research and writing V: ideals

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

Models of qualitative and substantive analysis provide keys to controlling an abundance of source materials by putting them into perspective. Id like to talk about one. Call it Limed or acidic qualitative analytics. Tart and spicy thinking. Here we emphasize quality over quantity and relevant understanding of new and traditional communicative spaces: web pages and books. Here we emphasize understanding the writing situation and its conventions over writing for its own sake, purpose, position, and ethos over general and vacuous opinionating. We emphasize and organize what we know now so that we can determine what needs knowing to overcome a distinguishable problem and to be able to explore different kinds of problems. As Susan Gibb writes in a comment under this post, Research would be starting with an idea based upon knowledge, then seeking to confirm or refute. A very focused process. To probe more specifically, I think the emphasis must stem from understanding the knowledge Ms. Gibb points to as a first cause. If the subject is ale export, I must first attempt to grasp my knowledge of export, ale, and the idea of an economy, then do a little reading for groundingto zone in on what I know. Eventually, as the research proceeds, understanding ale export in the Middle Ages may help me to understand NAFTA now–maybe.

In spicy, engaged intellectual hunts, students can write about The Matrix and make it relevant to some other issue, such as Homeland Security or the effect of digital technology on narrative. As a reader and a writer, I first place skateboarding onto the intellectual plate (I tell myself, this is what Im going to be doing) then try to put it into some context: this activity means something: it has to do with transport, history, the meaning of sport, freedom, and law. Thus, to write about skateboarding means that we can also explore law, public space, a contemporary sense of individuality, and culture.

In a way, people must be freed (freed in the sense of the provision of alternative, reasonable points of view) of what they have come to believe about themselves and their world (I cant write about skateboarding in school. Its not academic enough. Better that I write about the Death Penalty-thats original). Or, Im a failure, for example. I have to go to a community college rather than a university, so I must have done something wrong. Im mediocre because I got bad grades in high school. We know that systems of education are complex designs with multiple meanings. What is a school is a question that has everything to with how a school looks, smells, and feels. In Connecticut some schools may be falling apart, thus Connecticuts education system is shabby, and, more importantly, the lack of organized response by planners and decision makers tells us a lot about what they believe about educating people in Connecticut. The idealist in me claims this: buildings where people learn should be spacious, luminous, branching, maze-like and filled with trap doors, flexible, echoing, exciting, sexy, dignified, messy, filled with incomplete projects, completed projects, music, argumentation, films, bright computer screens, lots of books, and teachers just jittery with the possibility of it all; it should be filled with tools, art, and dangerous chemicals. Business people should be in and out of the place, excited themselves; politicians should enter the rooms with awe of what they helped to build, and the students should be allowed to come and go at will.

Neither parents nor children should be forced to have anything to do with it, but the choice to ignore learning space shouldnt go without consequence. The idealist in me claims that architects, teachers, and law enforcement people should work together to build the above mentioned space, and when a new one is needed the students who graduated should be called upon to build it.

This is a metaphor for mind.

Of course, such spaces already exist in books, on the web, and federal court, in Montaigne and Alice Munro and Shelley Jackson. In a way, for me, ignorance is a kind of denied access to spaces that are interesting and dangerous. We should risk the loss of democracy in our attempts to understand it, not kill its potential beauty because we fear its loss.

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