Sunday, June 26th, 2005
Not sure why I’ve been thinking about this recently. This is the first few paragraphs of chapter three of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed — even in part — the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.
An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah.” It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.
On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism. The latter — action for action’s sake — negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible. Either dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence, creates also unauthentic forms of thought which reinforce the original dichotomy.
Human existence cannot be silent nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist humanly is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.
Wednesday, June 1st, 2005
Conservative magazine Human Events has posted a “Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries”
My friend Dave Enders, author of “Baghdad Bulletin: Dispatches from the American Occupation” is speaking at Politics and Prose tonight at 7 p.m. From P&P’s website: “Enders was a student at The American University of Beirut who went to Baghdad shortly after the U.S. invasion determined to establish the first English-language newspaper in Iraq. He exposes the contradictions, the suffering, and the absurdities of war as he and the newspaper staff brave dangers from Iraqi fighters and from Coalition forces.”
Tuesday, May 17th, 2005
Campus Progress has a rather thrown-together reading list from some of their staff and friends.
What am I reading?
- Dave Enders’ Baghdad Bulletin
- Report of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest
- Dorothy Sterling, ed: Speak Out in Thunder Tones
- And I just finished reading The Problem of the Media
Tuesday, December 21st, 2004
When I tell my father I regularly post writing about my ideas and research (even my honors thesis) directly to the web, he gets concerned. How will I know someone won’t steal it?
I can’t blame him. After all, in an offline world it’s all too easy to steal someone’s idea, particularly if they’re simply a recent college graduate of little stature. However, it hasn’t happened to me yet. In fact, the only result I have seen has been remarkably positive. After posting my thesis online (PDF), I’ve been contacted by a former journalist who I cited in my honors thesis now in her 80s living in Sweden and the planner for the City of Detroit called to ask me if he could use my thesis in that city’s effort to build a park to commemorate a community I wrote about. When I put the syllabus to my course on political activism online, I was contacted by someone who had designed a similar course who sent me some feedback and his syllabus.
Although I don’t have that many ideas or writing worth stealing, I have written some things which have garnered modest online audiences. In those examples, everyone who commented on my idea (that I know of) clearly attributed their source. In fact, in the culture of the web attribution is extremely important. This is due partly because links make it easy (no need to bother with writing out the source author, title, date - just pop in a link) but also because cheating is easy to discover: a quick Google search can easily uncover whether the same words or phrases appears anywhere else on the web, and tools like Technorati can even see who is linking to your webpage.
This is why I think the cultures developing in intellectual communities on the web - which value attribution, transparency, free discussion, and the centrality of ideas and content, not social status – will be good for university communities. In fact, the web can help make universities more relevant and connected to the world. University of Tennessee’s Glenn Reynolds, University of Michigan’s Juan Cole, Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig, and many other professors already write popular blogs about their area of expertise. As Universities open more of their resources to larger audiences, the quality of scholarship can only improve.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been running an excellent series on academic plagiarism, which got me thinking about the topic to begin with. While doing an otherwise admirable job, the reporters don’t think much about how plagiarism is found out. Although some of the cases they describe were found through happenstance, at least one was discovered when an undergraduate entered some words from an article into an academic computer database.
I was very excited to hear recently that Google plans on ndexing all of the books in the University of Michigan and Stanford University libraries (to be completed well before 2010, with other libraries on the way). In addition to opening this information to the online world, this news will also profoundly impact plagiarism. Once the work is complete, if plagiarists lift even a sentence from any the millions of books which will be digitized, anyone will be able to discover them through a simple Google search.
In a Shakespeare class I took in high school, we were given the assignment to read and summarize one of the Bard’s history plays. I spent hours dutifully trudging through “Henry the V", and presented my summary to the class. However, one of my classmates’ summaries sounded suspicious: he couldn’t even pronounce some of the words he had allegedly written. A quick web search revealed he had simply copied a summary off of the web. I printed off the website, stapled it to his handout, and put it in our teacher’s mailbox.
The web can also help prevent plagiarism, not just catch it. Although professional organizations seemed hesitant to make claims of plagiarism public, it’s only a matter of time before one of the victims decides to make their allegations and evidence public on the web. (For all I know, this might have already happened) If the allegation is true it could help catch and even prevent the practice in the first place. I have long said that when I become a teacher if I catch a student blatantly plagiarizing, I’ll put his or her full name on the web with a short explanation of the incident with the evidence. I’ll call it my “plagiarism hall of shame.” I would hope any student (or professor) who knows they risk public, lifelong embarrassment would think twice about cheating.
Tuesday, December 14th, 2004
Google has announced today a program to digitize the libraries of four major research universities: Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford in England. Only Standford and Michigan have thus far agreed to have their entire collections scanned - for Michigan, that means over 7.4 million volumes. Google expects to finish scanning the Michigan collection in 6 years. Books whose copyrights have expired will be completely available online for free through Google’s search engine, and works under copyright will still be searchable, although only small excerpts will be available.
The University of Michigan has further revealed: “Google began discussing this project with the University of Michigan Library in 2002. U-M served as the premiere testing site for Google’s non-destructive scanning technology. The digitization workflow was also first implemented at the University of Michigan.”
Google founder Larry Page is a Michigan graduate.
I wonder, if Google plans to scan 1 million books per year at their peak at the University, where in Ann Arbor do they plan to set up shop?
> UM PR: “Google/U-M project opens the way to universal access to information”
> AP: “Google to Scan Books From Big Libraries”
> W. Post: “Google to Digitize Some Library Collections”
> Michigan Daily: “Google to digitize ‘U’ libraries”