as Urban Prairie, which is when buildings and empty lots are overgrown with prairie grass because of neglect and environmental factors. Archeology comes into the mix in a unique form – we were rescuing documents and artifacts from storage houses that contained many items belonging to the venerable Katherine Dunham, a female black scholar and anthropologist who traveled the world and expressed what she learned in the form of dance. She ran a dance company and retrieved a number of pieces of art from countries around the world – Haiti, China, etc… Unfortunately much of this material hasn’t been preserved or sorted and instead packed into small run-down houses that are infested with animals and invaded by the elements. Our job was to venture into these houses and search through a mass of junk for valuable items dating back to the early 1900’s. The experience was invigorating, we were able to save some community history, a worthwhile cause.
My Digital Literacy
Occasionally I think back to my education and wonder how I came to be so technical. I didn’t really learn much of what I know in school. Or did I? Certainly none of my classes ever taught me how to use programs or work on digital art but many of them provided me with absurdly good inquiry-based and self-led learning opportunities. I was able to make videos and websites and required to integrate them into the traditional learning objectives present in most of my classes. It wasn’t perfect and none of the instructors ever really understood half of what I did but in some ways it was the best possible way I could have learned much of what I did. I also came to remember a teacher – the only one who ever really successfully integrated computers into the classroom – from my junior high. He let me read a Star Wars book for a book report, something no English teacher or my mother would have ever considered worthwhile learning. It wasn’t about the book’s quality or difficulty – it just wasn’t considered valuable from institutional eyes. I was supposed to read Shakespeare to To Kill a Mocking Bird. Anyway, Mr. Block was all about encouraging students to explore what they found interesting and engage them on their own level with relevant topics. He brought Legos into science class and we were encourage to play games on the computers and also use them for science and exploration. I never found another teacher to so seamlessly and effectively blend computers into class like that. Not until grad school. I should find out what he’s up to now!
That said, school really didn’t influence my digital literacy all that much. Our Packard Bell 1995 computer provide me with art/animation sequencing programs that I made strategy games and FPS narrative robot stories out of, architecture and landscape design software that resulted in mansions and gardens, and I even used MS paint to create Battlemech blueprints, pixel by pixel.
Oh and that whole Web2.0 thing? Pictures, message communities, blog-like editorials, travel journalism? Yeah I was doing all of that on www.jag85.com long before Facebook, Flickr and Blogger. Sad that I was made fun of so vehemently for it, these days it’s ordinary.
I lived in virtual communities online, practicing writing skills and playing characters while imagining and creating universes in my mind. I modified game systems and shared my innovations – character sheets, programs, and new rule systems – with people from all over the world.
And all the while this was at odds with my mother, who saw everything that I did as treacherous and unhealthy. She thought that the exposure to violence would drive me to hurt others and that the time spent on computers would prevent me from acquiring people skills. And here I stand, one of the most extroverted people I know (online and off!) looking to help other people for a living.
I have to give her credit, actually. Without her to oppose (and prove that I wasn’t a bad person or mistake of a child like she made me think I was) I wouldn’t have come to where I am now.
And for the record my mom now feels horrible about how she treated us as kids. She was a mixed up and insecure person stuck in a world of rich housewives all concerned with appearing upper class. She had a poor relationship with her mother growing up and has struggled over her views of equality, gender roles, and common good. A lot of what she did was because she didn’t have confidence, and had even less control.
So where did my digital literacy come from? In terms of people – school, my mother, and, well, the internet. In terms of the abstract (in parallel) – drive, defiance, and curiosity.