The Luddite’s Ineptitude, or Democratizing the Classroom


Delacroix's Lady Liberty, courtesy of Wikipedia

A curious phenomenon occurs whenever the Luddite visits a barber. He’s instructed to take off his glasses and within a few minutes of doing so, the Luddite is unable to hear. Or, rather, he can hear, but he can’t make out any distinct words. It’s as if in losing his sight—for the Luddite, true nerd that he is, is woefully myopic—his hearing has gone with it.

This same phenomenon, which the Luddite has always meant to investigate but has never actually bothered to investigate, also presents itself when some kind soul explains technical directions to him. At a recent parent’s night at his son’s school, for instance, the Luddite was drawn into conversation with a mother who worked at a software development firm. Within moments, however, of her explaining the basics of a foreign language acquisition program, a veil descended and there was our Luddite, nodding along to demonstrate his vigilant attention when, in fact, he understood not a word being said. During the remainder of the “conversation,” the Luddite found himself wondering whether his interlocutor were exceptionally generous in her assumption of his intelligence or if she was simply glad to have any audience whatsoever.

In a classroom foregrounding technology, this penchant of the Luddite’s to black-out when faced with the most minimal of technical-speak presents certain obvious problems. The solution the Luddite has worked out goes by the high-minded “democratizing the classroom” or “de-centering authority,” phrases which he blushingly remembers writing in his annual reports. And while the Luddite sincerely believes in these pedagogical stances—to him, the writing classroom is not about rights and wrongs but options and strategies—he is not above also believing in them for their pedagogical convenience.

How this operates in a non-technological classroom is that when faced with a peskily difficult question, he will likely turn to the class and say, “That’s interesting—What do you all think?” In the technological classroom, though, this approach is especially handy given the Luddite’s inability to retain, let alone impart, technical know-how.

Exhibit A: In reviewing his students’ blogs before class, the Luddite noticed how some text-heavy students—this is, the Luddite knows, a case of the pot and the kettle—might benefit from the “read more” tab, which will tuck a post onto another page and thereby require any interested reader to click on it to continue reading. The problem was the Luddite couldn’t recall ISS guru Lauren Atkins’ instructions about how to execute this action. The Luddite meant to email her before class, but his subconscious perhaps militated against advertising what inferior attention he had paid despite all the nodding he had done during their various tutorials.

This dilemma, fortunately, resolved itself during the class workshop. One student suggested a fellow student utilize this very “read more” tag for her posts. The Luddite then asked the seemingly spontaneous question: Does everyone know how to do this? A brief moment of panic ensued as most students looked at him as if he’d asked whether they all knew how to tie their shoes. But one brave student did not, and then another student pointed out the right button, and so now the Luddite can a) do this:

and b) retain the illusion of his competence while still ensuring his students learn a nifty technical trick.

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