As a student from the twenty-first century who grew up being told that I had a “learning disability,” I found Hunter’s essay, “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies” intriguing. In it, she examines how teachers engage their students in the classroom and purposes to “draw upon Deaf culture and the concept of Deaf Gain to illustrate how the hearing classroom could benefit from practices that engage in embodied discourses and visual-spatial metaphors” (Hunter). This professor drew from her own experience of being hearing-impaired to create a more holistic approach to learning. Instead of viewing her “disability” as a loss, she followed the school of thought that views deafness as a gain instead. Through this lens, she was able to explore other pedagogical practices that are less common. I connect to Hunter’s essay particularly after being labeled with a learning disability and being thrown into a remedial reading course when I was young. A few years after, I found something that I could do: act and move.
I could focus on and tap into my physical body much more naturally than I could remember which way the leg of the capital “L” went.
Once I used my body to act out stories, my reading abilities also drastically improved, as did my enjoyment of learning. Hunter explains that within her own university classroom she found the same results.
The students in her classroom “engage the physical space of the classroom as well as the expressive space of an embodied pedagogical practice” (Hunter) by participating in physical activities like wordless skits and sign language. By approaching the learning process as a deaf woman, Hunter has a unique understanding of the physical human capabilities that often go untapped in the modern classroom. She seeks to wake students from the Power Point and lecture-induced coma into which modern classrooms have fallen and to re-awaken their sense of excitement around learning.
Hunter, however, is not the only author with something to say about the benefit of experience-based knowledge. While she focuses on our tendency to trust language for everything in the classroom as we forget the power of non-verbal communication, Derrida pointedly discusses Plato’s Phaedrus, analyzing and adding musings to the work in an effort to revive and understand how language works with thought. Together, these selections point to the same idea:
There is a separation between thoughts of the body-bound mind and the body-free language.
To begin, Derrida gives background information about Phaedrus. It was not received well in the first few centuries of its existence, and some claimed that the work showed Plato’s immaturity while others said that the lackluster dialogue pointed to Plato’s old age (66-67). Either way, what scholars considered to be unimpressive language provided them with an image of an author whose physical body was not competent. He sounded “disabled”. Scholars wasted no time in believing that if there was a problem with the writing there must have been a problem with the writer’s body. The two are inseparable here because the scholars presume a marriage between the body and language. Derrida, however, goes against this assumption by stating that he believes every choice Plato made was intentional. His physical body, according to Derrida, was able to be divorced from his written work because there is a gulf between the two already.
Later on, Derrida contradicts himself by saying that his reason for writing is that writing and reading are the same. In order to read well he must write well, even if to do so is merely a repetition (63-65). It is this belief that traps our modern-day classrooms into language-based habits. We assume that in order to learn something, we must read and write it. Thinking and writing are therefore interwoven. This very assertion goes against the argument Derrida is trying to make—that language and thought are distantly related. Derrida contradicts his point before he has begun to make it.
Continuing through “Plato’s Pharmacy”, Derrida asserts that conversations in Phaedrus hang heavily upon the relationship of the characters to their surroundings, in other words, bodies are essential to the plot (69). Plato marks his way through each conversation by relying on the physical, a characteristic that Derrida points out, asserting that knowledge shut into books is far lesser than that of experiential learning (73). It is this claim upon which Plato builds his final myth.
In the last tale, Ra, the sun god, listens to presentations about writing, but dislikes the idea of it. He, after all, is the chief of all thought, so writing is a lesser way to communicate his meaning than action (88). Ra later asks Thoth to stand in for him in the sky (89). Thoth does so, and communicates what his father has to say, but is known as the “hidden” god who only re-tells the ideas of another (87). In other words, the god of writing is also the god of death, “non-identity”, and usurpation. He is constantly trying to fill the role of original thought, but is unable to, much like writing often falls short of the original thought or intention. It is only action that is true. Not much has changed today.
It is here that I see Hunter’s ideas emerge once more. After students have been trapped by the idea that to read is to write and to write is to think, the truth emerges, a truth we see illustrated by Ra and Thoth. There is a larger gap between thought and writing than there is between thought and action. So for our modern classroom, to divorce action from thought is to do a disservice to the student in the same way that completely discrediting the written word does a disservice. This is when students become parrots instead of experts. It is important to toss Thoth from Ra’s throne in our classrooms, but it is also essential that we recognize the messenger god’s importance.
We must work to re-discover our human capabilities through uniting our actions, minds, and words. This video shows some of the ways that humans can communicate physically and the dissonance between the physical and lingual.
Derrida, Jaques. “Plato’s Pharmacy.” The Athlone Press, 1981. Web. 24 Jan. 1016
Indieculturebox. “Pina (2011) – Official Trailer [HD].” YouTube. YouTube, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
Hunter, Leeann. “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. CUNY Academic Commons, 17 Dec. 15. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.