The Current Logo

Smudging the Final Cut

Written by Lacy Manship
February 16, 2011

Our class video camera was variously passed, tossed and dropped around by the kids and me over the two years we all learned together. In reflecting on our time as video-ethnographers, the tool itself is becoming quite a symbol for me: an icon of how young children can engage in social digital composition. The camera passed pretty freely around our room. It would be really easy to focus on that image of the circling camera moving with digital tie dye action around our learning. But it is not as simple as that… you can hear me in the background of some videos saying things like “5 minute warning” [to clean up and go to lunch], and that kind of school discourse absolutely defined our classroom, too.   

Camera and warning are both socially situated tools that bring with them power dynamics. Our classroom, while I like to think of it as one of those free-flowing, whole language type of places, was not really free of the dominant narratives of school.  I, as “the” teacher, still made more decisions about time, space and activity—even if they happened to include a lot of “progressive” type choices on my part. Still, putting this digital tool into the children’s hands and into their control created a counter narrative, a story of school in which the children made decisions about the time, space and activity shown on camera.

The documentaries, especially as a collection, represent a dialogue with and counter to dominant narratives.  And this is just the place that I have been messing around in my thinking with my UNC Charlotte Writing Project colleagues.  Supported by our group’s thinking about all of this, I see how our first grade learning was constructed within and sometimes spoke back to narratives of school, in which individual students follow a learning path created and assessed by authorities and mediated by canonical texts.  Through these documentaries, we differently defined what it means to make knowledge at school but always our knowledge making happened within larger constructs that variously defamed, ignored or supported our activity.

And so the image of a dented and bent up camera is a much more accurate symbol of the pushing-back, resistant nature of this work as opposed to my hard-to-let-go whirling, hippie image of digital commune.

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