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Educational Theory, Web Interactivity, and Romanticism, by Laura Mandell

  1. In his 1929 essay, "My Beliefs about Education," John Dewey says that education is a life-long process (292). Dewey wished to inculcate learning habits to last a lifetime, and therefore one can imagine him wanting to extend to an educated public of readers the "habits of mind" to be produced in poets, as William Wordsworth articulates it in the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads (126). In contrast, proponents of a scientific curriculum formulated the educational goal of transforming children into adults–an Enlightenment ideal to Kant, but, for Wordsworth, of course, tantamount to throwing the child into a "prison-house." It is important to remember, too, that this goal is connected to what Herbert Kliebard has identified as a "vulgar scientism" (37) in which anything not imparting knowledge instrumental to laboring adults was to be jettisoned from the curriculum. Franklin Bobbitt's 1924 manifesto How to Make a Curriculum, a leading example of such scientism, proclaims,

    Education is primarily for adult life, not for child life. Its fundamental responsibility is to prepare for the fifty years of adulthood, not for the twenty years of childhood and youth. (8, qtd. in Kliebard 29)

    This program involves "careful analysis of adult activities and their ultimate transformation into minute and explicit curricular objectives," a systematic devaluing of the child such as had been contested by Dewey's Democracy and Education (1916; Kliebard 29). Drawing on "the example of industry" (34), the proponents of a "scientific" curriculum saw teaching as "the application of standardized means by which predictable results would be achieved, and curriculum development the specification of the end-products and the rules for their efficient manufacture" (36). Because of its connection with the efficiency movement, it promises "precision and objectivity" (27) by reducing the educator's understanding of "the full universe of human activity" to "job analysis" (34).

  2. Deliberately anti-scientistic in its goals, though not by any means anti-science, Romantic theory such as Wordsworth's imagines maturation through poetry that can impart child-like cognitive habits to adults. This theory is one of progress through habitual, cultivated regress. Analyzing the Romanticism of current, early-twenty-first-century educational theory is one way to determine its distance from the pressures of machine-like efficiency and consequently to assess whether and how current technological innovations may enhance our teaching. Furthermore, much new work has been done on the kinds of cognition stimulated by images, fostered of course by the upsurge of interest in multimedia made possible by new technologies. Discourses about visual literacy can be used to interrogate Wordsworth's wish to cultivate habits of mind, particularly by revealing hidden allegiances to Enlightenment thinking despite his desire to pit child versus adult, poetry versus instrumental reason.

    William Perry has described the development of students' intellectual capacities during the college years: they begin as dualists who believe that there are right and wrong absolutes; they become relativists who believe that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion; and finally they develop into critical thinkers, able to tolerate uncertainty and weigh various arguments to come up with a reasonable and arguable point of view. Ideally, we would like students to recognize complexity without feeling despair. At the end of Perry's developmental schema, students are aware of uncertainty and yet are committed to intellectual endeavor in the face of it (9-10).

  3. Does Perry's developmental schema presuppose the scientistic goal of ushering children into adulthood? Not necessarily. Far from proposing a goal toward which education should push students, Perry's developmental schema teaches us to respect the kind of knowledge students already have at any given moment in their lives. Coupled with Dewey's insight that education is "a process of living and not a preparation for future living" (292, qtd. in Kliebard 29), Perry's schema shows us how to take students where they are, on their own terms – accepting that they are seven, to put it in a Wordsworthian idiom, rather than stifling a "careless mood" with the demand for "the reason why" ("We Are Seven," "Anecdote for Fathers," 33, 56, in Lyrical Ballads [1805], 128-134). Coincidentally, technology offers us the opportunity to meet students on their own terrain and in their own cool, careless style. Making use of their medial forms increases the chances that our course materials will call upon their capacities.

  4. The "Innovations" issue of the Romantic Pedagogy Commons offers three sets of course materials: 1) the Wiki, theorized by Mark Phillipson in his essay "The Romantic Audience Project"; 2) the introduction to IVANHOE, along with instructions in how to use it and sample course handouts; 3) Ben Jack's intercalation of rhythms that are formal (poetry, architecture) and physical (architecture; walking); and 4) Walter Reed's essay "Teaching a Sheep to Talk: The Spiritual Education of Romanticism," along with visual, web-delivered course materials and interactive assignments. The latter makes extensive use of "visual literacy," defined in this issue in two short position papers by Professor of Scientific and Technical Communication W. Michelle Simmons, and undergraduate Katherine Seiffert, as well as in commentary on Seiffert's essay by Olin Bjork. In this issue, as in all subsequent issues of the Pedagogy Commons, we will advocate, for pedagogical purposes, addressing students synesthetically, as Bjork puts it, in order to activate what Howard Gardner calls "multiple intelligences."

  5. Gardner has theorized that some students whose kind of intelligence differs from textual-based rationality may find it easier to understand things in ways that make use of other cognitive strengths. Gardner talks about the "plurality of intelligences" allowing for the metaphorical transfer of knowledge to other realms, but he further insists that, at some moment, the metaphor must be withdrawn and the knowledge presented in its own domain (32-33). That is, while it may help a student to understand Percy Shelley's "Mont Blanc" by arranging words from the poem upon a picture of the mountain (an assignment available in this issue), at some point we would want to "translate" the student's thinking process back into a close-reading of the text.

  6. But is that true? Almost ten years ago Barbara Maria Stafford said of new digital technologies,"[C]omputers are forcing the recognition that texts are not 'higher,' durable monuments to civilization compared to 'lower,' fleeting images. These marvelous machines may eventually rid us of the uninformed assumption that sensory messages are incompatible with reflection" (4).

  7. Stafford's understanding of visual cognitive activity may help us turn the tables to sit on the students' side. Drawing upon visual and aural intelligence in courses that habitually rely on textuality, will we find that a greater number of students can enjoy and understand Romantic literature in an articulable though not necessarily written way — perhaps through designing a building or a screen, as evinced by Jacks's students? Will there be a gain for students who have made use of audiovisual materials in approaching a text, no matter what their primary intelligence (in Gardner's terms)?

  8. That images can produce serious cognitive activity is trumpeted loudly by Ron Burnett in How Images Think:

    From a cognitive point of view it is just not possible to separate what has been seen from what has been thought, and the question is, why would that type of separation be suggested or even thought of as necessary? (33)

    One answer to that question is the need, distinctive of modernity and Enlightenment, to make possible a hermeneutics of suspicion: only if you can stand back as a spectator from your word, your culturally-formed (prejudged) idea according to Descartes and Locke, can its veracity be questioned. If thought occurs simultaneously with the perception of prefabricated cultural, ideological (and, even worse, advertising) images, what ground remains for ideology critique? How do we think for ourselves, the Enlightenment ideal articulated by Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" rather than having images think for us if seeing and thinking are not separable stages? [1]

  9. Romantic theory cannot help us adjudicate either "for" or "against" the cognitve power of images. According to W. J. T. Mitchell, advocates of childlike vision arrayed themselves along opposing "battle lines between [Burke's, Coleridge's, and Wordsworth's favoring of] the conservative oral tradition and [Blake's] radical faith in the demotic power of printing and 'visible language''' (120). Iterating Blake's faith in a new key, Burnett insists that images do not think for as much as with us. Perhaps even more important than understanding that images can be "read," to use a linguistic metaphor that reflects textual bias (see Bjork), would be the necessity of reconceiving perception as a process more like reading than like being seduced or raped (Caruth 11-15). Burnett describes the complexity of a visual cognitive process despite the feeling one may have that it is instantaneous, and he then reflects:

    I am reversing the conventional notion (and cultural myth) that images have the power to overwhelm the viewer, and I am describing a process that is far more collaborative. To see images is also to be seeing with them. . . . It is what I bring to bear on the photograph, how I frame and examine my experience, what my experience and sense of identity [are], that converts the interaction [between viewer and image] into [a representation]. (32-34)

    In any interaction with an image, the picture as "traces of what has happened" is overlaid with or filtered by "shared communal knowledge" (36).

  10. But of course, "shared communal knowledge" to Burke, for instance, or to the older, disenchanted Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, is ideology by any other name. Drawing on recent work by Noam Chomsky, Sut Jhally has insisted that asking students to produce images will help them become critically aware of the ideological power fostered by what he calls "the commodity-image system." Must we turn Romanticism classes into production classes in order to thoroughly teach students what Jhally calls "the grammar of images"? [2]

  11. While multimedia call out visual as well as verbal modes of cognition, and thus perhaps reach more deeply into thought-processes permeating the lifeworlds of most of our students, using new media won't in any way reduce our pedagogical tasks. Hypertext won't teach them for us, neither by automatically turning them into active participants, nor by injecting ideology into their blind mouths. As Anne Wysocki puts it in her essay "Seriously Visible,"

    If we want our texts to be complex and to ask for interpretation, there is nothing inherent in "the visual" or "the hypertextual" demanding this or standing in our way — except beliefs in some inherent simplicity of "the visual" or complexity of the "hypertextual." If we want our students to value active engagement with texts and each other, we cannot expect that our texts will do that in and of themselves. If we find our students making Levi's 501 ads when we ask them to make multimedia, it is not the technologies of multimedia determining the outcome, but rather, in no small part, what we have taught them about the potential complexities and contexts of texts that incorporate multiple media. (57)

    While Walter Reed's FLASH presentations address students through visual understanding in a very traditional way—they do not differ much from slide presentations of other kinds—Reed's assignments do stimulate active engagement. Though most of this course was originally "paper," Reed presented pictures and poetry readings on Emory's Blackboard server. We have removed those items from the Blackboard system available only to students at Emory so that you can use them, overcoming copyright problems by making these pictures inextricable from our site, a side-effect of FLASH technology. [3]

  12. The "Mont Blanc" assignment is the editor"s design, an attempt to tap into visual modes of understanding—yes, in order to meet students where they are, but not that alone. Rather, the hope is that such assignments might encourage students to make traditional methods of reading part of their thinking repertoire by putting them in a position of needing to enlist cognitive tools for analyzing literature. Wanting to design a "cool" picture, they'll need to find and understand—read—passages of "Mont Blanc," just as Shelley's poem might help them analyze the chain of associations, ideological or conventional, set in motion by pictures of mountain peaks.

  13. New technologies immerse students in a world that is verbal as much as in one that is visual. [4] The first two articles in this issue are about extending students' capacity to understand textuality in digital form. Phillipson's "Romantic Audience Project" offers an important reminder that, as Marie-Laure Ryan points out in her introduction to Narrative Across Media, the computer revolution could be said to have launched us into an era of "secondary literacy" rather than, as Walter Ong would have it, "secondary orality." Chat rooms, email, web pages: people are confronting on the Internet words as much as, or perhaps even more than, images.

  14. Prominent among textual web environments, a Wiki is a program that can be used to structure online collaborative work. Ideal in "corporate and organizational settings," Anick Jesdanun says, Phillipson argues that it is also ideal for use in classes. "Anyone can post to a Wiki in real time," says John Bobowicz, a creator of Wikis for Java programmers. "You can go to a Wiki, and you can feel like your voice is just as loud and your opinion is worth as much as everyone else. It levels the playing field" (quoted in Jesdunan). In school, such leveling involves allowing students to write the course materials together. Phillipson's RAP decenters authority by making students central writers of the classroom text. A recent review in EDUCAUSE celebrates "Wikis in the Academy" in general, and Phillipson's in particular, for thematizing students' interests in co-authored texts (Lamb). Phillipson argues in the essay included here that, insofar as they generate texts out of communal interest in particular authors, Wikis literalize the distinctively Romantic desire to collaborate with posterity in self-production (Phillipson, "A Romantic Premise," citing Christensen 13, 27, 146-149).

  15. Additionally, IVANHOE: An Interpretive Playspace—so-called because first played using Ivanhoe as its major text—is a tool, soon to be available through NINES, that can be used with any text. Jerome McGann describes it this way:

    This is a playspace for collaborative interpretational work. The playspace promotes such activity, on one hand, and on the other provides different kinds of visualizations for studying and reflecting on the activity. It allows multiple "players" or research students to undertake a collective investigation of a given text or field of texts by manipulating and transforming the material in order to expose features and meanings that the original text or field of texts ignores, suppresses, or puts at the margin. The playspace licenses imaginative acts of re-interpretation—as if one were to ask: how would Scott's Ivanhoe look if its materials had been so arranged that the novel ended with the marriage of Ivanhoe and Rebecca (an outcome many of its initial readers wanted and thought the novel demanded)? It is a tool ideally suited both for pedagogical and classroom work, and for high-order investigations of difficult literary questions (for instance, how to edit Blake's The Four Zoas). The tool emphasizes and encourages interpretive subjectivity, on one hand, and collaborative interaction on the other. (NINES Tool Description)

    One "signal" feature of IVANHOE is that players are asked to appropriate and revise the text they are "reading" according to a perspective, be it critical or characterological. McGann describes its requirements and their effects in his "IVANHOE Summary":

    To ensure that critical reflection gets directed equally at the examiner/player as at the work being examined, the game requires that all game moves be made under a mask that is consciously assumed by each player. Players thus make all of their game moves as if they were being executed by another, specifically imagined person. This masking procedure allows players to study their moves from a slight critical remove, thus doubling, as it were, the critical perspective afforded by the presence and action of the other players.

    Asking players to create a perspective is what enables IVANHOE to teach them about the workings of literary culture. Readers can no longer be passive. "In IVANHOE, there is no text that simply is, that simply waits to be accessed by a disengaged reader," says Bethany Nowviskie (55). IVANHOE provides "a space for social textual production" (57), engaging players in what Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels have called the "deformation" of a text. It is as difficult to dislodge the pejorative sense of this term offered by McGann and Samuels as it is to sanitize "misprision," and yet de-forming is what all readers and editors do as a matter of course, as is visible in any text's reception history. IVANHOE makes these processes plain, and sociable, in order to render them systematic and rigorous.

  16. IVANHOE and RAP (Phillipson's Wiki) are genuinely interactive online materials. That is, they are interactive not simply via bells, whistles, and clicks, but because they involve students in co-producing a text (Porter), and, beyond that, in co-producing with Romantic literature a sense of historical relationship.

  17. Similarly focused, Reed's assignments enact the proposal he makes in his essay "Teaching a Sheep" to "teach the failures" insofar as they ask students to write Romantic nature poetry, a task at which they will sometimes fail. Just as it was almost impossible for Pierre Menard to write The Quixote (Borges 1-11), even though he copied it word for word, writing with Romantic sensibility is, of course, historically impossible. This failure, though, is a failure of coincidence—not incongruent with success of another sort entirely: these assignments will promote their attempts to imagine otherness as "other" rather than as another version of the same, ideal or demonic. One ventures out toward otherness even in the simple insight that it must have been different for Wordsworth to sit at Simplon Pass than it is to sit at a favorite campus spot, or to wonder about the different meanings conveyed by writing in blank verse in 1800 and writing in it now. These assignments could foster much-needed discussions in Humanities courses in general about the meaning of innovation (Wallace 24) and anachronism (Aravamudan), and therefore about the value of the archive as offering us glimpses of otherness that is other (Simpson). Ideal it would be if Romanticism classes could show that familiar, comprehensible history is a telling of the past in the sense of accounting for who has gained the world's good(s), that a sense of anomaly is generated by reading well those histories that have been written by or about people who lost power struggles of the past (Christensen 147, 207-208, n. 5).

  18. In an important book-length essay (in the true, French meaning of the word, as trial or experiment), Kieran Egan wishes to put paid to the scientistic quest for "useful knowledge" that he sees arising as an assumption even in the works of Bobbit's process-oriented opponents. Egan debunks Perry, Gardner—all progressivist educational theorists back to and including Dewey—by insisting that children are not best educated by methods that mirror the natural workings of their minds. For Egan, psychology should not be the helpmeet of educational theory, and, instead of developmental stages, he would rather we spoke of "cognitive tools" (72-73). For Egan, mirroring child's minds will not in itself overcome the problem that the "knowledge" we convey to students "can remain 'inert'" (147).

    schoolhouse, 1880 [One room school house in Oxford County or Township, [ca. 1880] © Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2004 <>]
  19. Though neither Dewey nor Perry would sanction it, a teacher's passive reliance upon developmental psychology—that is, use of a pedagogy that mirrors rather than creates thinking processes —does not help students acquire new modes of activity, Wordsworth's poetic "habits of thought," but instead leaves them open to mistaking consumer activity for active intellectual engagement. Knowing that "Coke is It" abolishes the lag time generated by thoughts or questions. Srinivas Aravamudan has recently designated what is potentially assimilationist or subversive lag time "Romantic" ("Colonial Logic" 179), and Alan Liu's recently published book gives the name of "cool" to slack in work-time: if we can reach students via their sense of style, Liu's work implies, we can help transform modes of gratifying the desire to be "cool" from consumerism (Frank) to active thought (Liu, Laws 306-307).

  20. We know from reading them that Wordsworth's habits of thought can cool off capitalist cares through their mode, diversely designated "recovery of projection" (Frye), the negative way (Hartman), or chiasmus (Caruth, Christensen)—that is, by disrupting subject/object relations that passivate and subject. Innovative technologies might become Romantic in confrontations with this literary history.

  21. Featured in this issue are several attempts to make knowledge come alive for students by creating rich online environments in which our knowledge of Romantic literature becomes vital, necessary. These environments will work via the "style" of Web design but they will not be pedagogically effective on their own, requiring as well a style of interaction. Can the cool style of digital interface, combined with a pedagogy proffering cognitive skills for reading texts and for transforming images into an "archive" (objects of interpretation, metaphors for past and present; Burnett 36), help us bring knowledge alive for our students? Can using new media "Romantically" help us retrieve the production of knowledge from the process of commodity production?

  22. We need qualitative research to begin to answer these questions. We thus offer the following materials in the hope that Romanticists will use them in their classes for some but not all students, drawing comparisons that are carefully measured through assessment. One issue of the Romantic Pedagogy Commons will be called "Innovations in Practice." We ask you to use the materials you find here and then to write articles that may be published in this future issue of the Pedagogy Commons, articles about your experience, comparing if possible groups of students who used the online resources to groups that did not. Such research will help us teach better and also reclaim a central role for Romantic literature as a place where the mind's development is seen not as progress, nor solely as regress either, but always as poetic work.


[1] Enlightenment discourse is, like Greek philosophy, occularcentric or perhaps even moreso, the latter being a point of view shared by postmodern thinkers as summarized by Levin (7). The pervasiveness in Enlightenment discourse of metaphors equating cognitive with the visual processes is fascinating given its simultaneous devaluation, explored by Stafford (and of course earlier by Martin Jay 21-147), of images in relation to verbal text. Thus while occular metaphors make possible imagining "enLIGHTenment" at all (Jay 83), thinking for oneself or the analysis of prejudice is imagined as the breaking up of culturally-prescribed images—the destruction of their integrity and hold. Back

[2] It is possible indeed that fostering the capacity for critique of as well as engagement via multimedia requires teaching students how to write the code that lies behind multimedia productions displayed on screens of all sorts, from PCs to PDAs. Learning XML, for instance, reveals how programs affect workflow, that form and content are as inextricable as "management from the laboring body" (Liu, email; see also Liu, "Transcendental Data"). Back

[3] Romantic Circles is developing an online database of images that can be used for pedagogical purposes; that is, copyright will be cleared for items in the database. The database will also be extensively annoted with bibliographical information as well as digital specifications and file-size options. We will therefore in the future offer you, in the Pedagogies section of Romantic Circles, the opportunity to create your own specific digital slide shows and/or Web pages for your classes. Back

[4] In my abrupt shift of topics, I ignore here any discussion of the relation between images and verbal text. Relying on Ong, Liu points out that, "at the time of its emergence from oral culture," "text" was seen as a specifically graphical medium (Liu, Laws 482 n. 10). As book artists, Johanna Drucker and Keith A. Smith emphasize textual production and book as visual practice and medium. However sympathetic to arguments about the materiality of texts, in a recent essay, Matthew Kirschenbaum notes the ontological difference between text and image, whether in analog or digital form. Though words in a computer environment can be converted to images, to do so makes them no longer analyzable as data—letters, phonemes, words. Optical Character Recognition programs prove how hard it is to analyze images (145): even in digital form, images are not analyzable "as computational data structures" in the way that texts are (138). For instance, the Blake Archive allows searching of texts and pictures, but it does so by tying to the pictures textual descriptions of them (144). Kirschenbaum's work suggests the vitality of W. J. T. Mitchell's "image-text" approach to cultural artifacts:

I . . . begin with actual conjunctions of words and images in illustrated texts or mixed media . . . . The image-text relation . . . is not merely a technical question, but a site of conflict, a nexus where political, institutional, and social antagonisms play themselves out in the materiality of representation. . . . The real question to ask when confronted with [various] kinds of image-text relations is . . . "what difference do the differences (and similarities) make?" (90-91)

Mitchell is not interested in any abstract formulation but only in how differences and similarities work in any particular textual instance (89). But Mitchell's study of the image-text relation is not confined to works by those who explicitly proclaim themselves to be engaged in multimedia design: "all arts are 'composite' arts (both text and image); all media are mixed media, combining different codes, discursive conventions, channels, sensory and cognitive modes" (95). Back

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