feeling trouble not troubled in the classroom, part three

I’m continuing to work on my troublemaking pedagogy and the value of feeling trouble. And continuing to be in denial about the looming due date for my manuscript–sept 1. how much have I actually written? not much. how much time do I have to actually work on the manuscript considering my 5 yr old doesn’t start kindergarten until Wednesday? not much. I had a breakthrough last night; with a slight change in my title, I’m able to focus my project. Instead of “Feeling Trouble and Troubled in the Classroom,” I’m calling my essay, “Feeling Trouble not Troubled in the Classroom.” Why? Because I’m interested in exploring the positive effects/affects of making and staying in trouble in the classroom. While I don’t want to discount the discomfort/trauma that trouble (in the form of being uncertain, disrupting the status quo and challenging one’s own deeply held beliefs) can generate, feeling trouble can also generate “good feelings” (of openness, generosity, curiosity, wonder).

Envisioning trouble only as crisis suggests that making trouble (critiquing, challenging, disrupting, unsettling) is a necessary but unfortunate part of the process of coming to awareness. In other words, we may not like making/being in/staying in trouble and the discomfort and uncertainty it causes, but we have to struggle through it in order to learn and gain a better awareness of the world. But, what if feeling trouble didn’t make us feel troubled? What if didn’t always lead to crisis and result in trauma? What if we valued feeling trouble and imagined it as a goal instead of merely an unfortunate byproduct of our efforts to engage? Within queer theory and pedagogy, trouble is valued. Challenging, disrupting, critiquing, subverting knowledge/ideas/authors are central to queer engagements. But this value is most frequently read negatively (as being against) and can, as Eve Sedgwick suggests in her chapter, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This is Essay is About You,” result in an overemphasis on and valorizing of suspicion and paranoia.

In this essay, I want to position my practicing and theorizing about making and staying in trouble beside but not in opposition to pedagogical theories/practices about trouble, coming out of critical pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, queer pedagogy and anti-oppressive pedagogy. I want to make space for imagining a classroom that embraces staying in trouble as productive and as central to engagement and critical and creative awareness. And I want to describe the strategies I use in my classes to feel trouble as curiosity, wonder and (sometimes?) joy.

Okay, that’s all I have time for now. I want to take RJP to the park on this beautiful day!

2.5 hours later: We’re back from our hike by the Mississippi. Fabulous!

 

feeling trouble and troubled in the classroom, part two

How should one feel when they are taking or teaching a class? What does it mean to be feeling trouble and feeling troubled? Here are some passages that I want to consider as I continue to think through my own responses to these questions:

Kevin Kumashiro’s Troubling Education:

Critical pedagogy needs to move away from saying that students need this or my critical perspective since such an approach merely replaces one (socially hegemonic) framework for seeing the world with another (academically hegemonic) one. Rather than aim for understanding of some critical perspective, antioppressive pedagogy should aim for effect by having students engage with relevant aspects of critical theory and extend its terms of analysis to their own lives, but then critique it for what it overlooks or forecloses (49).

Learning that the very ways in which we think and do things is not only partial but oppressive involves troubling or “unlearning” (Britzman) what we have already learned, and this can be quite an emotionally discomforting process, a form of “crisis” (Felman). In particular, it can lead students into what I call a paradoxical condition of learning and unlearning* in which students are both unstuck (i.e., distanced from the ways they have always thought, no longer so complicit with oppression) and stuck (i.e., intellectually paralyzed and needing to work through their emotions and thoughts before moving on with the more academic part of the lesson). Such a paradoxical, discomforting condition can lead students to resist further learning and unlearning and therefore may be seen by educators as something to avoid. Yet education is not something that involves comfortable repeating what we already learned or affirming what we already know. Rather, education involves learning something that disrupts our commonsense view of the world (63).

*This idea of learning and unlearning comes up a lot in a book I’m currently reading (and really enjoying): Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It. Davidson frequently emphasizes 21st century education as involving learning, unlearning and relearning.

Can we imagine an assignment in which teachers ask students to write in ways that trouble familiar stories? Can we imagine an assignment in which the product is less important than the process (66)?

themes: effect not understanding/engagement not comprehension; process not product, learning and unlearning; unsettling/disruptive/uncomfortable; emphasis on troubling stories/understandings; teachers as guides, not experts.

Megan Boler’s “The Pedagogy of Discomfort” in Feeling Power:

The aim of discomfort is for each person, myself included, to explore beliefs and values; to examine when visual “habits” and emotional selectivity have become rigid and immune to flexibility; and to identify when and how our habits harm ourselves and others (185-186).

The first sign of the success of a pedagogy of discomfort is, quite simply, the ability to recognize what it is that one doesn’t want to know, and how one has developed emotional investments to protect oneself from that knowing. This process may require facing the “tragic loss” inherent to educational inquiry; facing demons and a precarious sense of self. But in so doing one gains a new sense of interconnection with others. Ideally, a pedagogy of discomfort represents an engaged and mutual exchange, a historicized exploration of emotional investments. Through education we invite one another to risk “living at the edge of our skin,” where we find the greatest hope of revisioning ourselves (200).

themes: critically assessing habits and breaking bad ones; reflecting on emotional investments in not knowing/refusing to know; developing new connections, understandings, sense of self as flexible/precarious/open; valuing risk

Susanne Luhmann’s “Queering and querying pedagogy”:

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 (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 (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](8).

themes: focus on how we come to know/not know, not what we know; exploring what knowledge does to us and how we are implicated in it; effects of knowledge on us, learning/engaging as messy

Paulo Freire’s Learning to Question:

 …the point of a 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).

themes: asking questions, developing habits/virtue of curiosity and being surprised, feeling/experiencing the force of questions

One more source to consider: Will the Internet Destroy Academic Freedom? This blog post for Wired Campus on The Chronicle has some great comments (and some very problematic ones too) about what the goal of teaching is/isn’t. As an aside, the title also offers up an effective example of a leading question–the type of question that does not usually encourage troublemaking, creativity, critical thinking or curiosity and that is often posed by professors who already know the answer (or at least know the answer that they want/expect/demand).

feeling trouble and troubled in the classroom, part one

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
  • UNCERTAINTY
  • UNKNOWINGNESS
  • DISCOMFORT
  • CONFUSION
  • PLAYFULNESS
  • PROCESS, NOT PRODUCT
  • PUSHING AT LIMITS/CRISIS
  • ASKING QUESTIONS
  • TAKING RISKS
  • CONCERNED WITH HOW WE ARE IMPLICATED IN THINGS WE LEARN
  • UNLEARNING/BREAKING HABITS
  • VULNERABILITY
  • OPENNESS
  • UNDISCIPLINED (sometimes unruly)
  • MESSY
  • SURPRISE/WONDER
  • FOCUS MORE ON PROBLEMS, LESS ON SOLUTIONS
  • RESISTANCE

SOME INFLUENCES

  • 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!)
  • develop assignments that encouraged students to be curious (this is a feminist issue because…)
  • frequently pick readings/topics that are new to me too…creates teacher discomfort
  • pushing to make ideas/readings/class connected to everyday experiences (how? need to think about that more)

*a tentative list. I need to spend a lot more time thinking through this…

Troubling Pedagogy: Another Perspective

This summer I hope to develop a more effective yet succinct articulation of my troublemaking pedagogy. It seems important to be able to describe and explain what I mean when I tell people that my teaching philosophy can be summed up in a few words–“I like to make trouble and to train students how (and why) to stay in trouble.” I need a pithy follow-up description because, as you might imagine, saying “I make trouble and encourage others to stay in trouble” gets me in a lot of trouble. And not always the good kind of trouble. Instead of opening up others to be curious about what I might mean with such a claim, it often shuts them down as they struggle to envision a classroom where trouble doesn’t lead to total chaos and a failure to learn and engage.

As I work to articulate my own vision of a troublemaking pedagogy, I plan to read and engage with some other visions of troublemaking pedagogy (including Kumashiro’s Troubling Education, which I have taught several times and written about on this blog). Here’s one vision that I found yesterday: Amy K. Kilgard’s “Chaos as Praxis: Or, Troubling Performance Pedagogy: Or, You Are Now” in the July 2011 issue of Text and Performance Quarterly.

Here are just a few (somewhat random) reflections, inspired by my reading of this article:

ONE: Kilgard’s article is about how chaos theory might enable us to understand the messiness/unruliness of performative pedagogy. I am intrigued by her focus on unruly bodies–of the teacher and the students–and how they inhabit and move in a variety of classroom spaces. She contrasts her own messy, chaotic embodied experiences in the classroom with the neat, ordered and balanced description of embodiment in several new anthologies on performative pedagogy, writing:

My experience [as an embodied teacher] is not so ordered; my embodied performance in the classroom as I practice troubling performance pedagogy is one of deliberately pushing myself and others off balance (219).

I like this idea of being off balance, especially in terms of how it can generate surprise, wonder, unpredictability and unknowingness. It makes me think of Alison Bailey’s idea of being off-center.

TWO: Shortly after her passage about being off balance, Kilgard writes (emphasis mine):

We have been DISCIPLINED to write in NEAT and TIDY ways because this shows that we have THOUGHT CAREFULLY about our practice, that it’s RIGOROUS and CREDIBLE. How do we write the MESSY, the AMBIGUOUS, the sublime, multilayered, DENSE, complex, GNARLY performative practices of the classroom? And how can we make that ambiguity and messiness ACCESSIBLE to other people? How can we demonstrate theoretical COMPLEXity?

This passage has really got me thinking. I like her contrast between discipline (as neat, tidy, careful thinking, rigor and credibility) and messiness (as ambiguous, dense, gnarly, and complex). She does a good job of describing the problematic binary within the academy between disciplined and undisciplined (yes, another binary to bust for me and KCF over at It’s Diablogical!) Who says that messy can’t be disciplined and undisciplined? That developing complex and gnarly ideas can’t reflect careful and serious thought? Can we imagine making ideas/words/our pedagogical practices accessible and intelligible without reducing them to neat and tidy soundbites? I like this last question. How do we make ambiguity and messiness accessible to others? What is meant by accessible here?

THREE: Kilgard describes the process of moving furniture in the classroom in order to make it a more engaging and productive space:

On the first day of every semester, we assess the classroom for its performative possibilities. Usually we find the space lacking in fluidity and sheer size. However, as budget constraints require small (read: thirty students) classes to use rooms made for thirty desks and no more, we look deeper into the crammed spaces for the possibilities outside of the traditional desk, chair, or table space. We look up and notice the eight-foot ceilings and wonder how we might use this vertical space. We experiment with the furniture to see how it might fit together and take up less space. As I have done this exploration many times before, I encourage some past practices that have proved effective, such as stacking tables two high with their surfaces together around the perimeter of the classroom. No matter how many times I’ve been in a particular classroom, though, I still encourage the exploration. Inevitably someone sees a new way to integrate personal belongings and desks or a new way to utilize the bizarre nook in the front corner where a column obscures sightlines. This exploration is also necessary for us to remake our mental space. Some students grumble about moving things around every day, but most willingly undertake this exercise, freeing themselves from their typical physical constraints (even within these constraints).

The configuration of space in the classroom is always an issue for me in my pedagogical practices. I find the standard classroom set-up, with desks in a row facing the teacher, to be a huge barrier to critical and creative engagement with each other. I have experimented with rearranging the furniture a little (usually this involves finding the best and easiest way to create a “feminist circle”), but I haven’t devoted much attention to thinking through the logistics of this process. Experimenting with moving furniture can take a lot of valuable class time and be met with a lot of resistance from students. Kilgard mentions that she sometimes “encourages past practices that have proved effective.” I wonder if there are any resources out on the interwebz that offer up tips and maps of classroom configurations to try? It would be cool if there were an app for that…(sidenote: just did a very brief search on the app store and couldn’t find anything–anyone else have as much trouble as I do searching for apps?).

In thinking about experimenting with space, I want to throw online space into the mix. How can we use online spaces (through blogs and twitter) to create deeper engagement? Can we connect those online space experiments with physical (offline) experiments to keep pushing at troubling how, why, what and where we learn? When is so much experimenting too much? When does it overwhelm students? When does it become too much of a distraction? These questions remind me of an article I assigned in my feminist pedagogies class last fall, Designing Choreographies for the New Economy of Attention. While I need to re-visit the article, I do remember that they experiment with mixing online and offline space through their use of twitter during conference lectures. These questions also make me think of how it might be possible to put embodied and performative feminist pedagogy into conversation with feminist blogging pedagogy without making the discussion just about how bodies don’t matter in online classroom spaces and without reinforcing a “real” vs. “virtual” binary. Any suggestions?

PEDAGOGY CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: Speaking of experimenting with classroom space, how would you trouble this space? Here’s a picture of the auditorium (from my vantage point up at the podium) that I taught in for an intro class this past spring. While it could seat up to 250 students only 115 were enrolled in the class. In what creative ways could you use this space? (Let me admit upfront that I failed miserably at productively troubling it this past semester.)

HERE’S A SOURCE TO CHECK OUT:

Thompson, Nato. ‘‘Introduction.’’ The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. Eds. Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette. North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA, 2004.

I have a lot more to say about this excellent article, but it’s time to wrap it for the day.

Roundtable at MMLA: Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

This blog entry serves as a virtual handout for my contribution to a roundtable at the Midwest Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago on November 5th. I also plan to distribute hard copies of the handout at the actual event.

Sara L. Puotinen (University of Minnesota, puot0002@umn.edu)
Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

Some Links:

My personal research/writing blog: (making/being in/staying in) TROUBLE
Feminist pedagogy diablog with Kandace Creel Falcón: It’s Diablogical!
List of my course blogs at the U of Minnesota: An Introduction
My blog workshop (2/2010): Teaching with Blogs and Blogging While Teaching

Why blogging is useful for feminist pedagogy:

  • Shifting/reworking/disrupting who counts as an authority or who can produce/share knowledge
  • Providing students with more ways to engage and express that engagement
  • Enabling students to learn from each other, enabling instructor to learn from students
  • Requiring students to claim more responsibility for the class and how it works/doesn’t work
  • Training students in an important form of technology
  • Giving the instructor more opportunities to engage with students/material and to share their own research/knowledge in creative ways
  • Disrupting the rigid boundaries of the classroom in space and time
  • Encouraging the instructor to experiment with new techniques and strategies
  • Cultivating a space for public scholarship and for connecting with a wide range of people/communities inside and outside of the class and the university

Some Tips:

  • Successful blogs require assignments that are more than just offline assignments posted online.
  • Think about the blog as a location for reading and writing and reflect that in your assignments.
  • Bring blog entries, comments, and discussions into your offline class sessions.
  • In order to get students to use the blog, you must make it worth their while.
  • Spend some time at the beginning of the semester training students on how to use the blog.
  • Spend a lot of time really thinking through all of the details of your blog assignments.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques on the blog.
  • Don’t just assign weekly blog posts to your students that involve responding to your questions.
  • If you want students to be excited about the blog and take it seriously, you need to too.
  • Complete at least some of the assignments that you require your students to do.
  • Blogs work better in the classroom when we read and think more about what kind of teaching/learning practice blogging is (and/or could be).

A few examples of how I use blogs:

An Assignment:
My explanation  Example One: This is a Feminist Issue Because…
The entries This is a Feminist Issue Because…

Organization/Integration:
The entry Day 8: October 27

Interactive Lecture:
My explanation Example Two: Organizing Class Discussion
The entry A Feminist Response to the Arizona Immigration Bill (SB1070)

Live-tweeting class: an experiment

As I have mentioned before, I am experimenting with twitter this semester. In both of my classes (qued2010, femped2010), students are required to use it for various assignments and I am using it to communicate with class. Over the past month, several of my students in feminist pedagogies have live-tweeted class as a way to take notes for our discussion (I suggested it as an option for their note-taking assignment). Because I always like to try the experimental assignments that I suggest to my students (for lots of reasons, such as: I need to be willing to take the same risks that I expect my students to take and I want to make sure that the experiments that I come up with our actually doable), I decided to live-tweet my queering desire class yesterday. I’m really glad that I did. Here are some reflections on the process–I will include a transcript of my tweets after the jump).

Background: The class usually has 25+ students in attendance. It is an upper Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies course that is cross-listed as a mid-level GLBT Studies course. Blogging and tweeting are central to the class. Yesterday’s class was devoted to a discussion lead by a student group (part of their diablog assignment). We were talking about James Kincaid’s essay “Producing Erotic Children” in Curiouser. Because I was not responsible for leading class, I thought it was a good opportunity to try out live-tweeting. Instead of tweeting as the class administrator (qued2010), I tweeted as myself (undiscplined)

Some Thoughts:

1. I enjoyed it, but found it to be difficult. At first, I was a little scared. Documenting what students are saying in class is a big responsibility–what if I miss an important point or exclude student voices? It is also stressful because of the pressure to quickly post ideas in a very limited number of words.

2. It’s a helpful way to document the process of class discussion. There are all sorts of ways that I could imagine live-tweeting a class. You could tweet main points or offer up your own commentary on the discussion. You could limit the number of tweets in order to have time to (quickly) process the ideas being discussed. In my live-tweet I tried a different approach: my goal was to try and tweet as much of what was being said as I could. This meant I did a lot of tweets and that I didn’t spend much time trying to process/reflect on the discussion. The benefit of this approach is that I was able to document a lot of our discussion. The limitation of this approach is that I was not able to reflect (or engage) as much as I would have liked. I just counted the tweets: I did 52 for the hour of class. That’s a lot for me, especially considering that I had only done about 140 tweets total prior to class. This experience makes me want to tweet a lot more; it seems to be central to the twitter experience.

3. Does this encourage active listening? Yes and no. In my feminist pedagogies class the concept of active (sometimes non-judgmental) listening has come up a lot in our discussion. Berenice Fisher focuses on it in No Angel in the Classroom. AnaLouise Keating promotes it in Teaching Transformation. And Alejandra C. Elenes reflects on it in “Transformando Fronteras. Chicana Feminist Transformative Pedagogies.”  I imagine active listening to involve attempting to really hear/understand what others are saying. It requires that we don’t rush to interject with our opinions or judgements, but that we sit back and let others speak. In most basic terms, it requires that we stop talking and start listening. Live-tweeting helps facilitate the “stop talking” part of active listening. When you are trying to document what everyone else is saying quickly and succinctly, you really don’t have time to offer up your own opinions (I suppose you could through your tweets–I didn’t). In my experience yesterday, I didn’t talk at all (okay, I think I talked once); I was too busy trying to type up what people are saying. So, because live-tweeting encouraged me to stop talking and to really listen to what students were saying so that I could accurately document it, I think live-tweeting encourages active listening. However, even as my live tweeting experience was encouraging me to listen closely, it wasn’t always encouraging me to listen deeply. As I mentioned above in #2, it is difficult to process and engage with class ideas when you are trying so hard to document those ideas–especially when students are so excited to talk that they are (almost) cutting each other off in order to express their thoughts on the reading/topic. At one point during the discussion I briefly thought, “Wow, I hope they don’t ask me to say anything; I can’t image what I could contribute to the discussion!” Also, I wasn’t really engaging with the students. In addition to not speaking, I didn’t offer up any non-verbal expressions either–no head-shaking affirmations or looks of confusion (or whatever other gestures I usually do–not sure what those are…I wonder if students would be willing to point them out?). As a result, I felt distanced from the class; even as I was listening, I wasn’t really there. Is that always a bad thing, I wonder? Maybe my role as the instructor should (at least sometimes) be to step back and let them talk and work through the issues. I want to keep thinking about this idea of active listening and how it works.

4. I want to experiment with how to interject more brief reflections on the class as I am tweeting. In the midst of tweeting about what was being said yesterday, I offered the following observations:

It might be helpful to add in more observations like these in the hopes that students will reply with thoughts (maybe during class–that could be hard–or after class, when they are reading through the live-tweet). As I wrote this last sentence, I thought of something else that I would like to reflect on as I think about how/when to use live-tweeting: Should I have the twitter feed projected on the screen as I am tweeting? Would that allow for more students to participate in the discussion as we are discussing? When does this become too distracting? Does it take away too much from the in-class engagement? Is it more productive to offer up the feed after class–to help continue the discussion online?

5. Some quick suggestions: I have spent almost an hour writing this post and I am running out of steam; it’s time to offer up some sort of conclusion. Here’s mine–in the form of a few brief tips/thoughts:

  • I think more practice will allow for better live-tweeting. I need to get used to how to tweet, how to think quickly, and how to step back, while still engaging in the class.
  • Next time, I want to have a list of everyone’s aliases with me. Ideally I want to do what my students in my fem ped class did: I want to put in the students twitter names (I want to “mention them”–with @) as I discuss  their ideas. By mentioning them, I make it easier for them to read and respond to how I documented their words (they can reply to me with corrections, clarifications, reflections). I was only able to do this with a couple of students (I must admit that I did know more of the aliases, but felt overwhelmed by trying to type in some of the longer or more complicated ones. Here’s another good tip: encourage students to put in really short and easy to remember aliases!).
  • Make sure to tell students that you are live-tweeting the class. I didn’t and I think it lead to some confusion and frustration with my lack of engagement in discussion. In the quick de-briefing at the end of class one student exclaimed, “I looked over and saw you on your computer all of the time and I thought, ‘She better not be on facebook while I’m trying to lead discussion!'”

Okay, I am sure that I have plenty more to write about this experiment, but I need to stop now. I plan to post parts of this entry on all of my different blogs, including my queering desire class (I’m writing it initially on my trouble blog). I hope that my students in queering desire will comment on this entry with their reactions to the experiment and their thoughts on what I did/didn’t document about discussion.

The entire twitter feed is after the jump. To read it in chronological order, go from top to bottom.

Continue reading

More about asking questions

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.

queering desire: 2010

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

uncertain, unpredictable, abnormal, fluid, unstable, confusing, flexible…

A few passages from Luhmann:

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?

feminist pedagogies: 2010

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.

Prepping for class: feminist pedagogies, some sources

So one of my colleagues at the U of M suggested that I focus my feminist pedagogies class this fall on technology. I love this idea–even though it requires a lot of work as I think through what technologies to focus on, etc. Not sure if I even like the term technologies here. Maybe new social media or digital media? Anyway, I want to begin putting together a list of possible resources for the class. Here’s what I’ve already found (most of this comes via my twitter feed). Since I trying to learn a lot more about twitter (I don’t know much, but want to use it in my classes this year), this list is pretty twitter-heavy at this point.

GENERAL TECHNOLOGY SOURCES:

TWITTER SOURCES:

I’m still trying to decide how much emphasis I want to put on technology and how many different technologies that I want to focus on. I definitely want to talk about blogging and twitter. I’m also thinking about podcasts/v-logs,  google maps/google Earth and digital storytelling. Any thoughts?

A few links I want to re-read (or reference)…someday

Ever since I got my iPad in May, I use it a lot for my morning internet news reading. For some reason, I can’t figure out how to make bookmarks on my iPad version of safari (which might be a good thing because I tend to bookmark lots of links that I never return to). So instead, I have started emailing myself the links. Now my inbox is filled with them and I’m feeling the need to clean (which doesn’t happen that often–as hard as I try, I usually have hundreds of emails in my two main mail accounts. Sigh).

Since I use this blog as an archive for ideas, I have decided to post a brief “annotated” list of these links/entries/articles:

1. Childhood, Disability and Public Space a blog entry by Angus Johnston at Student Activism
This entry, which links to an interesting thread on Feministe about kids and public space, is about the rights of children and adults with disability in relation to public space. Here’s his conclusion:

Which brings me to my most important point: that the duty to minimize disruption isn’t a duty that the young and the old and those with disabilities have to the robust adults among us, it’s a reciprocal duty that each of us, whatever our condition, has to each of our neighbors, whatever their condition.

Each of us has an obligation to refrain from whining too long or too loudly in museums. But each of us also has an obligation to accept the company of others good-naturedly, and to respond with grace when disruptions inevitably occur.

Why I’m archiving it: This essay resonates with me on a number of different levels–personally (as the mother of two young children who struggles to navigate public space with them and in the midst of other parents who do seem to feel entitled to take up lots of space, and as a daughter who witnessed my mom’s fearful attempts to inhabit public space as terminally ill, slow-moving and fragile without being knocked over or shoved out of the way) and intellectually (I like thinking about the links between public space, children and disruption).

Where I found it: random twitter search on @bitchphd, buried deep on page 2 or 3

2. threadbared a blog by Mimi Thi Nguyen and Minh-Ha T. Pham
Here’s a description of this super-cool blog:

Threadbared is an evolving collaboration between two clotheshorse academics to discuss the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names “fashion” and “beauty.” With commentary on how clothes matter, as well as book and exhibit reviews and interviews with scholars and artists, Threadbared considers the critical importance of taking clothes –and the bodies that design, manufacture, disseminate, and wear them– seriously as an entry point into dialogue about the world around us.

Why I’m archiving it: Okay, I’m not really into fashion that much (but maybe after reading this blog, I will be!), however I am familiar with Mimi Thi Nguyen’s work (Alien Encounters and a brief online essay on Mulan from years ago) and I appreciate the ways in which she brings feminist, queer, and anti-racist analyses to bear on pop culture. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s work seems pretty cool too; I especially like her post (which I just found) on why I feel guilty when I don’t blog. And here’s one more reason: this is a kick-ass blog done by academics who are using their impressive set of critical tools (feminist transnational studies, queer theory, critical media studies) to critically reflect on popular (fashion) culture. And it’s a diablog. This is a great model for being diablogical!

Where I found it: Wow, I wish I could remember. Probably twitter again. I think twitter is my new researching BFF. Seriously, twitter is a great resource. I will definitely have to use it in my classes this year.

3. May I, Please, Queer Your Kids? The New Queer Pedagogy an online article by Stephanie Jo Marchese in a Special Issue of MP: An international feminist journal
In this article, Marchese opens her discussion of queer pedagogy and the queer classroom with one queer student’s story (Sara) of being deemed a threat by her teachers:

By asserting the contagion of queerness, any school system, any teacher, any student, and any administrator has an increased chance of exposure. Paranoia becomes the vaccine to this social disease. It has seeped into pedagogical practices resulting in the devaluation and disgust with which queer studies is viewed in mainstream educational discussions. In advocating queer learning spaces, educational institutions run the risk of losing all categories, run the risk of leaving all subject matter ripe learning material, and inadvertently allow for provocative and resistant citizens to thrive. In linking this theoretical pondering to my opening example it makes perfect sense that Sara was told to pipe down. Keep it quiet. Don’t disturb your role because you unsettle mine.

Marches argues that queer visibility (and a pedagogy that is queer) doesn’t always have to lead to paranoia and containment; making sexuality visible in the class could allow for more honest conversations about it and the ways in which it gets regulated (through what is normal/acceptable and what is not).

Why I’m archiving it: I am always interested in essays on queer pedagogy and the bibliography for this article seems like it could point to even more sources. Plus, I appreciate her discussion of the queer who unsettles/disrupts as someone who needs to be encouraged (because of the productive, good troublemaking they do) instead of being contained or denied.

Where I found it: I got a mass email through the WMST-L listserv about a call for papers from the MP journal. I went to their website and randomly searched the archives.

4. Twitter for Academia a blog entry by dave on Academic Hack
In this entry, dave provides a list of various ways in which to use twitter in the classroom, including: class chatter, classroom community, get a sense of the world, track a word, track a conference, instant feedback, follow a professional, follow a famous person and more.

Why I’m archiving it: I plan to use twitter in my classes this year (and to teach about how to use it in my feminist pedagogies class) and am always looking for advice and ideas about it. Not only does dave offer some great suggestions, but his post has 46 comments worth of ideas too. Cool. This post should be very helpful. Here are a few that I particularly like:

Track a Word: Through Twitter you can “track” a word. This will subscribe you to any post which contains said word. So, for example a student could be interested in how a particular word is used. They can track the word, and see the varied phrases in which people use it. Or, you can track an event, a proper name (I track Derrida for example), a movie title, a store name see how many people a day tweet that they are at or on their way to a Starbucks. (To do this send the message “track Starbucks” to Twitter, rather than posting the update “track Starbucks” you will now receive all messages with the word “Starbucks.”)

Instant Feedback: Because Twitter is always on, and gets pushed to your cell phone if you set it up this way, it is a good way to get instant feedback. I was prepping for a lecture and wanted to know if students shared a particular movie reference, I asked via Twitter and got instant responses. Students can also use this when doing their classwork, trying to understand the material. Tweet: “I don’t understand what this reading has to do with New Media? any ideas?” Other students then respond. (This actually happened recently in a class of mine.)

Maximizing the Teachable Moment: It is often hard to teach in context, Twitter allows you to do this, but better yet, allows your students to do it for you (a way that others will hear perhaps). Recently someone in my Twitter circle made a marginal comment about a male friend who was dating an older woman. Another person in the same circle called him out this. Perfect, an in-context lesson on gender prejudice.

Public NotePad: Twitter is really good for sharing short inspirations, thoughts that just popped into your head. Not only are they recorded, because you can go back and look at them, but you can also get inspiration from others. This is really useful for any “creative” based class.

Where I found it: I’m pretty sure that I did a google search for twitter and academic use (or twitter teaching?). Sidenote: I used Academic Hack’s blogroll to find ProfHacker, which is great source on the Chronicle of Higher Education for teaching and technology.

Okay, I’m done now. Well, my list of links is not done, but I’m done. I find this entry to be a helpful exercise, one I might try in my classes. It’s more time-consuming than I imagined it would be (it took about 90 minutes, off and on, to write). I need to go rest my brain now and listen to some summer music:

Teaching (and learning) how to question

One key aspect of my own pedagogy of troublemaking is the belief that asking and exploring lots of questions is very important. I have devoted a lot of attention to the value of asking questions on this blog. I have written about Judith Butler and why, Paulo Freire and learning to question, Cynthia Enloe and curiosity, and Padgett Powell and the interrogative mood. Today I want to add another entry on this topic to my blog: Patricia A. Johnson and the art of genuine and playful questioning (a la Hans-Georg Gadamer and Maria Lugones).

While browsing through the stacks the other week, I happened across Philosophy, Feminism and Faith. Why did I pick it up? I can’t remember but it must have had something to do with my own religion and philosophy backgrounds (I have a BA in religion, a MA in theological studies and ethics, and my secondary discipline for my PhD was philosophy). By chance, I found an article by Patricia A. Johnson entitled, “Learning to Question.” Just glancing at the opening epigraphs, I knew that I would appreciate her perspective:

Questions always bring out the undetermined possibilities of a thing (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method).

Interrogation itself becomes an act of critical intervention, fostering a fundamental attitude of vigilance rather than denial (bell hooks, Yearning).

In her essay, Johnson divides the essay up into three sections, each speaking to a different (and sometimes in conflict) community to which she belongs: trained philosophers, active feminists, and practitioners of the Quaker religion (Friends). In my brief engagement with Johnson’s work, I want to focus on these first two communities which Johnson discussions in relation to Gadamer and Lugones.

Gadamer and philosophy: The art of genuine questioning

Drawing upon Gadamer and his work in Truth and Method (which I think I own, but can’t find–sigh), Johnson argues for the value of learning how to ask genuine questions. Genuine questions are only possible when we recognize (and embrace?) our unknowingness and when we become “motivated by a sincere desire to know” (142).  She distinguishes genuine questions from false ones which are disingenuous and not aimed at gaining new knowledge but at directing others towards one’s already established beliefs. I like how Johnson describes false questions in the context of teachers who ask their students questions–in class or on exams–that “do not allow our own presuppositions to be questioned” and that “clearly require that our own unexamined prejudices be accepted” (142). This is important because it is not only students who need to learn how to answer (and ask) genuine questions; teachers need to learn how to ask (and answer) genuine questions too. Johnson also distinguishes genuine questions from distorted ones that misdirect our explorations of ideas. Because distorted questions can get us off track, we need to make sure that we are constantly (and vigilantly) reflecting on why, how and when we ask questions (143). Finally, Johnson argues that genuine questioning requires that we consider the many sides of our question, the context in which it is asked and the communities in which we (the askers and answerers) live.

Lugones and feminism: Learning to question playfully

After discussing questioning in relation to philosophy, Johnson reflects on it in relation to her feminism. She argues that genuine questions also demand that we adopt a playful attitude (a la Lugones) and an “openness to the reconstruction of of one’s self and one’s world” (147). I really like how she brings in Lugones and her playful attitude. Lugones is a big influence on my own troublemaking work and I have written and thought a lot about the playful attitude in relation to virtue ethics. In fact, I just wrote about the playful attitude yesterday (here). When I have more energy and time I should revisit how Lugones fits in for Johnson and for my own teaching philosophy.

Here are a few succinct summaries that Johnson offers:

Philosophy first led me to question and to ask about the nature of questioning. Philosophy taught me to recognize that I must know when I do not know. I must distinguish genuine from false and distorted questions. I must recognize that addressing a question requires investigating the many sides of a question. I must ask questions in the context of community. Feminism showed me the complexity of communities and the importance of being a question (149).

In reference to being a question, Johnson writes:

to be a feminist in the Academy required one to learn how to raise questions that others preferred not to address and did not even see as questions. I have also learned that as a feminist, my simple presence is sometimes a question (144).

A few random thoughts:

  • I want to re-visit Gadamer’s Truth and Method, especially this section.
  • I wonder about this desire to know–what if we imagined our questions to be motivated by a desire to feel or to experience? While I think we can gain new understandings through our exploration of questions; we still can’t ever really know. Maybe unknowing is a good (as in stimulating, productive, creative) place to stay?
  • Being a question–what are the dangers of being a question? What are the differences, particularly in terms of our agency and how we are understand as subjects,  between asking questions and being a question?