Alex makes a nice point about the recent WPA Technology statement. He quotes the statement’s concern with access:
the many colleges and universities where neither students nor teachers have ready access to digital technologies or the Internet. Indeed, we know of some schools in which teachers do not feel they can require typed copy, let alone electronic submissions.
And offers some counter evidence:
Here’s a recent survey, commisioned by Circuit City, that indicates more than 98% of college students use a computer everyday. Even this 2004 Harris Poll indicates that 90% of full-time college students own computers, and one would think this has gone up in three years. I don’t mean to suggest that a digital divide doesn’t exist, particularly in terms of high-speed access, but I am high skeptical of developing national policy based upon presumptions about access.
It’s hard to imagine a college today without some kind of Internet access. When I taught community college back in ’96, there were computers. But even if there is a school out there without computers, why would an entire profession base its policy on the exception? Should the exception determine the norm? Daniel Anderson’s point (see the comments on Alex’s blog) about dictionaries is spot on. If someone doesn’t have pants, should the rest of us wear shorts?
The problem with the WPA position, as many of us argued last year, is that it is based on the circulation of a series of tropes, none of which have much to do with how technology is used. This is surprising since the statement comes from a pro-technology group who felt the need to compose the document. But it is also not surprising since WPA work often depends on such tropes. That dependence is based somewhat on the “belief” or “assumption.” Sometimes the assumption is race based (“Urban kids can’t”); sometimes it is based on lack of understanding (“But I’m not a tech guru!”); sometimes it is pedagogical (“What is your thesis?). What is not surprising and is also sad is that despite a number of warnings and critiques from folks with strong backgrounds in this area, the group who composed the WPA statement opted not to listen. I don’t think it’s hubris to claim that a number of folks using technology to circulate a series of critiques and responses had some valid points, points that went beyond the trope of access. I also don’t think it’s hubris to note that the composers of the document, in their lack of response, couldn’t or wouldn’t use the technology to respond (which is ironic since the blog platform the composers chose to post a draft asks for responses as part of online composing). But then again, “access” is an assumption most feel comfortable with. That comfortability doesn’t require a response (no “truth” does). Access is repeated in almost every WPA conversation as if it is truth. It eventually serves only to limit, not to expand any kind of knowledge.Â Access is a mark of the familiar. Familiarity, as cultural studies teaches, is hegemony of the worst kind for how it fixates assumptions. Assumptions, or what Barthes called mythologies, lead us to believe in a truth that is merely a code.
And so? So it is too bad. It is too bad that the WPA movement can only produce a trope, and not a nuanced position. In that sense, it reflects politics of the worst kind. It reflects a politics more suitable to a presidential debate: learn the right phrase to repeat, and repeat it.
In that sense, the WPA statement is a reminder of James Brown’s claim of ineffective politics in the ’60s: Talking Loud and Saying Nothing.