by George Boggs
As Spring gives way to testing season and then to Summer, I take stock of another school year passed. This year was special because of surging public comment, local protest, and political action around the Common Core State Standards Initiative and testing. Mainstream news outlets run article after article playing up one “side” or another of the debate about a nationally standardized set of educational guidelines and the assessment infrastructure used to monitor systemic change. Several times this past year I met with one of the architects and advocates of Florida’s version of educational reform through assessment and value-added measures of teacher performance. With a background in activist literacies, I suddenly saw social connections crossing boundaries in the struggle over school reform. But the sides don’t exactly exist in the way we usually think about things existing. Instead, they are constructed in the arguments relating to the issues of testing and reform.
A new book called Digital Networking for School Reform compiles first-hand accounts of parents and teacher’s using digital literacies to get involved in the early stages of resistance to high stakes testing. A chapter I wrote with a colleague opens the book and offers a lens for seeing and studying responses to educational reform as critical digital literacies. Under the tile “Critical digital literacies and the struggle over what’s common,” we discuss online activist writing as composing community, making arguments in ways that not only take sides but make them. To bring out the critical element of these digital literacies, we argue that all communication marks an effort to make something common—a fitting model for discussing the educational reforms clustered around the Core standards initiative whose widespread acceptance or common-ness was one of its best selling points. Because language carries with it remembrance of former uses, history, and ideology, the process of making something common is inevitably political, with real winners and losers. So as we examine the landscape of the educational reforms under discussion today, we see the arguments and the provisional sides they construct as an exciting object of study.
The literacies that develop around online communication that enable people to change their world we are calling critical digital literacies. Looking at school reform composition as an area of research has led from the book chapter to an LRA paper proposal to explore critical digital literacies and the analytical tools for understanding their role in educational reform. In the paper we use systemic functional grammar and visual literacy models to observe the communicative processes that project commonality and make sides in these complex conversations.
The book is available through Amazon and other outlets (http://goo.gl/bhR2xL).