Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Re-purposing" Back-to-School

Laundry detergent bottles, "repurposed" by Julian Lwin. Via Cool Hunting.

We're moved into the new apartment enough so that we have internet access but not enough that we can, say, get dressed over here. We have our priorities, after all. So, this brief status report.

But here is an attempt at some substance:

Also keeping me from posting lately are the meetings faculty have been attending as preparation for the fall semester. At one of those meetings, we heard a representative from the education branch of the Herman Miller company talk about spatial arrangements in educational environments and how those arrangements can actually give shape to the learning dynamic that takes place between/among students and teachers. The timing of the presentation was unfortunate for all concerned: it was the last one before our lunch, and we already were running late; and, given that the buildings we'd be applying these considerations to have yet to be built (we're in the midst of a fundraising campaign for the college)--or, in some cases, even designed--it all seemed a bit intangible to those in the room (approximately all of us) worried about next week. Finally, let's just say it was pretty easy to infer from the nifty writing pads and pens given to us that if the Herman Miller company didn't already have a contract with the college, it wanted to have it.

At any rate, it was during that presentation that the representative used the word "re-purposing" to describe the process of transforming a space. The word was new to me and my colleagues; as I wrote it down, I observed one of my colleagues writing down the exact same word. But my Google search for images for this post this morning implied to me that, as usual, I'm out of the trendy-neologisms loop.

Anyway. The point, you're asking. Here it is, for what it's worth: That the word, like many neologisms when you first hear them, sounds invented "just because" and not because they describe some something that heretofore had gone unsignified. Whatever work they do is a sort of shorthand, a quicker way of saying something that we've always been able to say, a sort of microwavable language (which I've mused about indirectly before). My colleague and I giggled at its artificiality when we first heard it: "She talks funny," is what we were thinking. But this morning, as I found myself thinking about my desire to rearrange my classroom from its eminently practical, Gradgrind rows into an inverted "U" and to revamp some writing assignments in order, I hope, to lead my students' writing into more unfamiliar intellectual realms, I realized that, yes, I too was "re-purposing." It sounded weird, maybe even too lofty, to use such a value-laden word as "purpose" when describing what is in its essence remodeling. When applied to Education, though, it speaks directly to what, I would hope, changing things around should address. Something more than just freshening things up a bit.

(Cross-posted at Blog Meridian)