Cushman and Green: Knowledge Work with the Cherokee Nation

Cushman, Ellen and Green, Erik. “Knowledge Work with the Cherokee Nation: The Pedagogy of Engaging Publics in the Praxis of New Media.” The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement. Ed. by John M. Ackerman and David J. Coogan. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2010. 175-192. Print.

Published in the spring 1996 issue of the Harvard Educational Review, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” served as a call for addressing the status of literacy pedagogy in the information age. Written by the New London Group, an interdisciplinary group of scholars whose work formed a basis for an understanding of literacy as situated, knowledge driven, and imbued with culture and design, the article served as a framework for Ellen Cushman and Erik Green to establish a praxis of new media (182). Guiding students as they completed a long-term new media project, Cushman sought to generate an educational website for the Cherokee Nation that would record the allotment in Cherokee history in the State of Oklahoma between 1887-1914. In “Knowledge Work With the Cherokee Nation,” Cushman collaborated with Erik Green, an undergraduate student, to not only share what they had learned throughout the project, but also to locate a gap in the theoretical approach to multiliteracy pedagogy presented by the New London Group.

As undergraduate students continued the process of collecting narratives and other discourse artifacts that shed light on the allotment, they found themselves immersed in the history of this underrepresented chapter of the Cherokee Nation. This process was challenging and stressful, and students felt both burdened and inspired by the idea of immersing themselves in a culture previously unknown to them. In turn, however, representing this culture proved to be an area of contention. The new media content produced and represented on the website proved sensitive to the cultural preservation of the tribe as opposed to contributing to the more political process of nation formation (180). As a result, the Cherokee Nation has since deactivated the site.

The experience of guiding students as they collected and read disparate texts, wrote research papers, utilized multiple computer programs, and generated an accessible resource for anyone to learn more about this moment in history has pointed to a complex need to establish an ethical framework to approach community and culture using new media. Using Aristotle’s concept of phronesis as their basis, Cushman and Green build on the notion of “ethical action and public good” combined with an approach to critical literacy (181). Their addition of Ethical Practice to the list of multiliteracy pedagogies suggested by the New London Group provides a waypoint for pedagogy that seeks to engage students with new media projects that go beyond the walls of the university. Situating students in the praxis of new media, then, is to present them with the opportunity to fully understand the ethical ramifications of the texts and discourse artifacts they produce and represent, bringing the question of ethics to the forefront of new media composition.


Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee, J., Kalantzis, M., Kress, G., Luke, A., Luke, C., Michaels, S. and Nakata, M (1996). “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” The Harvard Educational Review (66.1).