Terry Eagleton

Critical Digital Pedagogy's Application to Hikikomori (Japanese social isolates)

Last night I watched an Al Jazeera documentary about the Japanese condition of hikikomori. It made me think of bell hooks and Terry Eagleton.

Hikikomori turns adolescents and young adults into modern day hermits. Its central feature is a desire to remain confined to their home. These digital hermits spend their time online gaming and internet surfing. 

No underlying physical or mental condition can (yet) account for this extreme social isolation. Researchers say its angst and distress could begin with prior trauma and bad social experiences. It’s written that the condition rarely improves.

There are several suspected causes. Japan's fast-paced urbanization and technological progress; and its strict, competitive education system. There were 700,000 such isolates in Japan, with an average age of 31, as per a 2010 estimate. It’s spreading to other countries. 

The significance for our class is its connection to education. (15:45 to 17:40 in the embedded video below). Unaccredited free schools promise to return the students to themselves. They have been around since the 1980s. They serve as an alternative to Japan’s disciplined and rigorous schools. There were 7,424 such schools in 1992; the number has increased to 20,346 by 2017. 

Freedom, flexibility, and individuality characterize the safe environment these schools provide. The two minutes of the Al Jazeera video (noted above) reminded me of what we’ve studied and discussed. The ideas of play and spontaneity. Of the teacher not acting like a teacher. Of the students not being afraid to express themselves and have fun. The documentary does not mention Critical Digital Pedagogy, bell hooks, and Terry Eagleton. A cursory examination of free school literature doesn't, either. That doesn’t mean that free schools' evidence isn’t relevant.

"Teaching to Transgress" and "An Urgency of Teachers": The Individual and the Institutional Application of Critical Digital Pedagogy

I now see the value of first reading Teaching to Transgress before we came to An Urgency of Teachers. bell hooks’ journey is a private one (noted here). Her book reads as a memoir of her coming to theory as she made her way in the world of academia and beyond. For me, it was a good introduction to Critical Digital Pedagogy. Her journey became my journey

An Urgency of Teachers touches on the same material. But it provides a more comprehensive look at the topic. It addresses all its stakeholders - teachers, students, administrators, governments, and corporations. Doing so, it provides a glimpse at the immensity, not to mention the duration, of the project. Indeed, there is much work to do. But there is hope. In The Significance of Theory (cited here), Terry Eagleton notes the light at the end of the tunnel. The need for Critical Digital Pedagogy dissolves when it has nothing more to restore. When it doesn't have to ask itself, What’s the matter here?

hooks’ book implies what it means to be human; An Urgency of Teachers states it. It discusses the concept of slipperiness (This is the first time I’ve ever heard the word used as a virtue). Critical digital pedagogy is slippery for two reasons. It claims relevance within classroom walls. And its relevance extends (slips) beyond into the complicated practice of being human. Slipperiness makes Critical Digital Pedagogy an effective teaching tool. It also offers a way to look at a world foregrounded in technology. In other words, its application is manifold.

Pieces are fitting into place. An Urgency of Teachers features words designed to pose questions. We can find a correlation with hooks and Eagleton. They believe that that the best way to effect change is to revert to the questioning mode of a child. To use words designed to do work in the world. As hooks notes, theory is useless unless it’s accompanied by praxis. The same points reiterated in different places reinforces the salience of our reading.

I’m a big fan of collective nouns. They are witty; they are memorable; and, characteristic-wise, they are spot-on. (Please indulge me for citing some here):

  • Apes: a shrewdness
  • Badgers: a cete
  • Bats: a colony, cloud or camp
  • Bears: a sloth or sleuth
  • Bees: a swarm
  • Buffalo: a gang or obstinacy
  • Camels: a caravan
  • Cats: a clowder or glaring; Kittens: a litter or kindle; Wild cats: a destruction
  • Cobras: a quiver
  • Crocodiles: a bask
  • Crows: a murder
  • Dogs: a pack; Puppies: a litter
  • Donkeys: a drove
  • Eagles: a convocation
  • Elephants: a parade
  • Elk: a gang or a herd
  • Falcons: a cast
  • Ferrets: a business
  • Fish: a school
  • Flamingos: a stand
  • Foxes: a skulk or leash
  • Frogs: an army
  • Geese: a gaggle
  • Giraffes: a tower
  • Gorillas: a band
  • Hippopotami: a bloat
  • Hyenas: a cackle
  • Jaguars: a shadow
  • Jellyfish: a smack
  • Kangaroos: a troop or mob
  • Lemurs: a conspiracy
  • Leopards: a leap
  • Lions: a pride
  • Moles: a labor
  • Monkeys: a barrel or troop
  • Mules: a pack
  • Otters: a family
  • Oxen: a team or yoke
  • Owls: a parliament
  • Parrots: a pandemonium
  • Pigs: a drift or drove (younger pigs), or a sounder or team (older pigs)
  • Porcupines: a prickle
  • Rabbits: a herd
  • Rats: a colony
  • Ravens: an unkindness
  • Rhinoceroses: a crash
  • Shark: a shiver
  • Skunk: a stench
  • Snakes: a nest
  • Squirrels: a dray or scurry
  • Stingrays: a fever
  • Swans: a bevy or game (if in flight: a wedge)
  • Tigers: an ambush or streak
  • Toads: a knot
  • Turkeys: a gang or rafter
  • Turtles: a bale or nest
  • Weasels: a colony, gang or pack
  • Whales: a pod, school, or gam
  • Wolves: a pack
  • Zebras: a zeal

Consider what we’re doing here. The imperative work we do to impact the heart and mind by an education that is concerned with the human. Doesn’t this effort merit its own collective noun? An Urgency of Teachers, indeed!

Inept Acting and Better Teaching: Terry Eagleton's "The Significance of Theory"

bell hooks cites Terry Eagleton’s observation that children make the best theorists. Her citation warranted a visit to Eagleton’s essay, The Significance of Theory.
I like this essay for four reasons.
1. Eagleton writes that children take nothing for granted. Consider all their Why this and not that? questions. Brecht calls this the alienation effect. Don't identify with a character in a play. That way, you can muse about the performance as a whole. This alienation effect describes Critical Digital Pedagogy. Stepping back from we may otherwise do by rote can result in fresh thinking about how we teach as much as what we teach.
To effect this awareness, writes Eagleton, we can regress to childhood (question everything). Or we can become an inept actor. (See #1). This inept actor model correlates with my prior writing on hooks and theatre.
2. With jargon-free and practical terms, Eagleton notes when theory is (and is not - see #3) needed. At times, activities we take for granted (in our case, teaching) may come unstuck. This requires us to reflect on teaching. As Eagleton writes, The practice has now been forced to take itself as its own object of inquiry. By turning inward, (teaching) transforms itself. The result? For us, a revised teaching philosophy. 
How so? With purposeful amnesia. He cites how thinking about kissing messes up the actual kiss. This corresponds to hooks' prescription of spontaneity in the classroom.
3. He discusses the irony that emancipatory theory has a built-in self-destruct device. Theory responds to something amiss. Once we resolve the problem, it’s no longer urgent
4. Eagleton writes that emancipatory theorists can’t be megalomaniacs. hooks writes as much, too. They are too aware of themselves and their task to be dominating and self-serving. Along with their students, they are colleagues in the learning process.
My takeaways here, on my path to a revised teaching philosophy, are:
  • Understand the causes of this teaching crisis to better find a solution. I'm thinking, first, technology. It's assumptions, it's implementation, and its implications.
  • Emphasize the nature of spontaneous, free-flowing play in the classroom. We don't always have to follow a script.
  • Realize that change takes a long time. We’ll only know we’ve achieved our goal when we don’t have to ask ourselves, What’s wrong here? In the meantime, we must keep asking ourselves Why? Why? Why?

Terry Eagleton, The Significance of Theory

At the height of capitalist consumerism, American imperialism and the Civil Rights movement, it was becoming more and more difficult to conceal the fact that those areas of disinterested human enquiry known as academic institutions were in fact locked directly into the structures of technological dominance, military violence and ideological legitimation. A new, more socially heterogeneous student body, who could not be expected any longer spontaneously to share the cultural class-assumptions of their teachers, thus effected a kind of practical 'estrangement' of those assumptions, which forced them in turn into the new forms of critical self-reflection I have talked about already 'Theory' was born as a political intervention, whatever academic respectability it may since have achieved.