“…the primary source for serious hypertext” – Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review

Lindsay's Story: Hypertext and Liberation in High School

Pamela Taylor

Once we got out of the line he grabbed me by the arm and said "What have I told you about talking so loud?" It always made me mad that he could yell at me in front of all kinds of people and let anyone he felt like know our private business, but when it came to me talking about our problems and relationship, I had better just keep my mouth shut. I never said anything to him about that, though. So anyway, I broke away from his grasp and started walking away from him. He ran after me and this time grabbed me by the neck, "Don't walk away from me!" he said. I broke free again and started walking away, a little faster this time. He yelled after me "I'm not done talking to you, bitch!" –Lindsay.
Pamela G. Taylor is an assistant professor of art education at the University of Georgia. The research described in this study awarded Taylor a Getty Doctoral Fellowship in 1998. Taylor received her Ph.D. in art education from the Pennsylvania State University after teaching art in public schools for ten years. Her published works include: "Madonna and hypertext: Liberatory learning in art education" in Studies in Art Education (2000), "It all started with the trash: Taking steps toward sustainable art education" in Art Education (1997), and numerous book chapters. Taylor also presents her hypertext research as well as teacher education and Service Learning issues yearly at the National Art Education Association conferences.

Lindsay was very popular throughout high school. Her small stature, barely five feet, and genuine good looks made her quite a spirited and pretty cheerleader, a homecoming court representative, and a considered "catch" by many of the young high school boys who were brimming with testosterone. The "catch" for one particular boy, however, meant something that neither Lindsay nor her family imagined.

Lindsay discovered her voice of resistance through her art study, making, and connecting in her computer hypertext.

Lindsay began dating M. during her junior year in high school. It was a tumultuous relationship that no one was aware of until Lindsay discovered her voice of resistance through her art study, making, and connecting in her computer hypertext.

Although Lindsay had taken art classes throughout elementary and middle school, it was not until her senior year in high school that she began to discover how deeply her art could assist her in life. Even though she had always planned to work in nursing, her art class became the place where she found her voice.

Lindsay took an Advanced Placement art class mainly because it was the next step for her, but also because she could possibly acquire college credit. Lindsay came into the class with recommendations from her former teachers who said that she listened and complied with all school and class rules, was quiet, answered questions when asked, and worked to her potential. In other words, Lindsay was a "good student" who never disrupted class or challenged the teacher in any way.

According to Lindsay, she didn't say anything in her classes because she believed her ideas would be discounted or dismissed as they were coming from a teenage girl. She said that the teachers and other adults associated with the school knew more than she did, were smarter than she was, and could therefore learn nothing from her (Lindsay, personal communication, June 6, 1996).

Lindsay’s class is introduced to hypertext

Lindsay’s art class began their experience with hypertext through their teacher’s deliberate connective discussion of a work of art. When I saw a student's eyes wander I stopped and asked them what they were thinking and what in the discussion caused them to think that. A chart of sorts was drawn on the board with the original discussion as a block or circle and the wandering thought connected with an arrow. On the arrow was written the context or reason for the link. This process was continued with a variety of discussions and even questions concerning the discussion. Questions were then linked to possible ways to find the answers. Often students brought in the fact that this was the way they read a book. Some students said that they marked or wrote in their books. Others said that they often were reminded of something when reading, but without some kind of created reference, usually forgot their connection. Some students admitted that their minds wandered in class and they had always felt guilty because of this. They explained that they were often disciplined and ridiculed because they were not paying attention.

The tangled web of chalk lines became quite dizzying, but the students began to see the ways that they could connect their thoughts and ideas...

I proceeded to model connective webs on the board beginning with an artwork and then asking the students questions. Using their answers, more boxes were drawn with information, sketches, ideas for future discussion, and direct quotes from the students. These spaces were then connected to each other with lines that were labeled with a word or phrase from the students' comments. The tangled web of chalk lines became quite dizzying, but the students began to see the ways that they could connect their thoughts and ideas about the art that they were studying with the art that they were making.

A template was created for the AP students to use as an introduction to their Storyspace web constructions. Graphic images of the works of art that we studied were placed in individual writing spaces with information and questions posed for the students to consider. There were spaces for the students to add their journal entries and images of their sketches and finished works of art. Other spaces were created with suggestions for content such as other artists, books, poems, stories, music, video, films, and/or information from other classes or realms of experience that the students felt would connect, inform or influence their art study. When the students completed the prescribed templates and had a base from which to work, they were free to create links and add other personally important information. Throughout the hypertext experience I would read the students' webs and offer suggestions, ask questions, or make comments about their work. Students would also read each other's hypertexts and pose questions or make comments as well.

Lindsay's frustrating silence

When you are working in your web, you have the time to think and write down what you feel. It (the web) lets me talk to an older person who normally would think they know more than me. On the computer, they don't know who I am or that I am only an eighteen year old girl and then get the idea that I am only in high school and don't know (what I am talking about). This way they maybe think more about what I am saying and maybe consider that there might be truth to what I am saying since they don't know who I am. (Lindsay, personal communication, June 6, 1996).

Lindsay was very uncomfortable with the kinds of discussions that went on in her art class. She was quiet and only answered or offered discussion when she was called upon directly. Even then, she would simply regurgitate what the teacher had said previously or ask, "What do you want me to say?"

... a safe environment was needed for Lindsay and the other students to challenge, look critically, succeed, and perhaps even fail... I hoped that the hypertext webs would offer that environment.

Involving the students in exciting and stimulating conversation about art and the world was made very frustrating because of these student silences or perfunctory responses. I constantly wondered if Lindsay was uncomfortable sharing her ideas and thoughts because she had simply never been asked before? Or was she afraid to risk that she would appear different than her peers? Did she trust her own opinions? Was Lindsay afraid that she would be wrong if she did not follow exactly what I, the teacher, was thinking or planning? Or was it because of the direction and focus of her prior art education experiences?

In her previous art classes, Lindsay had produced artwork following specific directions pertaining to styles, techniques, and media. It appeared that Lindsay had never before considered that her own thoughts or challenging ideas were important in class. She seemed to be uncomfortable, frightened, and perhaps even a little angry that this class might be different. Her anger and that of the other students in the class was made evident by her deliberate blank expressions, her "eye-rolling," and "What do you want me to say?" responses.

Somehow, a safe environment was needed for Lindsay and the other students to challenge, look critically, succeed, and perhaps even fail if they were to ever feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. I hoped that the hypertext webs would offer that environment.

As Lindsay tentatively began to use her Storyspace web, I challenged her to look more deeply at her own belief systems. Lindsay was assured that her web belonged to her, was her own construction and therefore, whatever she placed in it would not be considered wrong. As she worked in her web quietly and silently, Lindsay began to organize her thoughts, to connect what she studied in class with her own ideas and values. Through her web, Lindsay began the revealing process of seeing how her study and her life were intricately connected.

Whispers are heard as Lindsay begins working in her web

A typical high school classroom, filled with so many different personalities and cultural perspectives can be threatening to some students. They don't want to talk openly about their very personal issues and stories. Such was the case for Lindsay. However, as Lindsay and I carried on our hypertextual dialogue, Lindsay appeared more comfortable sharing her concerns about how people treat each other through her web. I was also able to see that Lindsay's concerns, though very personal, could be both inspirational and challenging for others. The dialogue in her computer web became the space for Lindsay to reclaim her voice and rewrite her perceived relations between what she believed was the correct way of acting, living, and learning and what she, herself valued and desired. In other words, Lindsay began to see that her status as a high school female student was worthy of discussion and consideration. And in the process, she realized that she had a very important story to tell.

In her web, Lindsay wrote of her concerns regarding how people treat each other following a class discussion about power and prejudice. The class addressed issues of race, culture, and gender in the works of Faith Ringgold, Käthe Kollwitz, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Lindsay had struggled into class that day gripped in a stronghold by a male classmate. I approached her privately and asked her why she had allowed this obvious display of control. At first she tried to laugh it off as simple horseplay. She later admitted that it did make her very uncomfortable, but that she felt powerless to do anything about it.

This powerless feeling was not new to Lindsay. In fact, powerlessness had been an accepted part of her life since her involvement with her boyfriend the year before. Lindsay's teachers, friends, and family members were very concerned about her association with this young man because he had a criminal record for drugs and had been suspended from school on numerous occasions for fighting and behaving abusively to teachers. It was also known that he frequently skipped classes and cheated. The idea that Lindsay, who was considered a model student, could be involved with someone like this young man was puzzling to many. The adage, "opposites attract," seemed evident. However, no one really knew how "opposite" these two young people had become.

Before learning of Lindsay's involvement with M., I had reported his sexual harassment of a young woman in the hall (he had grabbed her groin area when coming in from a fire drill). Most people in Lindsay's art class knew of this encounter and asked Lindsay to confirm M.'s behavior as just playful. She did not comment. She remained the quiet model student.

However, that day Lindsay wrote in her Storyspace web that she thought prejudice went much farther than the original in-class discussion. She said that there were also some prejudicial issues between men and women. This was the first whisper of a different voice that I had heard. Lindsay also wrote in her computer web that she did not like showing her artwork to the class because she was afraid of what people would think. Seeing that, I decided to concentrate on what Lindsay was comfortable discussing: making art.