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Composition Forum 50, Fall 2022

Review of Lockhart et al.’s Literacy and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation and Disinformation

Kaitlyn Samons

Lockhart, Tara, et al., editors. Literacy and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation and Disinformation, Parlor Press, 2021.

This collection of essays’ sets a salient and impressive goal to offer “varying pedagogical solutions to this perceived crisis in information literacy” to the masses, targeting readers who are to teach in the technology age (Lockhart et al. 1). Improving information literacy is quintessential to seasoned and new instructors who are looking for ways to remain at the forefront of progress in their classrooms. As Tara Lockhart, Brenda Glascott, Chris Warnick, and Juli Parrish explain in their introduction, fear-mongering experts (like ex officio, Donald Trump) espouse the rhetoric of “fake news” and are “ever dividing” the United States (Lockhart et al. 1). In other words, these elected officials are looking to do one thing: to create an “adversary” (Lochart et al. 1). That is where Literacy and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation and Disinformation orients itself. If you are looking for a text that teases at being politically correct but firmly situates itself on the pathway of progress, then look no further than Literacy and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation and Disinformation.

This collection tackled a variety of writing topics, but the beginning of the collection reads like many introductions: an opening dialogue on what wonders the text will provide in its own time and place. For instance, this book is different from common rhetorical approaches to mis- and disinformation books because one of the major takeaways of the text is to be not just suspicious but downright wary of the intentions of an author. For example, Tara Lockhart, Brenda Glascott, Chris Warnick, and Juli Parrish write in their introduction:

Of course, anxiety about manipulation is as old as rhetorical studies, but contemporary pedagogical approaches to teaching reading and writing frequently presume good faith on behalf of the reader and writer. As the authors in this collection make clear, teachers must help students recognize that a critical reader does not take for granted that the writers they encounter are seeking a fair exchange of ideas, that an idealized version of a public sphere built on earnest communication for greater understanding and knowledge does not—and indeed has not ever—existed (3).

Critical skepticism is typically taught in upper-level classrooms. However, bringing these instructions to the youth in a safe environment like school can create a new generation of very engaged, critical readers and writers. Critical skepticism is paramount for the disruption of fake news that has abounded since the advent of the internet.

A variety of pedagogical responses proliferated with this call to action. Tara Lockhart’s takes on a variety of pedagogical approaches in her chapters, Civic Literacies, Despair, and Hope: Our Current Information Moment Unfolding; Misinformation, Disinformation, and the Twitter-Sphere; From Product Review to Lack of Common Group: How Mis- and Disinformation Shape Our Wired World; Diversity and Inclusive Text: Ed Tech and Misinformation Challenges in Schools; International Baccalaureate, Theories of Knowledge, and Misinformation Spotting in the High School Classroom; and Winning the Battle of the Story: Information and Narrative Warfare as Activism. In these chapters, Lockhart uses the age-old method of interviews to ascertain a very narrow but important response to how members of the civil world best respond to issues, such as the “journalism community of fakery” (100) and “Meme Warfare” (215). In these chapters, Lockhart interviews Joanna Geary and John Sellers to discuss synchronized attempts to spread disinformation to everyday people. For example, Geary communicates that the campaigns for mis- and disinformation are “much more coordinated” than previous years, and the individuals/groups perpetuating these efforts are growing in their technology just as rapidly as journalists who try to fight against it. Geary writes, “just as journalists are becoming more savvy, those coordinating disinformation campaigns also continue to become more savvy” (100). Lockhart’s decision to utilize the methodology of interviews is completely different from, say, Thomas Girshin and Tyrell Stewart-Harris’ chapter.

In Girshin and Stewart-Harris’ chapter, Trump’s University: Argument and Pedagogy in the “Post-Fact Era, the writers and educators adopt a casually academic tone to discuss the intricacies of their endeavors teaching the “slipperiness and opacity of ‘facts’ about Donald Trump and his continued persona of a ‘racist’ and patriarchal” individual (86 and 94). In Girshin and Stewart-Harris’ classrooms they understand the importance of building trust and allowing their students to come to complex conclusions on their own—pushing for students with different preconceived notions to gently paddle in the water of democratic engagement without outright alienating those who may have been fans of ex officio Donald Trump (or maybe still are). This type of educational engagement is a skill that allows for students to feel as if they are trusted to come into their own in the classroom as long as they pay attention to the lesson. Girshin and Stewart-Harris believe it important to educate their students and “provide [them] with the critical skills they need to make measured decisions about their political reality” (94). However, in the war against mis- and disinformation, there are multiple angles and approaches to how one might try to rectify one of the United States’ most looming issues.

In this text, each of the chapters bring wholly different answers on how one should fight the ever-looming presence of mis- and disinformation. Some arguments include: Joshua Daniel-Wariya, Tyler S. Branson, and James Chase Sanchez’s work that states we should “cultivat[e] software literacy through purposeful pedagogy” and should ask students to “look critically at the technologies they use to access information” and offer project and assignment ideas for educators (27). This is similar to Angela Laflen’s chapter describing Data Visualization projects educators can use to heighten student awareness coupled with educating said students on visual rhetoric “in terms of data presentation” (44). However, this is different from Lava Asaad’s chapter which asks the reader to think about “reconsidering performative and transnational approaches to literacy to include the embodied instructor” and look at giving the educator back their power in the classroom (27 and 128). In all of these chapters there is a basic throughline: education is at the forefront of the mis- and disinformation war and educators hold a key role in combating “fake news.”

Most of the chapters suggest that education should be at the forefront of the fight against growing mis- and disinformation impulses in the United States. In fact, in Girshin and Stewart-Harris’ chapter, the authors argue that the primary way to “bring Trump into the classroom is to examine the historical context that continues to make his rhetoric successful in gathering political support. Such an approach includes providing students with the language necessary to name and rename the political trends they see developing around them” (95). This chapter suggests that one of the major ways to combat a continuous history of racism, fascism, capitalism, and patriarchy is to engage with them as a learning tool and understand their roots in American democracy. In many ways, this suggestion is supported by Tara Lockhart and Tom Sellers in Chapter 17, where they note that a cogent response to fighting media illiteracy is to educate on the topic. In this response, they specifically name a class on media literacy as being at the height of how one might combat mis- and disinformation. As Sellers suggests, one way to actively engage in “Meme Warfare” is to simply create a class on memes:

Students probably need a unit on memes that helps them practice critically understanding memes form the inside out—not just in terms of “getting” them but also producing them ... This kind of work helps students understand both the dominant stories that circulate in our culture and create our reality, as well as how those stories can be challenged. (224)

As someone who actively teaches memes in her English 1030 class at Clemson University, I can enthusiastically see the intention of teaching one of the most difficult modes of media weaponry on the market. Memes are not easily “searchable,” barring two methods: 1) a reverse image search or 2) a Google search utilizing their direct rhetoric (without proper coding efforts on the part of the researcher, this is the only current methodology for searching for specific memes). They are neither like text nor images but an intense combination of the two, which is tricky to search for unless there is a copy of a meme saved to the computer or the individual can remember — nearly word-for-word —what the meme stated. Memes change how individuals interact and engage with social media platforms. Memes are a creative outlet, just as much as they are political propaganda. A creative outlet, as Sellers argues, is needed for the future to aid in the fight against mis- and disinformation: “If this is how we want students to think, there needs to be less teaching to the test—less obedience, less standardization, less focus on “the answer’” (224). If, as Sellers argues, active political engagers are to become more creative, we must start in the classroom with how we teach.

In short, this collection of essays is full of a brilliant array of readings that truly encapsulate what it means to teach in the technology age. From “Meme Warfare” to learning in the age of Trump, there are very few topics safe from this collection’s notice. While I have only just scratched the surface on some of the works in this text, I would highly recommend it to all who study technology, writing, and rhetoric.

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