Class Games

In January, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released a report on young children’s media diets. The survey of more than 1,500 parents of children ages 2-10 asked a bevy of questions about educational media use. Much of the ensuing news coverage focused on the sheer volume of media use, and how little of it overall parents deemed helpful, especially when it came to science and math content.

But I found something else to be more interesting: the study shows a serious class divide on educational media use. That made me wonder, could it be that high-income parents are letting their presumptions about “screens” cloud their judgment?

If we can get beyond the false assumptions, parents might be able to demand more, and better, educational media. Right now for media developers, the incentives are elsewhere, Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, told Games Industry International.

“Report Finds Class Divide in Educational Media Use,” Barbara Ray

I had a great economic professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in the 1980’s, named Harry Cleaver. Dr. Cleaver was a Marxist economist who had somehow survived the conservative purges of the 1970’s. Dr. Cleaver saw the impact of class and the class struggle everywhere he looked. Once you see the way class shapes American culture and the world, you can never un-see it.

Yet academic researchers in particular seem perpetually surprised by the pervasive impact of class, as if they suddenly realized that capitalism is a class-based system. Why wouldn’t class shape media use? It shapes everything else. I suspect that this surprise goes back to the fact that academic economics has been so conservative for so long. If no one points it out, you don’t see it.

Wiki Academia

The study provides some interesting findings regarding academics’ view of the benefits of Wikipedia-style peer review and publishing. Most respondents (77 percent) reported reading Wikipedia, and a rather high number (43 percent) reported having made at least one edit, with 15 percent having written an article. Interestingly, as many as four respondents stated that they were “credited for time spent reviewing Wikipedia articles related to their academic careers” in their professional workplaces. The more experience one had with Wikipedia, the more likely one would see advantages in the wiki publishing model. Most common advantages listed were cost reductions (40 percent), timely review (19 percent), post-publication corrections (52 percent), making articles available before validation (27 percent) and reaching a wider audience (8 percent). Disadvantages included questionable stability (86 percent), absence of integration with libraries and scholarly search engines (55 percent), lower quality (43 percent), less credibility (57 percent), less academic acceptance (78 percent) and less impact on academia (56 percent).

Survey of academics’ view on Wikipedia and open-access publishing,” Wikimedia Research Newsletter, Vol: 4 • Issue: 4 • April 2014

I’ve always thought that the only way for Wikipedia to build its credibility is for it to become a part of academic writing and research. I don’t think encyclopedias will ever replace peer-reviewed articles, but Wikipedia can only benefit if academic scholars are involved in the writing, reviewing and editing of articles. I wouldn’t want Wikipedia to be swallowed by academia; everyone should be able to contribute. I tell the teachers that I teach that the best way to understand Wikipedia, and develop a policy on it, is to participate.

Too many academics are suspicious, even openly hostile about the online encyclopedia. One professor I knew used to plant false information in Wikipedia and then ask students to research this information for homework. When they came back to class with his answer, he’d scold them for using Wikipedia. This is a professor, by the way, who sailed through tenure, despite his very open– even proud– advocacy of dishonesty towards students. The good news is that I don’t think his nasty little lesson would work anymore.

A New Review of “A Taste for Language”

A growing number of composition theorists (Hooks; Peckham) have noted the relative lack of discussion of social class in our field. James Ray Watkins Jr.’s A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies provides a theory of “middle class” language production for post-WWII education and reformulates a responsible cultural capital in the 21st century world outside the university. Watkins provides a multigenerational family autobiography to construct a revisionist history of composition studies that supports the proposed 21st century forms of cultural capital. To his credit, Watkins also provides a pedagogy to achieve this new cultural capital, although his “writing in the wild” pedagogy may not be as groundbreaking as a theory pressing for new cultural capital would demand. That said, A Taste for Language is a welcome addition to the discussions of social class in composition and the future of English and composition studies.

Book Review: Watkins’ A Taste for Language,” Liberty Kohn, 2014

It’s a nice review, positive but not fawning or anything, and I think his criticisms make a certain amount of sense. It’s worth reading in full.


As part-time instructors at colleges seek to improve their working conditions through unionization, they often find that the people standing in the way of their efforts are not administrators but fellow faculty members, several union organizers and labor experts observed at a conference held here this week.

Tenure-track professors can be resistant to contract provisions that erode their power over faculty appointments or let contingent faculty members assume a bigger role in the shared governance of their institution.

Union Efforts on Behalf of Adjuncts Meet Resistance Within Faculties’ Ranks,” Peter Schmidt

I think this is one of the great open secrets of academia, perhaps especially in English departments which long ago institutionalized a kind of contempt for both women and for freshman writers. I worked for a department that paid (mostly women) adjuncts about half the pay of the (mostly men) full-time professors. There were more than twice as many adjuncts as full-time professors. The adjuncts all taught freshman writing courses; the full-time faculty taught a few sections of freshman English and then, once they got tenure, stopped. There were only a small handful of tenured faculty who were in any way interested in helping to govern the university. It could only strengthen the consumer-oriented administration.

They saw themselves as individual scholars and were generally disdainful of collective self-governance, except, of course, when it came to defending increasingly obscure fields of literary study. They’d take part in any department activity in only the most cursory ways and they were wholly uninterested in the professional fate of the adjuncts, except insofar as they– along with the students– made the limited dating economy of a small Midwestern town seem just a little more profitable. Any suggestion that these adjuncts, many of whom had worked in the department for decades, be given some form of job security or equal pay was either ignored or rebuffed. I am not talking about the 1950’s either; this was the 2000’s.