S. status quo than traditional SNOOT prescriptions ever were. Were I, for instance, a political conservative who opposed taxation as a means of redistributing national wealth, I would be delighted to watch PCE progressives spend their time and energy arguing over whether a poor person should be described as "low-income" or "economically disadvantaged" or "pre-prosperous" rather than constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation or higher marginal tax rates on corporations. (Not to mention that strict codes of egalitarian euphemism serve to burke the sorts of painful, unpretty, and sometimes offensive discourse that in a pluralistic democracy leads to actual political change rather than symbolic political change. In other words, PCE functions as a form of censorship, and censorship always serves the status quo.) (2001).
There's a lot being discussed here, but to highlight the essential argument is to say that even when social justice pedagogy is applied, and there is a dialogue being conducted, and there is a sensitivity to power and authority which results in a conscious effort to amend (in this case language) curriculum or a pedagogical approach it usually results in a zero sum gain, or worse, has a negative impact on society. Consider that in this example, PCE a reformed, progressive and culturally sensitive dialogue does not increase equality and comprehension among the masses, particularly among the disadvantaged (those it was intended to help), rather it acts as a form of censorship that serves the status quo. It seems like the more one tries to make an impact, the more he/she is rebuffed by the intractable ways of the system.
By the end of Infinite Jest, Hal can barely articulate his words so that others can understand him. He's alienated within the constructs of a system, a society, and an academic culture that promotes a fractured and numb emotional landscape. Hal has become a reflection of what society is, at least as rendered in Infinite Jest, a numb, indifferent, and humanly incomprehensible complexity (kind of like the Sierpinski Gasket). This is depressing, and maybe it's meant to be that way.
And now, after reading Infinite Jest, and considering the aspect of social justice it investigates, one is left with a double bind of sorts. That is to say one is duly aware that change is necessary, that social justice in education is an imperative, but at the same time one is aware of -- to rewrite a popular book title -- the mendacity of hope and the futility of change. One is aware that change is at once both necessary and impossible.
To sit here and to say that one can arbitrarily make changes to the dystopian society depicted in Infinite Jest to improve the educational experience for the students at the ETA would be intellectually dishonest. DFW makes a pretty convincing case that the more things "change" the more they stay the same (or in some cases, as in the PCE they regress). That, those students are willful participants in their own assimilation. However, in an attempt to earn full credit, I will recommend a pedagogical approach that is sensitive to the tenets of social justice and changes the paradigm the traditional educational standard has established, one that is open to change and inquiry and recognizes it's positionality. What I am referring to is the Kahn Academy.
For those that are not aware of what the Kahn Academy is, it's a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to providing free 10-minute lectures, on an array of different subjects, to the public. These 10-minute lectures follow a sequence that allows the viewer/student to begin at the most basic, rudimentary concepts, i.e. basic arithmetic, and continue to the most advanced, abstract concepts, i.e. differential of a vector valued function. The essential vision of the Kahn Academy is to allow students to master each level of the curriculum before they move on to the next level. In most traditional academic settings, mastery is not the modus operandi; instead it's a learning-to-pass-an-exam type approach that a faculty and administration takes toward curriculum.
What makes the Kahn Academy socially just is that, due to its use of technology, (free lessons, available to the public at any time, on various courses) it doesn't struggle with the same obstacles that face traditional educational environments where budgetary concerns, limited resources, and narrow windows for instruction are common and force tough decisions. Instead, under a Kahn Academy type model, students watch the lecture at home and do homework in school. The advantage is clear, students can watch a particular lecture as many times as they need to until they have the lesson mastered (they can even go back to previous lectures if need be), and then come to class and discuss the lecture, while doing homework with peers (Kahn, personal communication, 2011). Instead of being forced to listen to lectures in the stifling environment of a lecture hall, students can do what's natural and organic, and discuss and converse about the lesson with their peers while they work on problem sets.
The Kahn Academy approach is socially just because everyone has access, no student is left behind (or ostracized), and it fosters a participatory environment where discussion and peer-on-peer tutoring becomes the norm. Instead of forcing inherently social creatures to be anti-social in a room full of their closest friends, the Kahn Academy allows students to be who they are at a time when it is most important to develop the social skills that are necessary later in life. And it makes one wonder if Hal had grown up in a system that had fostered dialogue and communication would he have learned to articulate his emotions in a cathartic and meaningful way (in lieu of using drugs)? Who knows? The Kahn Academy approach has the potential to change the way we learn, but then again, it still takes a community, a society, an individual, that wants to change.
Skubikowski, K., Wright, C., Graf, R. (2010). Social Justice Education: Inviting Faculty to Transform Their Institutions. Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
Wallace, D.F. (1996). Infinite Jest. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Wallace, D.F. (2001). Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage.
Harper's Magazine. Retrieved from http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DFW_present_tense.html