Ima Read, Ima Research

This song came from a twitter feed. Being a librarian, the words “IMA READ” act like a sign post for “please investigate.” It turned out to be a music video for a song which had blown up over Paris Fashion Week, specifically Rick Owen’s show. I won’t recount the shock this video first registers. The thing is pure unadulterated menace and cool.

With the slightest bit of internet digging, it comes to light that the song is not specifically a misogynist chant, but the work of a ballroom scene traveler and artist Ojay Morgan, who created the alter-ego of Zebra Katz for his musical projects. At least to Morgan, to read someone is  a high form of insult. Basically, making the other person a passive object to be taken in and dismissed in the face of one’s own place. Interestingly enough, the thing also came from a college experience:

 The song has always been my self-mantra—it’s just something I would always say to myself as a joke, because I took this class called  “How To Read A Play,” and I couldn’t stand the teacher, so I was always like “Ima read that bitch.” -Zebra Katz, Zebra Katz is Booking It

Namely, the song primarily seems to be in the voice of a teacher. Someone who from their own knowledge can quickly sum up and judge:

That really helped make it a song that you can pay reference to, even if you don’t know anything about ball culture—hopefully you went to school, then college, then at that point, hopefully you would write a dissertation so you can excuse your shit! -Zebra Katz, Zebra Katz is Booking It

The requirement of “reading” someone, and specifically “taking them to college” implies both violence and education, and the powers that it grants. Nothing so dire came of Morgan’s classroom experience, but the song highlights those fraught relationships anyone can feel in a classroom: when the students are bored and feel unchallenged, or feel that the teacher looks down on them, and the instructors saddled with curricula they dislike but have to deliver, or shoehorn previous work into, or feel that their students are in fact, facebooking, text-message spewing ignoramuses. Whatever the reasons, as a librarian, your heart goes out to both sides as they work out a difficult student-teacher relationship as the tensions escalate faster than we can breathe the words “critical literacy.”

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I was glad to read that Morgan saw the value in education despite the violence it can unwittingly do, so he can write a dissertation and excuse his own shit. In any case, Morgan dropped the R-word and the C-word in another interview, and it goes a long way in making the song make sense, and even, to him, a funny self-mantra from his college days:

“When the song hit Paris, it completely skyrocketed,” Mr. Morgan said. “All these people in the fashion industry that I looked up to had to listen to that song, and I knew a lot of people weren’t going to get the context right away. You have to do the research to get what I’m saying.” -Eric Wilson, You Have to Know the Context

Libraries and librarians can always help create a context for education, and even if it’s not a pretty one, often knowing it goes a long way to help all of those participating in higher education. And the only way to get the context is to do the research, both for the class and about the class, to understand the content and the form of the classroom and the school. This is why we are the archive that can help critique a canon.  You can’t take someone to college until you give yourself some knowledge. Ima Read, Ima Read, Ima Read.

Mooc,deux: and the Feral

Many hackles are rightly raised by the ubiquity of this word “disruption”, and its implications for the business of higher education; but the best MOOCs do not deal in the bourgeois concept of disruption, they deal in a very real rupture that is confusing to us all. Something convulsive. A monstrous birth.If the best MOOCs show us that learning is networked, and that it has always been, then learning is more rampant than we’ve accounted for.

-Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, A MOOC is not a Thing: Emergence, Disruption, and Higher Education

Morris and Sommel rightly point out that learning has always been more ubiquitous than many in our industry have supposed, and admirably aim to break down the distinction between formal and informal learning. But I’m concerned that nothing so radical has been born, rather, the MOOC-as-technology is a bourgeois, technologically-enabled system designed to “capture” learning, and to try and contain it. Roger Whitson wrote that “There is no-outside MOOC, or there is nothing outside the MOOC,” which illuminates the point that, if not for the enclosure of learning by institutions of education (in most cases, higher education), then there’s no sense in going to such great lengths to define and theorize the MOOC. Instead, by supporting the idea that there is nothing outside of the thing, it grants domain of all learning to the MOOC, and more importantly, to the institution in control of it. The MOOC, both as a concept and as a technological product,seems to be a very big enclosure designed to broaden the perceived role of education in learning. Fundamentally, education is a discursive regime, and the MOOC will continue to contribute to it, rather than disrupt it. Still, harnessing the interest that many people have in learning new things is a very broad-minded ideal, and the people who have built these systems are equally high-minded and considerate of that social good:

The question we should ask ourselves isn’t whether we’re going to achieve equality between students at the University of Pennsylvania and students in the general public. Instead we should ask if, through the use of technology, we have improved the quality of the experience for each of these students separately. We want all students to be better off than they were before. -Daphne Koller, MOOCs on the Move: How Coursera Is Disrupting the Traditional Classroom

But the more concrete issue is that the MOOC-as-technology and the MOOC-as-concept are not easily separated, because one enables the other. The thinking here follows from thinkers like Foucault and Bourdieu, from whom already existing relationships will continue to define the structure of cultural (and therefore institutional) codes. MOOCs will continue to be designed to trace and map out previously “informal” modes of learning that will become a template to be enforced in the future, to capture the feral in the hope of making it more useful for educators, for better or worse.

I’m hoping it is for the better, although my chief reservation as a champion of the feral is this: the MOOC-as-concept still acts as an enclosure which educators can use for the “invention, metamorphosis, deformation, and reinvention” of learning, and the relationship between student and educator won’t be dialectically resolved. The power is still in the hands of the educator while the student is still acted upon, no mediated through the form of an ever-expanding enclosure. Many people take on a feral state in their interactions with formal education, as it constantly shifts its boundaries, its cities and deserts. MOOCS are only useful to the domesticated to promote their efficient and purposeful use of the educational system, which is the expectation placed on individuals as they enter into educational space as students. Already, it has been noted that the MOOC-as-technology is already in danger of failing to meet even the defined role of “student,” not even because it provides too much structure, but because through a lack of communication, it doesn’t provide enough:

The primary issue is the almost complete lack of personal interaction.  This dearth of connectivity applies to both troubleshooting and to the actually class experience. -Andrew Smyser, A Student’s Perspective on MOOCs

The truth is that most people do not experience the our institutions as a city, but rather as a wilderness on the edge of civilization. Complex systems intermingle, sometimes fluidly, and in this case, sometimes not. The main problem is that there needs to be much more unstructured ineraction, but instead, there’s very little interaction whatsoever. The theorizing and designing of technological and conceptual systems like MOOCs aim to provide more space for feral interaction, but given the structure of “one-teaching-to-many” and the control it requires, it still maintains the student/non-student structure of an educational institution while failing to meet that standard. My hope is that more than the educators, the students will (and should) do those things in any class setting, and the MOOC-as-technology and MOOC-as-concept will prove to be yet another enclosure for educators and students to be navigate in, and ultimately around.