Monday, January 28, 2008

Faculty (IL)Literacy

God knows we've all heard about the current state of literacy. Whether you're deriding the kids nowadays for their inability to read n' write (unlike in the good old days when they knew grammar), or banging the drum for necessary inclusion of internet/computer/online environment literacies that are becoming more and more relevant----the point is that it seems like faculty, administrators and staff are all about it all the time. But what about OUR OWN literacy levels?

I could write reams about the kinds of things I've heard about what we value, how we pat ourselves on the back for our fabulous grammar, our stupendous research and writing skills---man, can we frame an argument!, our (in)ability to use new technologies, etc., etc. And I could talk myself hoarse about how we need to remember ourselves as in our most challenging moments of reading and writing when we assess our students' interactions with these activities. But forget all that complicated stuff, filled with reality checks, contingencies and best practices for a changing textual landscape. What I really want to talk about is faculty illiteracy at its most basic, brass tacks levels.

People, in the last year, I have been at at least three meetings in which single page documents were distributed to faculty members. In two of these three cases, the documents were distributed at least a WEEK before the meeting, so people would have time to read it in advance. And at all three meetings, I have seen an inability to read and interpret the information on the page. And for the record, these were not complex, multivalent statements with an array of embedded clauses, a la Henry James. No, we're talking bullet points of data here! Do I have an example? Sure do!

1) "In the past, the FooFoo program has used one class to deliver this material. Next year, the FooFoo program would like to distribute this material over two classes. This experiment would bring FF into line with national models."
Question: How has this two-class model worked for us in the past?

2) "358 students in the FooFoo program thus far have moved into department-sponsored courses."
Statement: It's great that 358 students have chosen a major!
Rebuttal from a different fac. member: They haven't chosen a major! They're just taking inter-departmental classes!

You see the problem here, right? If I had students in a course who were having this kind of difficulty, I'd work with them on the principles of reading closely and at a literal level. That would be my go-to strategy. "Underline the important terms and ideas, and translate these into your own words by writing your ideas in the margins." "Make sure that you understand exactly what the author is saying before you make an evaluative judgment about the information." I can hardly turn to a colleague in a meeting and say this, but I have, of late, been tempted to pull a highlighter out of my bag and to whip it at the person.

Rather than resort to violence and defenestration, however, I'm considering starting up a remedial reading class for faculty members. There could be an anonymous recommendation process, and if you received more than 3 recs from your colleagues, you'd be required to attend a weekend workshop. Or maybe there should be a demerit system, in which you'd get a red card every time you radically misunderstood/willfully misinterpreted a clause in a public arena.

These suggestions, however, look at literacy training as punitive. Perhaps I could put a positive spin on it: reading documents and understanding what people are saying help you achieve social and professional mobility. It increases communication, and allows you to achieve better understanding among your peers. Excellent literacy skills can improve the quality of your life---learn to enjoy reading, understanding, and analysis!

The carrot or the stick. It matters not to me. It takes a village, people. Won't you volunteer to help professors learn how to read?


Blogger Ashley said...

Seriously, do we teach at the same place and you just forgot to tell me? Because I have been at that EXACT SAME MEETING. 800 times. GAH.

Oh, and hi. I have been avoiding the blogosphere lately to try to get shit done, but hi! And guess who I ran into at MLA?

Monday, January 28, 2008 9:37:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Oooh!! Tell! Was it Mr. Renaissance Melancholy? Or, God forbid, his Highness, the Irish warrior?

Glad to see you back around bloglandia!!

Monday, January 28, 2008 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger Sisyphus said...

Heh --- what if we did have soccer refs and a series of penalties for fouls and unsportsmanlike behavior in committee meetings! Ooh, I may have to whip up some parodies.

And I am glad to see that even in this benighted day and age, the studies of FooFoos are still going strong. I wrote a thesis on Little Bunny FooFoo, in fact.

Monday, January 28, 2008 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Oh, poor beknighted Bunny FooFoo. There he is, hopping through the forest, minding his own business. Damn field mice, getting in his way.

Parody away!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 9:14:00 AM  
Anonymous The Bittersweet Girl said...

I wrote about a related topic not so long ago: professors who don't read for pleasure (i.e., any reading not work/teaching related). It's common for lit. profs. in particular to decry the fact that "our students don't read!!" and to speculate about the consequences for their abilities as students/thinkers/writers -- but I know so many lit. profs. who only read what they have to (and maybe not very well), so what a surprise that they cannot interpret/understand what they read. Yes, the principle applies to educated people too!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 9:34:00 AM  

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