‘We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.’ This sounds like Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Message,1967) but was written McLuhan’s friend, John Culkin, who also said ‘a lot of things have happened in this century and most of them plug into walls.’ (quoted in Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman Charles Weingartner, 1971 p 10)
The plug referred to television. Today we plug into the internet, taking for granted all the multiple channels of mass media which so concerned McLuhan, Culkin and Postman et. al. 40-50 years ago. The process of logging on may be shaping our working practice but any modification of behaviour can’t be directly attributed to the technology. The development and integration of machines in our daily lives ultimately derives from the external social landscape, one which positions us within the dominant political economy of the time.
Postman and Weingartner called for education to be subversive. Young people should ‘…question, doubt, or challenge any part of the society in which they live, especially those parts which are most vulnerable…schools must serve as the principal medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism.’ Schools should also be capable of instilling in students – a la Hemmingway – a built-in, shockproof crap detector! I guess that’s one way of describing critical pedagogy which sets out to uncover the power structures disguised as ideology and culture.
One of my favourite words is resonance. It describes universal significance but resonance can also be personal; a poem has resonance when it ‘hits home’ and reader ‘hears’ what is being said. The stab of recognition might not be shared by all. The act of naming is individual. Althusser wrote about appellation and identity; how cultural discourse offers a variety of subject positions which ‘hail’ us; we recognise what fits and adopt.
Education needs the principle of resonance. To learn requires the application of new to existing knowledge in order to integrate and understand. Resonance happens when something makes sense. Resonance can be applied to crap as well as to meaningful synchronicity and validated knowledge. What matters is distinguishing between them and knowing what matters to you as an individual.
All roads lead to my PhD and this is no exception. Where there’s no resonance there’s less interest. Part-time doctoral research is a tough choice and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m having an existential moment. I know what I want to research and how I want to manage the process but I feel the tools are shaping me in directions I don’t want to go – where there’s no resonance. I’m being positioned in the wrong place. I don’t want to change the world, just my own tiny little part of it. I’m thinking I might give up. The only sense of direction is backwards.