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…

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.)


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…

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)