Feeling trouble, take two

So, last summer I attempted (quite unsuccessfully) to write and submit an article about “feeling trouble not troubled in the classroom.” While I generated some useful ideas, I never converted them into an academic article. Why not? I’m sure it had something to do with my need to prep two classes while watching/hanging out with my two kids (who were 5 and 8 at the time). And I know that it had a lot to do with my growing resistance to academic writing. It’s difficult, and frequently not in ways that push me to engage more deeply and meaningful with ideas or authors or experiences.

Now it’s a year later and I’m trying again. I’m still resistant to writing in ways that I don’t want to, but I also recognize the value of sustained, deliberate, and laborious attention to working with and through what it might mean to feel trouble in the classroom. As a result, I’m trying to craft a very brief abstract today to submit for a call for papers on queering academic spaces.

I’m amazed at my resistance to this activity. I know that I’ve taught, thought about and practiced a queering pedagogy that fits with the themes of the edited collection that I want to be included in. Yet, I’m doing everything I can to avoid writing the abstract. Like tweeting:

Or posting on facebook (which, BTW, I almost never do):

Or, writing this blog post. Why such resistance? Perhaps even the fact that I want to pose this question and then engage with it is an effort to procrastinate?

Or is it? The theme of my proposed essay is “feeling trouble in the classroom.” It’s all about creating spaces within (and outside of) the classroom for feeling (addressing, processing, struggling with )the trouble that engaging with queer ideas/concepts/authors engenders. In “Queering/Querying Pedagogy? Or, Pedagogy is a Queer Thing,” Suzanne Luhmann writes:

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)?

She continues by offering these questions:

How does the reader insert herself into the text? What kind of identifications are at stake in this process? What structures these identifications? How do identifications become possible, what prevents them, and ultimately, makes learning (im)possible? (7)

In my own pedagogical practices (inside the classroom and online–course blogs and this trouble blog), I strive to create spaces where readers/class members, myself included, can explore/work through/engage with what knowledge does to us. This is true in all of my classes, but especially the three undergraduate queer courses that I’ve taught: queering theory, fall 2009; queering desire, fall 2010; queering theory, fall 2011. In each of those classes, I experimented with online and offline ways in which to articulate, share and process our feelings (resistance, confusion, excitement, wonder, anger, uncertainty) about the ideas that we encountered.

Could my resistance to writing about queering pedagogy be about more than mere procrastination? Yes. Do I have time to reflect on why I resist? No.

As I (try) to work on my abstract, here are the posts that I’m drawing on:
Feeling Trouble and Troubled in the Classroom, part ONE, part TWO, part THREE

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.


  • CURIOSITY (more than confrontation)
  • UNDISCIPLINED (sometimes unruly)


  • 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)
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.


  • 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…

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 Live-tweeting class: an experiment