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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Respect generates respect

       I have to thank Maria Popova for her site Brain Pickings which does, indeed, “bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”  I already know I am interested in creativity and the way it manifests and changes given various and advancing technologies, but Maria Popova combines ideas as a “cultural curator and mind at large” that expand my little world.    Her “mash ups” are always food for thought,  as in this one on “Networked Knowledge and Combinational Creativity” which brings together Richard Dawkins, Susan Sontag, Gandhi, and Maria Popova in an argument for choosing and creating norms for “creative labor”: Norms that help us pay attention to each other and use each other gently.  Especially, she reminds us, consider how we value what inspires us—the threads from the vast history of ideas which have stimulated our own thinking.   There may indeed be newness in our contribution, but only because we have been exposed to others.   Is it possible to establish a norm (beyond literary citations) to credit cultural curation of the museums of our life?

A few thoughts:

(1)    I remember a moment in feminist scholarship when we over acknowledged to the point of confession.  Whereas this life history was often separated into Prefaces and Introductions, we referred to it so often in our work that it became essential.  I actually loved this grounding.  I found it easier to pay attention to the scholar when I was invited to know her/him first.  I more easily heard—rather than just listened to--lectures that began with “establishing authority” and not assuming it.  I know the practice was not universally appreciated:  “Get to the point already!”  But the practice made its imprint on me so that I enjoy saying, for example, “I was walking with Michelle when this idea came to me.”

(2)    As a HS English teacher over the last 10 years, I found great student resistance to even informal citation.  This only surprised me because I didn’t understand what mashing was and how in music and poetry and fun and games, internet users freely “borrowed” and combined from each other.  In fact, I was teaching a generation of students who believed and practiced “no ownership” of words and images.  I think, though, that they know from whom they borrow and who borrows from them in a subliminal world of flattery and pride.  This “internet memory” is a new skill internet generations share that I am not privy to.  If I "googled" and found original sources for phrases and paragraphs that I doubted were written by my students, I accused the individuals of plagiarism.  I told them they could be expelled for stealing, that being educated meant entering a dialogue wherein ethical people acknowledged each others' contributions.    

The LANGUAGE of plagiarism is posted everywhere in the public high schools.  Yet this internet generation doesn’t understand the traditional meaning and implications of plagiarism because their world has extremely different values.   

A new norm that could actually be communicated in all the places where people learn and practice being part of societies and cultures would be wonderful.  But, the norm has to be insisted on and experienced by practitioners of all ages.  Respect generates respect. 
(3)    When the same students formally presented their research process and results to their classmates, citation and documentation improved.  With few exceptions, students found it fun—if not worthwhile to others—to recall the “detective” process they engaged in order to come to the conclusions they report.    Noting this, the problem for me became how to get them to isolate their borrowings in their written pages or in the visual images they shared and then to write these acknowledgements down.    The carrot was the grade I would assign the project.   I doubt if they would choose to bore each other with these details if left to their own devices.  Precision is not a value for mashing.  And this is not unique to youth.  Quotations of the masters that are used and re-used are no longer trustworthy either!  See, for example, Brian Morton’s  examination of famous quotations in his Op-Ed article “Falser Words Were Never Spoken” in the NY Times (8/29/2011).
(4)    Ultimately, the solution will lie in a combination of “internet memory” and hyperlinks.  And we will demand a wider knowledge of each creative moment in the world than ever before.  How will we ever keep up with the young?  Should we let go our rigid grip on the technical formalities of academic thought?
 
 

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