According to Connie Yowell, Director of Education at The Macarthur Foundation, “Part of what’s wrong with the educational system and why people talk about it as broken is because it’s fundamentally starting with the wrong questions.” In this short film by Nic Askew, Yowell argues that we need to shift our question in education away from “what are the outcomes?” and toward “is the kid engaged?”
This video is part of a series of videos by Nic Askew on “The Essence of Connected Learning.” Yowell argues that if we focus on the question, “is the kid engaged?” we are compelled to pay attention to that kid as a person, not just a student/test-taker. Then we can develop strategies for reaching the kid and getting them excited about being curious, learning, and developing a strong “need to know.”
Here’s one of my favorite points:
In the traditional school system, where we’re driving home facts and discrete knowledge, we don’t make room for curiosity. We don’t create enough opportunities for kids to take things apart anymore. To look inside. To see how they’re made. To put them back together again. We used to do it with our old chemistry sets. We used to just play and see what would happen and wonder about it. That engages the imagination and can trigger the imagination. As we get more and more serious about test scores and our kids future, we move further and further away from those little opportunities to constantly fail and to iterate. And we forget that those are also opportunities to iterate with one’s identity. And to play around and to mess around. And it’s so important to do that when you’re at the middle school age and your early in adolescence—even when you’re an adult. We’ve gotta have these opportunities to be curious about who we are in the world and about how the world works and to fail and not be embarrassed by it. And to come back to those failures and do things over and over again.
I love the idea of focusing on failure and being curious and linking both of these to imagination and understanding about the world. But, how do we make room for these? What would a classroom (or a workplace) that embraced (valued, encouraged, celebrated) failure look like? Is that something that the teacher should model?
I think that feminist and critical pedagogies, with their focus on engaged students who actively participate instead of passively receive (Freire) and who embrace their discomfort and unknowingness (Megan Boler) would add a lot to this conversation. Also, bell hooks and her emphasis on bringing the whole person (mind, body, spirit) into the classroom would be helpful. At one point in the video, Yowell argues that we can’t force students to learn facts; we need to find ways to inspire and incite their “need to know.” Using her son as an example, she describes how he doesn’t care about fractions at all in school. But, if he’s in the middle of a game, and he needs to know how to solve a fraction in order to move onto the next level, he demands that someone teach him. I really like this idea. Building off of Yowell’s conversation, I think it’s important to pay attention to what, beyond an outcome-based, test-driven model, prevents kids from being curious and “needing to know.” What other factors contribute to an unwillingness or resistance to knowing? Here I’m thinking of lots of different things—everything from lacking energy/desire to know because you’re hungry or too tired, to being wary of what knowing might do to us (see Luhmann for more on what knowledge does to us.) To me, these questions come out of a need to pay attention to power and privilege.
In posing these questions, I was curious about whether or not other videos in the series addressed these issues of dealing with barriers to developing a “need to know” in terms of power and privilege (which is what feminist pedagogy devotes a lot of energy to). While the other videos are great—I especially like Creative—and they make oblique references to opening up education to “everyone” and moving beyond the top 10%, discussions of sexism, classism, racism, or heterosexism don’t seem to be explicitly referenced. Why not? Is this lack of reference to feminist and critical pedagogies indicative of larger conversations at DMLCentral: Digital Media and Learning? I’ll have to look through more of their videos and check out their site to see…
Wow, I’m on a roll this afternoon. 3 posts! J Halberstam’s book The Queer Art of Failure is inspiring me. In part one of my posts on notes about the book, I mention Barbara Ehrenreich’s RSA Animate Smile or Die. The idea of resisting the need demand to smile and being happy is a theme that I’ve read/thought about for some time. And it’s a key theme within some versions of queer theory.
I don’t have time to offer an exhaustive list of theorists/theories that resist positive thinking/feeling, so I thought I used the idea of “smile or die” to inspire another problematizer image. This image features one of my favorites subjects/muses, my daughter Rosie (who looks a little like Tina Yothers in Family Ties here).
Within the image are various references to feminist and queer theories that critique happiness/goodness/positivity as a goal and that embrace “outlaw emotions” and “negative feelings” (like rage). I hope to write more specifically about these theories in a post later this week. For now, here’s the image:
weapons of the weak: STALLING recategorize what looks like inaction, passivity, lack of resistance (88)
Trainspotting and unqueer failure: failure leads to while male rage directed against women/people of color
OUTLINE OF REST OF CH: An examination of what happens when failure is productively linked to racial awareness, anticolonial struggle, gender variance, and different formulations of the temporality of success (92).
Moffat and 4th Place: The Art of Losing
The L Word, the Anti-Aesthetic of the Lesbian, and the butch lesbian as loser/failure
Darkness, Shadows, Failure-as-style, Limits, Hopelessness, Punk politics, Fucking shit up, and the Queer Art of Failure
Children, Queer Fairy Tales, Shrek/Babe/Chicken Run/Finding Nemo, and Bringing down the winner and discovering our inner dweeb
A rallying cry of England’s dispossessed?
A snarling rejection of the tradition of the monarchy and national investment in it?
No future for Edelman…seems to mean (too) much about Lacan…and not enough about the powerful negativity of punk politics (108).
Negativity may be anti-politics, but it should not register as a-political.
three: Halberstam, expanding of the archive of negative affects and “fucking shit-up”
our: A queer archive? Inspired by JH’s call to discover our inner dweeb…
The concept of practicing failure perhaps prompts us to discover our inner dweeb, to be underachievers, to fall short, to get distracted, to take a detour, to find a limit, to lose our way, to forget, to avoid mastery…” (121).
The following are the online notes for my Queering Theory class in fall 2011. I’m in the process of bringing my various lectures over from my 18 course blogs to this site. Eventually, I’d like to do more with these lectures. Maybe combine them into a few key themes, particularly ones that connect to my work on making and staying in trouble. I also might want to reflect further on how to use the blog as a platform for lectures and discussions in class.
NOTES FOR JHALBERSTAM’S The Queer Art of Failure
see pdf of full notes (with embedded tweets) here.
Introduction: Low Theory sources of knowledge? Sponge Bob Square Pants
This book loses the idealism of hope in order to gain wisdom and a new, spongy relation to life, culture, knowledge and pleasure (2).
live life otherwise
Low theory tries to locate all of the in-between spaces that save us from being snared by the hooks of hegemony and speared by the seductions of the gift shop (2).
standing outside of success: failure = not succeeding, not achieving success
goal = dismantling logic of Success/Failure
re-envisioning failure (and losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing) as offering more creative ways of being parallels with Luhmann and ignorance, Butler and undoing
Failure’s rewards (3)?
escape punishing norms that discipline behavior/manage development
preserves some of the wondrous anarchy of childhood
disturbs “clean” boundary between childhood/adulthood, winner/loser
allows us to use negative effects (disappointment, disillusionment, despair) to poke holes in toxic positivity and myth of power of positive thinking and positivity/personal responsibilitysee Ehrenreich and RSAnimate’s “Smile or Die”
Is failure necessarily negative? Does it demand that we embrace and value our negative, “whiny,” grouchy attitudes?
Little Miss Sunshine and a new kind of optimism: not based on positive thinking or the bright side at all costs, but a little ray of sunshine that produces shade and light in equal measure (5).
not being taken seriously, lack of rigor, frivolous, promiscuous, irrelevant (7).
What should count as “serious” and rigorous academic work?
Benjamin: strolling down the paths, going the wrong way, not knowing exactly which way to go
Disciplinary knowledge, the sciences and rogue intellectuals
Do we really want to shore up the ragged boundaries of our shared interests and intellectual commitments, or might we rather take this opportunity to rethink the project of learning and thinking altogether (7)? Is this possible in academic spaces, especially at the U?
Let me explain how universities (and by implication high schools) squash rather than promote quirky and original thought (7).
JH on hegemony (from Gramsci and Hall): “the multilayered system by which a dominant group achieves power not through coercion but through the production of an interlocking system of ideas which persuades people of the rightness of any given set of often contradictory ideas and perspectives” (17).
traditional vs. organic intellectual
Low theory = counterhegemonic form of theorizing, the theorization of alternatives within an undisciplined zone of knowledge production (18).
Linebaugh’s/Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors,Slaves, Commoners, and The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and the history of alternative political formations
flesh out alternatives: how to live, how to think about time/space, how to inhabit space with others, how to spend time separate from the logic of work (19)
Animated films deliver queer/socialist messages:
revel in difference
invest in resistance
“the art of getting lost?”
FAILURE AS A WAY OF LIFE
goals of book:
“I hold on to what have been characterized as childish and immature notions of possibility and look for alternatives in the form of what Foucault calls “subjugated knowledge” across the culture: in subcultures, countercultures, and even popular cultures.”
Turn the meaning of failure in a different direction, away from happy/productive failure to the “dark heart of the negativity that failure conjures”–modes of unbecoming
Early chapters (1-3) chart the meaning of failure
Later chapters (4-6) allow for fact that failure is also unbeing
It is a book about failing well, failing often, and learning how to fail better (24). Reminds me of JB’s passage: “Trouble is inevitable, and the task, how best to make it, how best to be in it.”
JHalb hopes this book is accessible to a wider audience. What do you think? How do we put Halberstam’s desire for intelligibility/accessibility beside our discussion of Butler’s value of difficult writing?
Master the art of getting and staying lost (25).
chapter one: Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation
explain the title: A cynical reading of the world of animation will always return to the notion that difficult topics are raised and contained in children’s films precisely so that they do not have to be discussed elsewhere and also so that the politics of rebellion can be cast as immature, pre-Oedipal, childish, foolish, fantastical, and rooted in a commitment to failure. But a more dynamic and radical engagement with animation understands that the rebellion is ongoing and that the new technologies of children’s fantasy do much more than produce revolting animation. They also offer us the real and compelling possibilities of animating revolt (52).
connection to failure:
Animated films for children revel in the domain of failure
Childhood is a long lesson in humility, awkwardness, limitation, “growing sideways”
Animated films address the disorderly child
PIXARVOLT: new genre of animated films that use CGI and foreground themes of revolution and revolt, making connections between communitarian revolt and queer embodiment (29)
Pixarvolt films draw upon standard narratives, but is also interested in:
relations between inside/outside
desire for revolution, transformation, rebellion
self-conscious about own relation to innovation, tradition, transformation (30)
Films: Chicken Run (collective rebellion, imagining and realizing utopian elsewhere), The March of the Penguins (resolutely animal narrative about cooperation, affiliation, anachronism of homo-hetero divide), Monsters, inc (anti-humanist, anti-capitalist), Bee Movie (oppositional groups rising up to subvert the singularity of the human w/unruly mob)
difference between Pixarvolt and merely Pixilated? difference between collective revolutionary selves and conventional notion of a fully realized individual…Pixarvolts desire for difference is not connected to a neoliberal “Be Yourself” mentality or to exceptionalism; it connects individualism to selfishness, overconsumption (47).
chapter two: Dude, Where’s My Phallus? Forgetting, Losing, Looping
“we can argue for queerness as a set of spatialized relations that are permitted through the while male’s stupidity, his disorientation in time and space” (65).
The beauty of Dude is that it acknowledges the borrowed and imitative forms of white male subjectivity and traces for us the temporal order of dominant culture that forgets what it has borrowed and never pays back (67).
dude, seriously: forgetting, unknowing, losing, lacking, bumbling, stumbling, these all seem like hopeful developments in the location of the white male (68).
Dude offers a potent allegory of memory, forgetting, remembering, and forgetting again which we can use to describe and invent this moment in the university, poised as it is and as we are between offering a distinction “negative” strand of critical consciousness to a public that would rather not know and using more common idioms to engage those who don’t why they should care (68) EXPLAIN
Forgetting: forgetfulness as useful tool for women/queer people for jamming smooth operations of normal and ordinary (71), allows for rupture of present/break w/past/opportunity for new, non-hetero future (71), delink historical change from family/generations, forget family (71-72), Dory forgets family and opens up new modes of relating/belonging/caring (72
Edelman and heterofuturity + the Child (73)
Stockton and growing up sideways (73)
Finding Nemo (key argument 80-81) and 50 First Dates (key argument on 77) both deploy forgetting to represent a disordering of social bonds, employ transgender motifs to represent queer disruption in logic of normal, and both understand queer time os operating against progress/tradition (74-75).
The example of Dory in Finding Nemo in fact encourages us to rest a while in the weird but hopeful temporal space of the lost, the ephemeral, and the forgetful (82).
This brief speech is packed with great things to talk about. For now, I want to briefly highlight a few key parts of the speech (read the entire transcript at Ill Doctrine):
1. Race is a social construct that was designed not to make sense, but to rationalize and justify indefensible acts:
The first thing is that anytime we’re dealing with race issues, we are dealing with a social construct that was not born out of any science or reason or logic, we are grappling with a social construct that was not designed to make sense. And to the extent that it is the product of design, the race constructs that we live in in America were shaped specifically by a desire to avoid making sense. They were shaped for centuries by a need to rationalize and justify indefensible acts. So when we grapple with race issues, we’re grappling with something that was designed for centuries to make us circumvent our best instincts. It’s a dance partner that’s designed to trip us up. So just based on that alone we should be able to keep in mind that you will never bat a thousand when it comes to dealing with race issues.
2. We need to shift away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse…
These are things that will just naturally develop in our day-to-day lives, so the problem with that all or nothing binary is it causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to having tonsils. Like you either have tonsils, or you don’t, and if you’ve had your prejudice removed, you never need to consider it again. If someone says “I think you may have a little unconscious prejudice,” you say “No–my prejudice was removed in 2005! [Audience laughter] I went to see that movie Crash, it’s all good!”
…and toward the dental hygiene paradigm of race discourse.
But that’s not how these things work; when you go through your day to day lives there are all of these mass media and social stimuli as well as processes that we all have inside our brains that we’re not aware of, that cause us to build up little pockets of prejudice every day, just like plaque develops on our teeth. [Audience laughter] So we need to move away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse toward the dental hygeine paradigm of race discourse. Basically, if I might just offer one piece of advice.
3. We also need to move away from the idea that being a good person is just what we are and shift toward the recognition that being good is a practice, one that we must work at everyday [note: hmm….see some connections to virtue ethics here; I really like the idea of repeated practices]
And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day. We don’t assume that I’m a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth. And when someone suggests to us that we’ve got something stuck in our teeth, we don’t say “Wh-what do you mean? I have something stuck in my teeth? I’m a clean person! Why would you–” [Audience laughter]
4. Being good does not being perfect, but being willing to engage with our own and each other’s imperfections.
The belief that you must be perfect in order to be good is an obstacle to being as good as you can be. It would make our conversations with each other a lot smoother, and it would make us better at being good, if we could recognize that we’re not perfect and embrace that….So I hope that we can–if I could have one wish it would be that we would reconsider how we conceptualize being a good person, and keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good. Our connection with our personal and common imperfections, being mindful of those personal and common imperfections is what allows us to be good to each other and be good to ourselves.
5. Having conversations about race isn’t enough to address bigger issues…
So I know that this is no small task, but if we could shift a little bit closer, toward viewing these race conversations the same way we view a conversation about something stuck in our teeth, it would go a long way toward making our conversations a bit smoother and allow us to work together on bigger issues around race.
Because there are a lot of–beyond the persistent conversational awkwardness of race, there are persistent systemic and institutional issues around race that are not caused by conversation, and they can’t be entirely solved by conversation. You can’t talk them away, but we need people to work together and coordinate and communicate to find strategies to work on those systemic issues. Because despite all of the barriers that we’ve broken, all of the apparent markers of progress there are still so many disparities.
…but it is a helpful way to bring us closer so we can work together.
If you look at unemployment rate, infant mortality rate, incarceration rates, median household income, there are so many disparities on the various sides of the color lines in this country that it is worthwhile for us to iron out these conversational issues if for nothing else so that we can get a little closer to working together on those big issues.
So many important themes here–willingness to be wrong/imperfect + emphasis on building connections/community + recognition that being good involves repeated practices–and delivered in a way that encourages us to laugh, think and act. Jay Smooth is awesome.
One other reason (among many) that Jay Smooth is awesome: He’s fostered a great community on his blog; the comments on his Ted Talk post are really impressive (full of love and support). With so much talk about how pointless comments usually are (with trolls and blowhard d-bags derailing or hating on important discussions), it’s always great to see spaces where comments work to build community.