"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pedagogy and priesthoods

"…their expertise more and more an artifact of their manipulation of the machine"
                                                                                                                (Gee, et al, 1996)

Although Gee and friends give the above statement in reference to drafting and design engineers losing stature as computer programs take over their jobs, I could put this reference directly into my higher education experiences with online learning - not as a subject matter expert (e.g., professor) but as a lowly graduate student.  To frame this discourse, I worked as a GTA during my master's program assisting professors in the business school to get class materials "online."  I was definitely a computer novice at the time (a mere 10 years ago) but I had learned not to be afraid of the technology. Looking back, I think both my age (40 something) and eagerness to master WebCT (a platform similar to Blackboard) put me in the priesthood status among professors who were a bit older than I and who did not care in the least for the new technology they were being pressured to use.  I recall one in particular, a high-powered individual who relished "toughening-up" his protégés for the corporate world.  He would need to post documents, grade papers, or monitor discussion boards, pretty mundane things by today's standards. He would log me in to his account - watch a few minutes - shudder- and leave me to take care of whatever the issue was.  I would call over my shoulder, "what if I need you to okay something?"   "You have my full confidence," he would call back and leave the immediate area. Talk about power.  There were a couple of very tech savvy young people (also GTA's) I learned a lot from. The power dynamics in the department were very interesting around the implementation of technology, too. The most empowered male professors seemed to prefer my assistance (although I was a woman) to the young, quick men. They were more intimidated by them than me … hmmm. Female professors did not seem to care who helped them just as long as they got help.  Please recall that online teaching was just gaining credence and there was a great deal of resistance to it. Nevertheless, having some technological expertise gave the online GTA's status and power.

Thinking about it now, I see the text on page 37 were Gee et al., state "in a knowledge society there needs to be a renewed and vigorous debate about what sorts of knowledge bring flexibility and power, and what sorts do not," with fresh eyes.  This was written around the time this "new" format of online teaching was gaining ground and threatening a good many people in higher education just as it was in the corporate sector.  Could it be that the "vigorous debate" needed to make sure that those who had acquired power held onto it? And what about the authors transparency? As you follow the article on into page 38, there is definitely some antagonism toward these new knowledge workers (foot soldiers of the information economy) in back offices - linked to the worldwide web - sucking up all your information in a "mania" of data collection, etc. These priests filtering and assessing information and deciding what is….truth.


  1. Hi Susangale! This makes the second time we've blogged on similar themes. Yes, James Paul Gee is an interesting character. I mean that with respect. I understand so much better why he changes the "D" in discourse to a capital letter. That is the level at which he begins CDA. I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of him analyzing text. I think I would pay money to hear him speak, buy his book, read his work. I could never sit by him at a dinner party; he's too intense and intimidating for me. But, I think that's his point. Kind of the way Freire used such in-your-face language (e.g. oppressed, oppressors). Gee makes his point by skillfully using every linguistic tool available. I think of him as the person who puts a capital "C" in critical!

  2. Susan Gale - first, I loved your post. I agree that there is a gender issue in helping people on computers. In my experience, women are more accepting of computer help in general. When I teach, I have to watch the men more closely, because they are less likely to ask for help. It doesn't matter what they do for a living, they're less likely to let me know they're lost. Just my .02.

    Susan Watson - I totally agree on Gee's intensity. I kept thinking, "Yes", "Wow", "Yes". I see the world differently and I never read anything for class that I don't reflect (correct use of the word this time) on its impact on my work and my studies. I can be a bit intellectually myopic at times, but am starting to develop a more critical literacy lens.

    Joyce M.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.