Education Reform in Cultural Geography and New Media

Two of the readings for this week struck a chord of resistance within me, and I will discuss one briefly and the other more in depth. While I wrote detailed notes on Nedra Reynolds’ chapter “Streetwork,” I have cut most of my argument down to a short proposal. Here I briefly point out some of the contradictions in Reynolds work and what I believe could help solve some of the issues she discusses. I derived this idea from my own prolonged experiences in different geographical spaces where I learned to better understand the people who surrounded me in those places. To quickly catch readers up, my proposal answers the problem of volunteerism in education acting as “pedagogical punishment” where students tend to see themselves as “liberal saviors” of the people they encounter, rather than gaining an understanding of cultural differences and the underlying social borders of geographical spaces.

In her assertion that the Leeds’ fieldwork project was unsuccessful, Reynolds states, “”Still, I’m not convinced that the Leeds students, through their streetwork projects, encountered forms of difference that truly challenge their own entrenched senses of privilege and entitlement” (p. 137). The last part of this statement contradicts the proposed goal of understanding cultural differences because instead of bridging the gap of acceptance, it implies that the students were initially blind to “their own entrenched senses of privilege and entitlement,” therefore, exacerbating the separation of self and “Other.” When students become acutely aware of their privileged status in society, it tends to push them in the direction of becoming a “liberal savior,” which Reynolds says worsens the divide and takes the focus off of working “as relative equals in a common project of social change” (Reynolds quoting Schutz and Gere 146).  Furthermore, how does “challenge[ing] their own entrenched senses of privilege and entitlement” serve to provide an environment which welcomes “writing with the community” rather than “writing about the community”—a value Reynolds clearly defines as important? Perhaps rather than shocking students out from under the veil of their white, middle-class surroundings, educational reform in cultural geography ought to aim for a more gradual and prolonged integration of volunteerism, allowing students to adjust to cultural differences at their own speed and to form relationships with members of different communities. If Reynolds believes that students struggle with the acceptance of geographical exclusion, how does she account for the FD group’s shared feeling of not belonging? Moreover, if the goal is to see how geographical spaces impact culture, and the only real way of knowing is by becoming an insider, then prolonged volunteer activity in one community seems like the best way for students to truly come to understand the “Other.” If a member of the FD group had an internship in one of the office buildings they observed from outside, they would better come to understand the social hierarchy of that space and the factors of class that come into play (i.e. race and gender). Forging relationships and ongoing dialogue with people in peripheral communities over the span of at least one year should help students to grasp a better idea of a particular geographical space. While fieldwork methodologies may prove useful in documenting these relationships, quick observations, interviews, and data collection will not break through the barrier of difference to the heart of the matter: understanding.

The second reading I will discuss is the beginning chapters of Henry Jenkins’ Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture (2009). In the executive summary of the report, Jenkins provides a statistic that “more than one-half of all teens have created media content, and roughly one-third of teens who use the Internet have shared content they produced” which came from a study published in 2005. Surely, since that time, these numbers have increased. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project (the finders of the initial data in 2005), a September 2009 study showed that 73% of American teens take part in social networking, which includes micro-blogging and status updates; 38% use the internet to post original creations of words, video, and art; and 21% create remixes and mash-ups. While the data does not clarify what percentages overlap, all of the aforementioned activities fall under the heading of “media content.” Moreover, with Tumblr’s extraordinary growth rate, it’s probably safe to assume that the mere 14% of American teen bloggers has risen considerably since 2009. In light of that growth, Jenkins is right to assume that young people do need educational tools to make full and appropriate use of new media. However, one glaring issue I have is that Jenkins never calls into question the quality of the “media content” that young people are creating and posting. He simply believes that the “the skills and self-confidence gathered by moving across all of these online communities surely would manifest themselves in other ways, offering yet another leg up to youths on one side and another disadvantage to youths on the opposite side of the participation gap” (20). However, one need only to look at trending topics on Twitter to see what young people are posting on the internet and how much value it holds, educationally or otherwise. The fairly innocent hashtag “#HighSchoolMemories” produced many results, including these two. With a few simple clicks, I found out @NatalieCupCake_ is 16 years old (according to her Tumblr). Clearly, the quality of the “media content” being created and its usefulness in the development of young people needs further examination. Young adults leaving public and often permanent documentation of their daily activities has the potential to hinder, rather than help, their future.

Jenkins prescription for more education in new media could prove to be useful. However, sex education has not stopped teens from having sex, getting pregnant, and transmitting sexual diseases. Nor has education about the Holocaust stopped genocide. My point is that people of all ages often ignore advice, history, and wisdom from those with experience in lieu of finding out for themselves. Young people will continue to use the internet for whatever activities interest them, whether that be posting pictures of a Saturday night party or researching their favorite author. I am not condemning the internet, the use of it by young people, or the value of education in new media. However, I think it’s unrealistic to paint a portrait of a technological utopia, where students who use technology more frequently have a “leg up” in society. Couldn’t this simply mean that students who have the money to buy technology have a “leg up” in society? Fluency in new media and technology does not guarantee a student acceptance into college, better communication skills, or more opportunities. Yes, it may help, but there are many factors at play which often relate back to the individual’s home life and learning environment. Students with more tools in their arsenal are obviously more likely to succeed. So why not teach them?

I cannot say there is a good reason not to. I simply hope to discredit Jenkins’ formulaic proposal in which technological education yields success, as that is not always the case.

Final Note: Both of these readings discuss educational reform. Clearly, as society progresses, it is important for us to review our educational processes and find ways to improve them. However, I think that requires “the people in charge” attempt to grasp the mindset of students in order to figure out what their needs are. Along with information from experts and statistical data, educators and administrators should be speaking with young people to find out how they learn, instead of assuming for them. In thinking about these two readings, I tried to place myself in the position of a student learning about cultural geography or new media. My proposal for prolonged volunteerism in one community is because I believe it takes young people a little longer to adjust to their environment. As Reynolds suggested, perhaps one semester is not enough time for students to truly come to know a place. However, I still think there is value in volunteering, as long as the students are given enough time to feel comfortable in their surroundings and therefore build relationships. As far as new media education is concerned, I believe it is important for students to have equal opportunities; however, I doubt that just because students are taught how and how not to use the internet that they will abide to those standards of conduct. I was coming of age along with the internet, and while I kept a LiveJournal and moved onto other social networking sites, most of my younger years remain undocumented, thankfully. However, kids growing up now will certainly have an interesting visual record of their lives when they are older.

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This entry was written by slbrown85 and published on January 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm. It’s filed under Mapping and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Education Reform in Cultural Geography and New Media

  1. I completely agree with you, Sam, about Jenkins’s overly optimistic views about new media education. As you said, just because younger generations are educated about the proper and improper uses of technology does not mean that they won’t “find out for themselves.” I also thought it was somewhat irresponsible of Jenkins to say that being educated and fluent in new media technologies guarantees these students more opportunities. If most students are only interested in documenting their after school plans or what they did over the weekend, I would say that their “interesting visual record” would actually lessen the number of opportunities that come their way. Oops, should’ve thought twice before posting that TwitPic!

  2. I agree with your analysis on Reynolds. I’ve lived in a bunch of different communities… and immersion is the best way to understanding – not just interviews, surveys, and so forth.

  3. Julianna and Sam I see how you can disagree with Jenkins’s optimistic views. I don’t believe that new media education guarantees success but I do believe that it is a good indicator of the student’s future. Something as simple as having consistent access to a word processor can make a difference. Students whose typing skills are lower than those who have access suffer in the classroom. Typing papers takes much longer and can be much more frustrating.

    While yes, students probably won’t listen as you tell them what they should and should not post online, I believe it is still essential that they are informed. And though these students may just be posting status updates about going out for ice cream they can also be posting their opinions about issues in the world or simply in their school or engaging with others in the conversation. And with the surplus of articles detailing how important an individual’s online presence is becoming to employment it’s important to teach these students the skills to create a positive one or to protect themselves from revealing too much information.

    These online skills that Jenkins advocates that we teach are becoming essential since many colleges are asking students to participate in online spaces as part of the coursework. This is even happening in secondary education where many schools are asking students to keep blogs and participate in enclosed online spaces which replicate the larger context of the web.

    Students also need to possess these skills not just for success in school but in life since so much of the world is creating an online presence and it is imperative for students to be able to sort through fact and opinion. Online skills are even essential to negotiating prices since most discounts are found online. This may require students not only to access a variety of websites to check prices but to keep updated on a store’s FB page which may post sales.

    • I definitely think that computer skills and new media knowledge are useful for young people to succeed in the future; however, I still think the societal factors that influence an individual’s chance of obtaining this knowledge are the same as with any other subject. Students with access to technology and education in new media are those who live in the best school districts, whose parents can afford to purchase new electronics, and who ultimately have the privilege of being born with a “leg up.” It doesn’t matter if we are talking about science labs, sports teams, or drama departments. The school districts with money get a better education period. The children in these districts will undoubtedly have more access to technology, and therefore more advanced skills and a brighter future.

      I also find Jenkins’ distinction between the “working class” and the “middle class” offensive. I was under the impression that the middle class worked. I think he’s a little out of touch with reality. He also mentions young people using the popular sites Myspace and LiveJournal when the piece was published in 2009. That was during the decline of Myspace and the shift to Facebook, and LiveJournal was no longer on the radar at that point. He should at least be aware of what social networking sites young people are using if he’s going to claim it’s beneficial for them.

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