When I looked at my wordpress dashboard this morning I noticed that I had 14 drafts–these are entries that I have started, but never completed. Right now I’m in the process of looking through these drafts so I can either delete them or (finally) post them. This entry started as a draft way back on March 7, 2010.
As seen on a commercial/PSA for MTV: There is a thin line between curious and controlling. This reminds me of the chapters I read about staring from Rosemarie Garland Thomson and her book, Staring:How We Look(I assigned it for my troublemaking grad class in March 2010). Curiosity has been used to excuse a lot of behavior and also stems from a quest for knowledge; we use the desire to know as a way to scrutinize, to pick apart, to dissect, and to conquer. How do we navigate this danger of curiosity?
In preparing to post this brief entry, I decided to do a little more research on the MTV PSA. I found out that it is part of “A Thin Line” campaign against digital abuse (sexting, textual harassment, cyberbullying) for youth. Here’s a blurb on their about us page:
MTV’s A Thin Line campaign was developed to empower you to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse in your life and amongst your peers. The campaign is built on the understanding that there’s a “thin line” between what may begin as a harmless joke and something that could end up having a serious impact on you or someone else. We know no generation has ever had to deal with this, so we want to partner with you to help figure it out. On-air, online and on your cell, we hope to spark a conversation and deliver information that helps you draw your own digital line.
I’m fascinated (not uncritically so) by this site and their project. I will definitely have to check it out more when I have time. I might even want to get my students in my feminist debates class to critically analyze it–especially in terms of the number of different ways the site encourages the user to not just read about the problem but to do something (post a story, do an action, spread the word, draw a line, etc). We could also analyze it in relation to family values and youth. For my spring 2010 feminist debates class we discussed youth, values and cyberbullying. I am also fascinated by their emphasis on the “line”: the line between curious and controlling, virtual and real, love and abuse, use and abuse, etc and drawing a line (as in, taking a stand) against the problem of digital abuse. What is the site/campaign doing with (and to) these binaries? Busting them? Reinforcing them? How do we think about the “line” as one that is both thin and as that which must be drawn?
In looking for a link to Garland-Thomson’s book on staring, I found a great video in which she describes her project:
Way back in May, before the intense heat and the unexpected canceling of kids’ camp sessions, I (too) optimistically promised to post a lot about my pedagogy this summer. Ha! Oh well, I still have the month of August. Once I work out some technical details, I hope to add a page here with lectures, syllabi, assignments, etc. For now, I want to start by articulating my feminist pedagogy of troublemaking. I am doing this partly because I want to have a clear and well thought-out teaching/troublemaking statement on this blog, and also in preparation for an article that I am submitting for consideration in a special issue on pedagogy.
Since I’m having some difficulty starting this process (I think I’ve spent so much time thinking/writing/teaching about troublemaking in the classroom that I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of articulating it in a succinct and concrete way), I thought I would use this blog entry to help me out. I frequently find that blog writing, which encourages me to just start writing (and ramblin’), frees me up to write a lot and helps me to formulate my thesis and framework for a more formal essay.
SOME KEY THEMES
CURIOSITY (more than confrontation)
MOTIVATED BY DESIRE TO ENGAGE NOT DESIRE TO KNOW
PROCESS, NOT PRODUCT
PUSHING AT LIMITS/CRISIS
CONCERNED WITH HOW WE ARE IMPLICATED IN THINGS WE LEARN
UNDISCIPLINED (sometimes unruly)
FOCUS MORE ON PROBLEMS, LESS ON SOLUTIONS
bell hooks (talking back, teaching as practice of freedom, engaged pedagogy, need for critical awareness/consciousness)
Paulo Freire (problem-posing pedagogy, pedagogy of asking questions)
Kevin Kumashiro (troubling education)
Megan Boler (pedagogy of discomfort)
Suzanne Luhman (quering/querying pedagogy)
Judith Butler (of course)
A BRIEF REFLECTION
I think this passage speaks to some of my key pedagogical aims. It’s from Freire’s Learning to question:
I want my students to not only learn how to ask questions, but to develop the habit/virtue of asking questions. This development requires not just learning how best to ask questions, but also how best to feel (experience) “the force of the question and the challenge it offers.” To effectively feel the force of the question, one needs to learn more than how to make trouble, but how to stay in that space/moment that trouble creates. My approach to assignments, discussions, readings is frequently motivated by my interest in giving students tools for both creating and inhabiting troubling spaces. On a side note, thanks to my use of the word “force,” the theme from Star Wars is now going through my head.
So, why should students (and teachers) stay in troubling spaces? Freire argues that asking questions and being curious enables us to resist the banking model of education in which passive students receive knowledge transmitted by teachers. It also enables us to engage in praxis where we critically and collectively reflect on the connections between our words and actions.
STAYING IN TROUBLE: SOME CLASSROOM PRACTICES*
few lectures…lots of online lectures as blog posts
huge blog/twitter component
ask lots of questions without giving answers
devote time to reading about/reflecting on feminist/queer pedagogical practices of curiosity and unknowingness
put together readings that don’t offer easy assessments and that offer messy (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives
develop assignments that not only emphasize engaging with other students (and collectively producing new knowledge), but making visible and documenting that process on the blog (diablog) and (Queer This!)
For some time now, I have been interested in thinking through the potential ethical and political value of asking “why.” Cultivating selves/communities who persistently ask “why” (along with “at whose expense”) is a central part of my own feminist ethico-political project. Recently I came across a children’s story, “Why?” from Fairy Tales for Workers’ Children (1925). I found the story in the recent (and totally awesome) edited collection of Radical Children’s Literature from Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel: tales for little rebels. When I first wrote this paragraph, I incorrectly identified the book as tales from little rebels.Wouldn’t that be a cool book? Tales of resistance from little kids? Hmm…what would that look like? I’m sure that kids could have a lot to say about rebellion and resistance…and a lot that they could teach us (well, at least me).
Since the inception of this research/writing/thinking/engaging blog back in May 2009, I have positioned my vision/version of troublemaking beside (in relation to) kids; much of my work is inspired by my desire to make sense of my own experiences as a troublemaking kid (and the experiences of my daughter whose image serves as the mascot for this blog). It is also inspired by a desire to develop methods for promoting feminst curiosity and wonder in children. I think that this edited collection for little rebels might be an excellent resource as I continue to think through my project/s.
Before moving into a discussion of the story, “Why?,” here are a few passages from the introduction of the collection that I would like to spend more time reflecting on in some future post:
On the difference between politics and morality: Children’s literature is necessarily involved in both morality (making distinctions between right and wrong) and politics (which are about the power to effect change). Teaching children to obey a higher authority may be understood as a moral lesson, but it can also be understood as a political lesson (1).
On the presence of politics in children’s literature: For those who would argue that politics have no place in children’s literature, we maintain that there is no way to keep politics out. Stories that uphold the status quo (arguably the majority of works published for children) may not seem political, but they represent efforts to teach children that the current social, political, economic, and environmental orders are as they should be (2).
What sort of literature is appropriate for children? What responsibility do adults have to children to keep them informed about critical issues of the day, such as global warming, terrorism, political corruption, and corporate greed? At what point must an ideal of “protection” end and one of preparation necessarily begin (5)?
So much that I want to discuss here in terms of how to distinguish between ethics and politics (and whether or not we even should); how to create/bear witness to stories for kids that don’t perpetuate the status quo; and how to think about the roles of protection and preparation in children’s literature (are these the only roles)?
Now, onto the story: “Why” from Fairy Tales for Worker’s Children (1925). This story is the first one in Mickenberg and Nel’s section on Imagination.
Once upon a time there lived a little boy named Paul who had no mother or father. He was very curious and liked to ask “why” all of the time. He was also very poor and never had enough food to eat. All of the people in the town were very old and very unhappy; they really didn’t like Paul always asking “why” and trying to figure out the cause of everything. The Matron would say: “You mustn’t always ask why. Everything is as it is, and therefore is right” (141).
Here’s a passage that I particularly liked: “Keep quiet, you good-for-nothing! Leave me alone with your eternal questions.” The fat woman was quite red with anger, because she knew no answer to Paul’s questions, and nothing angers ignorant persons more than to be forced to say, “I don’t know” (141).
…back to the story. One day, after asking too many questions and being slapped for it, Paul runs away.
First he runs to the chicken yard and happens upon the chickens just as they were laying eggs. Paul asks a hen, “where do all of your eggs go to?” After being told that all of the eggs go to the rich people in the city, Paul asks: “Why don’t I ever have an egg?” When the hen replies that he is a “poor Have-nothing” Paul asks, “Why am I a poor Have-nothing?” Angered by his bothersome questions, the hen shoos him away.
Second he runs to a cowshed where he happens upon the cows. He asks one of the cows for some milk. When the cow declines, explaining that the milk belongs to the farmer and that it will be sent to the city for rich people to drink, Paul ask, “Do the poor children there get any of the milk?” The cow chastises him, describing how the milk will be used for making delicious whipped cream for cakes and puddings for the rich. When Paul wonders if the poor children will get these treats too, the cow tells him to stop asking so many questions and to go away before the farmer comes and beats him.
Third he runs to a wheat field. Paul pesters the wheat about who will get to eat the bread that is made from them. When he is again told that the food is for rich people he exclaims, “Ah, again the rich people! Does everything in this world belong to the rich people?” When the ears of wheat softly buzz, “everything, everything,” Paul cries, “WHY?” They laugh at him for asking such a stupid question.
By this time Paul, who is near tears, angrily demands an answer to his questions. He is told to seek out the Owl for answers. The Owl happens to be a mean and imperious She–are Owls usually gendered as “she”? This Owl seems to represent tradition and knowledge here. Reminds me of an earlier entry I wrote about the Sour Kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who as the bearer of tradition and that which gets in the way of innovation, change and critical thinking. The only other wise Owls I can think of are the male Owls in Winnie the Pooh and the “how many licks?” commercial.
Anyway, the Owl, who doesn’t want to “waste her precious time on such a stupid child as Paul,” is too busy focusing all of her attention on a more important question, “Why are people so stupid?” She is particularly interested in examining why poor people, who work very hard, yet never seem to get anywhere, are so stupid. She is not interested in talking with Paul about his questions, and sends him away.
Totally depressed, Paul sinks down in the ground. Suddenly a fairy asks him, “why are you crying my child?” When Paul laments how lonely and sad he is because he seems to be the only person who ever wonders why, the fairy comforts him and tells him that if he listens really closely, he will hear poor people all over the world repeatedly asking why. Here are a few of her comments from page 145:
With her final statements I think the fairy is offering one answer to the question I pose in the title of this entry: Can asking “why?” lead to resistance and social transformation? Yes, potentially, with the help of consciousness-raising and collective awareness. I have a few issues with this story (singular focus on class, reliance on older woman as perpetuators of status quo–the old lady who laughs at Paul, the hen, the wise Owl), but I do appreciate the connections that it draws between curiosity, education and justice. I think I want to read this story to my kids to see what they think. Hmmm….
For the past several weeks, my queering desire class has been reading Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness. Here are my class summaries for our discussions of Ch. 2 on the feminist killjoy and Ch. 3 on unhappy queers. In reading through the chapters, I have come across several passages/ideas that I would like to use/critically reflect/incorporate/put beside my own work on troublemaking. I want to use this blog entry as a space for beginning a few different engagements with the material.
Engagement 1: Bearable and Unbearable lives
On page 97 of The Promise of Happiness, in her chapter on “Unhappy Queers,” Sara Ahmed writes:
I don’t have much else to write about this right now. I must admit that I skipped ahead to engagement 2 and have spent too long thinking about it. Now I am out of time. I am struck by the slippage that I see in J Butler’s work between the unbearable, bearable, livable and good life. I briefly wrote about it in my essay on Living and Grieving Beside Judith. Here’s the fragment:
Butler contrasts her notion of the livable/bearable life with the good life and argues that the good life is only available to people whose lives are already possible and recognizable and who don’t have to devote most of their energy to figuring out ways to survive and persist (Undoing Gender, 31-32). For her, the question of the livable life must necessarily precede the question of the good life, because to strive for a good life, one must first be recognized as having a life (Undoing Gender, 205).
My mom started falling down a lot. It wasn’t safe for her to be alone. The decision was made to begin hospice care. She was no longer living with cancer; she was dying from it. She had entered the final stage. Any thoughts about a cure or remission—that hope for a good life to be achieved again in the future—was replaced by practical discussions of how to ensure that she continued to have a comfortable life that was free of pain. The good or even livable life were no longer possible for her. The best she could hope for was the bearable life. And what she could expect (and eventually did reach) was something that seemed even less than the bare minimum requirements of life. Yet, even as I witnessed her decline and the resultant shift from good to livable to bearable to unbearable life, I can’t really make sense of her experiences of those last four years (or even the last six months) as just surviving until the inevitable. Up until those last days, years after she was supposed to die, she lived and, in moments, however fleeting, flourished. She enjoyed life, she laughed, and she loved her daughters, her grandchildren and my dad.
What makes for the livable life? How do we distinguish that life from ones that are merely bearable or others that flourish? Who gets to make this distinction and how do they do it? My mother’s living and dying with pancreatic cancer pushed at the limits of my understandings of life and how and when it is possible.
I want to continue thinking about the differences/connections in these various forms of “life.” How do we distinguish unbearable from bearable from livable from good?
Engagement 2: Because/Happiness as Stopping Points
In her conclusion, Ahmed offers up the following description of happiness as a stopping point for discussion, much like how “because” functions in stopping childrens’ relentless posing of questions:
Happiness becomes a stopping point; happiness allows us to stop at a certain point, rather like the word because. The child asks you questions, or I ask questions in a way that people might say is “childlike.” Why this? If this, then why that? What that, then why…? Anything can take the place of the dots; the empty place that always marks the possibility of another question, the endless deferral that reminds us that all answers beg questions and that to give an answer is to create the condition of possibility for another question. Eventually, you stop. You must stop. You have to stop to put a stop to the questions because there are other things to do with your time. So you say, “because.” Why because? Because “because.” When because becomes an answer to a question the conversation can stop. Happiness provides such a because, a “because because.” We desire things, because of happiness. Because of happiness, we desire things. Happiness is how we can end the conversation about why it is that we desire what we desire. Happiness provides us with a full stop, a way of stopping an answer from being a question (203).
There are so many different ways in which this passage resonates for me and my thinking about the value of asking questions and the limits that are (sometimes necessarily) placed on that perpetual questioning of everything. What are the limits of questions? Should we ever stop? I don’t think these are the right questions to ask; they might even encourage us to stop asking questions even before we begin (which is connected to Ahmed’s point that happiness/because shut down a lot of possibilities for imagining of/living in worlds). Much like that annoying utterance, because. This reminds me of one of my recent tweets:
For more on Freire and the pedagogy of the question, check my discussion here and here. Is there a way to take a break from questions without stopping them? Can we answer questions in ways that signal our willingness to continue the conversation later? I strongly dislike answering any question with “because.” I have done it–my 4 year old asks a lot of questions. She reserves the most random and weighty ones for right after she has been tucked into bed, when I am least prepared to engage with them. I really try not to answer with “because,” or the even worse, “because…I said so!,” but what do we do when we are so tired from the day or uncertain about how to answer some very deep and highly politicized questions (about the meaning of existence, gender roles, why we die, G/god, and more)? Here’s one response by Freire in his “talking book” with Antonio Faundez, Learning to Question:
While I admire (and sometimes aspire to) this goal, I disagree with it as an unquestioned guiding principle. There should be limits to our questions (maybe not the amount that we have, but when and how we ask them). In my own thinking about curiosity and asking questions, I want to think about the different forms that curiosity can take and the different motivations we might have for asking questions. Curiosity about the world is often motivated by an agonistic desire to know (as in, to conquer, classify and contain). Sometimes it comes at the expense of other considerations (like respect for others and their desire to not be the objects of our scrutiny). It can encourage us to pay too much attention, to stare and to make spectacles of others whom we find strange. So, curiosity and the “right to ask questions” should not be uncritically promoted. Instead it needs to be encouraged in tandem with the development of a critical awareness of how and when to ask questions (not just a relentless “why?” but a “at whose expense?” and maybe, “what effects/affects do my questions have on others?”). On another, perhaps more personal note, even as I want my kids to ask lots of questions (and never lose that curiosity and wonder about the world), I do not want to encourage them to interrupt me (and others) at any moment with their questions. Even as I write these last few sentences, I am uncertain about my conclusions. In thinking about the how/why, I am not interested in establishing “proper” rules for questioning. Instead, I want to encourage myself/others/my kids to always consider the consequences of their questions and to pay critical attention to the world that is happening in their midst of their curiosity. How is this encouragement/paying attention possible? Hmm…makes me think of my interest in curiosity as care…
Partly because I don’t like to have blog entries are the strictly prose, I wanted to add in two youtube videos that I found through my search of “curiosity asking questions.” The first one is entitled “A Study of Insistent Curiosity” and is part of 1shylah’s Channel or The Cybernetic Baby.
Some fascinating stuff. A little kid is exploring while someone (her dad?) films them. The kid repeatedly reaches for things that they are not supposed to, especially the lighter fluid. The person taking the video keeps saying “no” and “put it back” over and over again, but the kid keeps going back. They wonder why they can’t properly discipline the kid. At one point, towards the end of the video (starting at 7 mins in), the person taking the video exclaims, “Why don’t you learn? How did you get like this? Is it human nature? Where does your rebelliousness come from? Is it genetic? It must be genetic.” In some of their final remarks, the person taking the video promises to have a solution for how they disciplined the kid. I haven’t found that video yet. I don’t want to offer up an analysis of this clip. Instead I just want to pose it as a question about the nature/limits of curiosity and how we should encourage/discourage it in others, especially kids?
Okay, one more clip. I love youtube and how it allows me to find all sorts of examples/ideas with which to engage. This second clip was also found through my youtube search on “asking questions curiosity.” It’s part of the expertvillage youtube channel. Unfortunately you have to watch a brief commercial (not sure if it the same one every time. The one that I just watched was rather bothersome in its heteronormativity). This video is entitled, “Promoting curiosity in children.”
In this video, a women (presumably a/the mother) encourages parents to provide more opportunities for exploring that curiosity. After starting out with a brief discussion of using a telescope to watch a lunar eclipse, she suggests a few more ways to spark curiosity through exposing kids to new things, like: take kids to restaurants that have “different” types of food that they have never tried before (1:05) or to cultural events like a Native American “pow wow” (1:20). I can’t help but think about this in the context of my brief reference above to curiosity and conquering. Is it enough to encourage kids to try “new” things, like “different” (read as strange, “ethnic”) foods without considering the imperialist implications of this curiosity? I know I should/need to say more about what I mean with that last question, but I don’t want to right now. Instead, I want to leave it as an unfinished thought (an unanswered question) to take up again later (hopefully soon).
This week in both of my classes, we are discussing pedagogy. In queering desire, we are talking about/engaging with/trying to practice some forms of queer pedagogy. In feminist pedagogy, we are focusing our attention on critical pedagogy. Not surprisingly, a central theme in both classes is the value of making and staying in trouble in relation to asking questions (a theme which has come up a lot on this blog). As I write this, I am in the midst of reading an excerpt from Paulo Freire’s Learning to Question. He writes:
the point of the question is not to turn the question “what does it mean to ask questions?” into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students. The problem which the teacher is really faced with is how in practice progressively to create with the students the habit, the virtue, of asking questions, of being surprised (37).
Excellent. Creating troublemaking habits are an important part of my own ethics of troublemaking. And, as I have suggested elsewhere, asking questions and being curious are central for my own pedagogical aims. How do we (as critical/feminist) educators develop those habits? Hmm…a topic for an article, perhaps?
So many ideas from this week’s class are swimming around in my head. I just wish I had time to respond to all of them and to organize them into some coherent statement. Since I don’t have time for that (and I don’t really want to…I’m writing this at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and want to go take a hike), I will offer up fragments from discussions in my classes (on blog and twitter) from this week.
As an aside: Have I discussed how difficult it can be to manage and maintain four different blog projects at once. It’s hard to post on all of them. I need to experiment with ways for them to work together. Maybe this entry is such an experiment?
So, here’s an overview of what I discussed on my other blogs.
Day Eight: October 5: In our discussion of queering pedagogy, I talked a lot about making and staying in trouble in the classroom. I connected this to Suzanne Luhman’s “Queering/Querying Pedagogy.” Here’s what I posted about it:
One version of queering pedagogy: Making and Staying in Trouble
…trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it (Butler, Gender Trouble).
troubling, spoiling, undermining, disrupting, destabilizing, unveiling, exposing, unsettling, subverting, resisting, twisting, critically questioning, deconstructing, opening up
If subversiveness is not a new form of knowledge but lies in the capacity to raise questions about the detours of coming to know and making sense, then what does this mean for a pedagogy that imagines itself as queer? Can a queer pedagogy resist the desire for authority and stable knowledge; can it resist disseminating new knowledge and new forms of subjection? What if a queer pedagogy puts into crisis what is known and how we come to know (Luhmann, 5)?
Instead of focusing on the common concerns of teaching, such as what should be learned and how to teach this knowledge, pedagogy might begin with the question of how we come to know and how knowledge is produced in the interaction between teacher/text and student (Luhmann, 6).
As an alternative to the worry over strategies for effective knowledge transmission that reduce knowledge to mere information and students to rational but passive beings untroubled by the material studied, pedagogy might be posed as a question (as opposed to the answer) of knowledge: What does being taught, what does knowledge do to students (Luhmann, 7)?
Alice Pitt (1995) points out: “Learning about content is not the same thing as learning from it. In other words . . . learning is something more than a series of encounters with knowledge; learning entails, rather, the messier and less predictable process of becoming implicated in knowledge” [p. 298](Luhmann, 8).
Both queer theory and pedagogy argue that the process of making (sense) of selves relies on binaries such as homo-hetero, ignorance-knowledge, learner- teacher, reader-writer, and so on. Queer theory and pedagogy place at stake the desire to deconstruct binaries central to Western modes of meaning making, learning, teaching, and doing politics. Both desire to subvert the processes of normalization (Luhmann, 8).
at stake are the implications of queer theory and pedagogy for the messy processes of learning and teaching, reading and writing. Instead of posing (the right) knowledge as answer or solution, queer theory and the pedagogy I have outlined here pose knowledge as an interminable question (Luhmann, 9).
Such queer pedagogy does not hold the promise of a successful remedy against homophobia, nor is it a cure for the lack of self-esteem. This pedagogy is not (just) about a different curriculum or new methods of instruction. It is an inquiry into the conditions that make learning possible or prevent learning. It suggests a conversation about what I can bear to know and what I refuse when I refuse certain identifications. What is at stake in this pedagogy is the deeply social or dialogic situation of subject formation, the processes of how we make ourselves through and against others. As an inquiry into those processes, my queer pedagogy is not very heroic. It does not position itself as a bulwark against oppression, it does not claim the high grounds of subversion but hopefully it encourages an ethical practice by studying the risks of normalization, the limits of its own practices, and the im/possibilities of (subversive) teaching and learning.
In connection with this discussion, I also posted an open thread on class discussion. I focused on discomfort, uncertainty, resistance and failure. Incidentally, this open thread is the second one I have done this semester. It hasn’t been successful yet, but I imagine it as a great space for getting conversation going on topics related to the class. In the future, I might add in an assignment in which students have to start an open thread. Or one in which students must contribute to the open thread every week?
Day 5: October 6:
In feminist pedagogies, we discussed Freire’s Learning to Question. Very cool. Here are some of my tweets about the readings (which also show up on my twitter, but will be buried soon–one big problem with twitter):
Freire’s ideas are really important for me as I think more about my own vision of troublemaking pedagogy. I especially appreciate his valuing of why.
BTW: My grad students in feminist pedagogies live-tweeted the class. It seemed to work very well. Here’s a link to the transcript that they posted.