As I mentioned the other day, I’m experimenting on Tumblr with combining pictures that I’m taking with compelling quotations and questions from my research. Yesterday, I posted an image with passages from Paulo Freire and Sara Ahmed on two buildings in downtown Minneapolis. Just now, while scrolling through STA’s blog, I noticed (serendipitously) that he had posted a photo on Instagram of me taking that photo. Pretty cool. I love exploring different ways to insert myself as author/artist/photographer into the photo I take and the image that I craft out of that photo.
It’s day two of tracking my troublemaking practices on the Virtues app. Not convinced that this is the right approach for my reflecting on/assessing/building up my virtuous troublemaking. I must spend some time researching and thinking about other approaches. Anyway, I ranked myself at 3 out of a target goal of 3. Yay me! (Yes, this is a reference to London Tipton from Suite Life…RJP loves her and the show and it’s on instant netflix so I see it all of the time.) Like I did on my first day, I used the “reflection box” to pose questions about the app. I like creating space for these questions–but is it preventing me from taking the app seriously? How do I assess my troublemaking from yesterday? I still can’t imagine how you evaluate something like making/being in/staying in trouble (especially my version of staying in trouble, based on critical thinking, curiosity, pushing at my limits of knowing, being open to other ways of thinking).
Here are my comments from the reflection box:
Not sure why I’m giving myself a 3. What is the point of the score? Franklin didn’t have a score. How does ranking yourself in this way help? Are numbers important for people? What if you encouraged people to reflect without number rankings? Where do we learn what a virtuous action is? Doe we just know? Do we get it from our parents? What does Aristotle say? What does Ben Franklin say? Just downloaded free BF autobiography on iBooks.
All of these questions, make me even more skeptical of the ranking approach. They also make me think that I might need to narrow down the specific set of practices that I imagine to exemplify effective troublemaking for me. One goal of this evaluation process seems to be checking to make sure that your intentions and values are matching up with your actual practices. This goal reminds me of bell hooks’ discussion of habit, virtues and values in a “Revolution of Values” which I must reread) in Teaching to Transgress. I started writing about this section of hooks’ book way back on October 14, 2009 (just 2 weeks after my mom died). I never published it, but kept it as a draft on my wordpress dashboard. Here’s what I wrote in that draft:
This past week [for October 7th, 2009] my Feminist Pedagogies class read bell hooks’ Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. I am struck by her discussion of values in Chapter 2 (entitled “A Revolution of Values”). Her emphasis on transforming oppressive values that guide our lives and the habits and daily practices that (sometimes unwittingly) reinforce those values is helpful in my thinking about why we need to engage in more talking and theorizing about virtues. I want to add hooks’ Chapter 2 to my list of theories/ideas/writings that inspire my own promotion of virtue (which I discuss at the end of this entry).
Connection to virtue: In this chapter, hooks asks: “What values and habits of being reflect my/our commitment to freedom” (27)? She wants to shift away from reliance on “fancy” and “elaborate” theories that describe why we want freedom and focus instead on the values and habits that we actually practice on a routine basis (on the street, in the classroom). Her point, I think, is to suggest that theorizing by itself is not enough; we need Freieran praxis (theory, practice, reflection).
As I reflect back on these words [now on july 27, 2011], I am struck by how important reflection (and praxis as connecting theory and practice with reflection) are for assessing our own behaviors. For the Virtues app to be effective, a lot more attention needs to be given to learning how to be “honest with yourself”–which is the main advice that the app authors give for figuring out how to evaluate yourself (see yesterday’s post for more on this discussion). Being honest with yourself is not as easy as just committing to being honest. Instead it requires the tremendously difficult labor of developing both an awareness of your false consciousness/internalized sexism and racism and a critical consciousness of oppression and the need for social justice (this is a big goal for both bell hooks and Paulo Friere–with his idea of conscientization, or conscientização). In emphasizing a numerical ranking as the central part of the virtue evaluation process, the Virtues app encourages us to bypass reflection (and opt out of the difficult labor of thinking through how/why we fail to be honest with ourselves*) for an easy evaluation. I don’t care if my troublemaking is at a 2 or 3; I care about how/why I practice (or fail to practice) troublemaking in the ways that I do. And I care about finding ways to encourage myself to do the hard work it takes to make and stay in trouble in virtuous ways.
*I should say more about the various ways we are encouraged/trained/educated to be dishonest. Must leave that for another entry.
Note: my questions in the reflection box also made me what to think more about moral exemplars, education and our role models for developing virtuous practices. Could such reflection be incorporated into an app (maybe too much…need to think about this more).
For the past several weeks, my queering desire class has been reading Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness. Here are my class summaries for our discussions of Ch. 2 on the feminist killjoy and Ch. 3 on unhappy queers. In reading through the chapters, I have come across several passages/ideas that I would like to use/critically reflect/incorporate/put beside my own work on troublemaking. I want to use this blog entry as a space for beginning a few different engagements with the material.
Engagement 1: Bearable and Unbearable lives
On page 97 of The Promise of Happiness, in her chapter on “Unhappy Queers,” Sara Ahmed writes:
I don’t have much else to write about this right now. I must admit that I skipped ahead to engagement 2 and have spent too long thinking about it. Now I am out of time. I am struck by the slippage that I see in J Butler’s work between the unbearable, bearable, livable and good life. I briefly wrote about it in my essay on Living and Grieving Beside Judith. Here’s the fragment:
Butler contrasts her notion of the livable/bearable life with the good life and argues that the good life is only available to people whose lives are already possible and recognizable and who don’t have to devote most of their energy to figuring out ways to survive and persist (Undoing Gender, 31-32). For her, the question of the livable life must necessarily precede the question of the good life, because to strive for a good life, one must first be recognized as having a life (Undoing Gender, 205).
My mom started falling down a lot. It wasn’t safe for her to be alone. The decision was made to begin hospice care. She was no longer living with cancer; she was dying from it. She had entered the final stage. Any thoughts about a cure or remission—that hope for a good life to be achieved again in the future—was replaced by practical discussions of how to ensure that she continued to have a comfortable life that was free of pain. The good or even livable life were no longer possible for her. The best she could hope for was the bearable life. And what she could expect (and eventually did reach) was something that seemed even less than the bare minimum requirements of life. Yet, even as I witnessed her decline and the resultant shift from good to livable to bearable to unbearable life, I can’t really make sense of her experiences of those last four years (or even the last six months) as just surviving until the inevitable. Up until those last days, years after she was supposed to die, she lived and, in moments, however fleeting, flourished. She enjoyed life, she laughed, and she loved her daughters, her grandchildren and my dad.
What makes for the livable life? How do we distinguish that life from ones that are merely bearable or others that flourish? Who gets to make this distinction and how do they do it? My mother’s living and dying with pancreatic cancer pushed at the limits of my understandings of life and how and when it is possible.
I want to continue thinking about the differences/connections in these various forms of “life.” How do we distinguish unbearable from bearable from livable from good?
Engagement 2: Because/Happiness as Stopping Points
In her conclusion, Ahmed offers up the following description of happiness as a stopping point for discussion, much like how “because” functions in stopping childrens’ relentless posing of questions:
Happiness becomes a stopping point; happiness allows us to stop at a certain point, rather like the word because. The child asks you questions, or I ask questions in a way that people might say is “childlike.” Why this? If this, then why that? What that, then why…? Anything can take the place of the dots; the empty place that always marks the possibility of another question, the endless deferral that reminds us that all answers beg questions and that to give an answer is to create the condition of possibility for another question. Eventually, you stop. You must stop. You have to stop to put a stop to the questions because there are other things to do with your time. So you say, “because.” Why because? Because “because.” When because becomes an answer to a question the conversation can stop. Happiness provides such a because, a “because because.” We desire things, because of happiness. Because of happiness, we desire things. Happiness is how we can end the conversation about why it is that we desire what we desire. Happiness provides us with a full stop, a way of stopping an answer from being a question (203).
There are so many different ways in which this passage resonates for me and my thinking about the value of asking questions and the limits that are (sometimes necessarily) placed on that perpetual questioning of everything. What are the limits of questions? Should we ever stop? I don’t think these are the right questions to ask; they might even encourage us to stop asking questions even before we begin (which is connected to Ahmed’s point that happiness/because shut down a lot of possibilities for imagining of/living in worlds). Much like that annoying utterance, because. This reminds me of one of my recent tweets:
For more on Freire and the pedagogy of the question, check my discussion here and here. Is there a way to take a break from questions without stopping them? Can we answer questions in ways that signal our willingness to continue the conversation later? I strongly dislike answering any question with “because.” I have done it–my 4 year old asks a lot of questions. She reserves the most random and weighty ones for right after she has been tucked into bed, when I am least prepared to engage with them. I really try not to answer with “because,” or the even worse, “because…I said so!,” but what do we do when we are so tired from the day or uncertain about how to answer some very deep and highly politicized questions (about the meaning of existence, gender roles, why we die, G/god, and more)? Here’s one response by Freire in his “talking book” with Antonio Faundez, Learning to Question:
While I admire (and sometimes aspire to) this goal, I disagree with it as an unquestioned guiding principle. There should be limits to our questions (maybe not the amount that we have, but when and how we ask them). In my own thinking about curiosity and asking questions, I want to think about the different forms that curiosity can take and the different motivations we might have for asking questions. Curiosity about the world is often motivated by an agonistic desire to know (as in, to conquer, classify and contain). Sometimes it comes at the expense of other considerations (like respect for others and their desire to not be the objects of our scrutiny). It can encourage us to pay too much attention, to stare and to make spectacles of others whom we find strange. So, curiosity and the “right to ask questions” should not be uncritically promoted. Instead it needs to be encouraged in tandem with the development of a critical awareness of how and when to ask questions (not just a relentless “why?” but a “at whose expense?” and maybe, “what effects/affects do my questions have on others?”). On another, perhaps more personal note, even as I want my kids to ask lots of questions (and never lose that curiosity and wonder about the world), I do not want to encourage them to interrupt me (and others) at any moment with their questions. Even as I write these last few sentences, I am uncertain about my conclusions. In thinking about the how/why, I am not interested in establishing “proper” rules for questioning. Instead, I want to encourage myself/others/my kids to always consider the consequences of their questions and to pay critical attention to the world that is happening in their midst of their curiosity. How is this encouragement/paying attention possible? Hmm…makes me think of my interest in curiosity as care…
Partly because I don’t like to have blog entries are the strictly prose, I wanted to add in two youtube videos that I found through my search of “curiosity asking questions.” The first one is entitled “A Study of Insistent Curiosity” and is part of 1shylah’s Channel or The Cybernetic Baby.
Some fascinating stuff. A little kid is exploring while someone (her dad?) films them. The kid repeatedly reaches for things that they are not supposed to, especially the lighter fluid. The person taking the video keeps saying “no” and “put it back” over and over again, but the kid keeps going back. They wonder why they can’t properly discipline the kid. At one point, towards the end of the video (starting at 7 mins in), the person taking the video exclaims, “Why don’t you learn? How did you get like this? Is it human nature? Where does your rebelliousness come from? Is it genetic? It must be genetic.” In some of their final remarks, the person taking the video promises to have a solution for how they disciplined the kid. I haven’t found that video yet. I don’t want to offer up an analysis of this clip. Instead I just want to pose it as a question about the nature/limits of curiosity and how we should encourage/discourage it in others, especially kids?
Okay, one more clip. I love youtube and how it allows me to find all sorts of examples/ideas with which to engage. This second clip was also found through my youtube search on “asking questions curiosity.” It’s part of the expertvillage youtube channel. Unfortunately you have to watch a brief commercial (not sure if it the same one every time. The one that I just watched was rather bothersome in its heteronormativity). This video is entitled, “Promoting curiosity in children.”
In this video, a women (presumably a/the mother) encourages parents to provide more opportunities for exploring that curiosity. After starting out with a brief discussion of using a telescope to watch a lunar eclipse, she suggests a few more ways to spark curiosity through exposing kids to new things, like: take kids to restaurants that have “different” types of food that they have never tried before (1:05) or to cultural events like a Native American “pow wow” (1:20). I can’t help but think about this in the context of my brief reference above to curiosity and conquering. Is it enough to encourage kids to try “new” things, like “different” (read as strange, “ethnic”) foods without considering the imperialist implications of this curiosity? I know I should/need to say more about what I mean with that last question, but I don’t want to right now. Instead, I want to leave it as an unfinished thought (an unanswered question) to take up again later (hopefully soon).
This week in both of my classes, we are discussing pedagogy. In queering desire, we are talking about/engaging with/trying to practice some forms of queer pedagogy. In feminist pedagogy, we are focusing our attention on critical pedagogy. Not surprisingly, a central theme in both classes is the value of making and staying in trouble in relation to asking questions (a theme which has come up a lot on this blog). As I write this, I am in the midst of reading an excerpt from Paulo Freire’s Learning to Question. He writes:
the point of the question is not to turn the question “what does it mean to ask questions?” into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students. The problem which the teacher is really faced with is how in practice progressively to create with the students the habit, the virtue, of asking questions, of being surprised (37).
Excellent. Creating troublemaking habits are an important part of my own ethics of troublemaking. And, as I have suggested elsewhere, asking questions and being curious are central for my own pedagogical aims. How do we (as critical/feminist) educators develop those habits? Hmm…a topic for an article, perhaps?
So many ideas from this week’s class are swimming around in my head. I just wish I had time to respond to all of them and to organize them into some coherent statement. Since I don’t have time for that (and I don’t really want to…I’m writing this at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and want to go take a hike), I will offer up fragments from discussions in my classes (on blog and twitter) from this week.
As an aside: Have I discussed how difficult it can be to manage and maintain four different blog projects at once. It’s hard to post on all of them. I need to experiment with ways for them to work together. Maybe this entry is such an experiment?
So, here’s an overview of what I discussed on my other blogs.
Day Eight: October 5: In our discussion of queering pedagogy, I talked a lot about making and staying in trouble in the classroom. I connected this to Suzanne Luhman’s “Queering/Querying Pedagogy.” Here’s what I posted about it:
One version of queering pedagogy: Making and Staying in Trouble
…trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it (Butler, Gender Trouble).
troubling, spoiling, undermining, disrupting, destabilizing, unveiling, exposing, unsettling, subverting, resisting, twisting, critically questioning, deconstructing, opening up
If subversiveness is not a new form of knowledge but lies in the capacity to raise questions about the detours of coming to know and making sense, then what does this mean for a pedagogy that imagines itself as queer? Can a queer pedagogy resist the desire for authority and stable knowledge; can it resist disseminating new knowledge and new forms of subjection? What if a queer pedagogy puts into crisis what is known and how we come to know (Luhmann, 5)?
Instead of focusing on the common concerns of teaching, such as what should be learned and how to teach this knowledge, pedagogy might begin with the question of how we come to know and how knowledge is produced in the interaction between teacher/text and student (Luhmann, 6).
As an alternative to the worry over strategies for effective knowledge transmission that reduce knowledge to mere information and students to rational but passive beings untroubled by the material studied, pedagogy might be posed as a question (as opposed to the answer) of knowledge: What does being taught, what does knowledge do to students (Luhmann, 7)?
Alice Pitt (1995) points out: “Learning about content is not the same thing as learning from it. In other words . . . learning is something more than a series of encounters with knowledge; learning entails, rather, the messier and less predictable process of becoming implicated in knowledge” [p. 298](Luhmann, 8).
Both queer theory and pedagogy argue that the process of making (sense) of selves relies on binaries such as homo-hetero, ignorance-knowledge, learner- teacher, reader-writer, and so on. Queer theory and pedagogy place at stake the desire to deconstruct binaries central to Western modes of meaning making, learning, teaching, and doing politics. Both desire to subvert the processes of normalization (Luhmann, 8).
at stake are the implications of queer theory and pedagogy for the messy processes of learning and teaching, reading and writing. Instead of posing (the right) knowledge as answer or solution, queer theory and the pedagogy I have outlined here pose knowledge as an interminable question (Luhmann, 9).
Such queer pedagogy does not hold the promise of a successful remedy against homophobia, nor is it a cure for the lack of self-esteem. This pedagogy is not (just) about a different curriculum or new methods of instruction. It is an inquiry into the conditions that make learning possible or prevent learning. It suggests a conversation about what I can bear to know and what I refuse when I refuse certain identifications. What is at stake in this pedagogy is the deeply social or dialogic situation of subject formation, the processes of how we make ourselves through and against others. As an inquiry into those processes, my queer pedagogy is not very heroic. It does not position itself as a bulwark against oppression, it does not claim the high grounds of subversion but hopefully it encourages an ethical practice by studying the risks of normalization, the limits of its own practices, and the im/possibilities of (subversive) teaching and learning.
In connection with this discussion, I also posted an open thread on class discussion. I focused on discomfort, uncertainty, resistance and failure. Incidentally, this open thread is the second one I have done this semester. It hasn’t been successful yet, but I imagine it as a great space for getting conversation going on topics related to the class. In the future, I might add in an assignment in which students have to start an open thread. Or one in which students must contribute to the open thread every week?
Day 5: October 6:
In feminist pedagogies, we discussed Freire’s Learning to Question. Very cool. Here are some of my tweets about the readings (which also show up on my twitter, but will be buried soon–one big problem with twitter):
Freire’s ideas are really important for me as I think more about my own vision of troublemaking pedagogy. I especially appreciate his valuing of why.
BTW: My grad students in feminist pedagogies live-tweeted the class. It seemed to work very well. Here’s a link to the transcript that they posted.
In the midst of preparing my learning exercise on women’s studies, curiosity and the pink sneaker, I came across an interview with Paulo Freire entitled “The Future of School.” Check out what he has to say about curiosity, the pedagogy of the question and not being a good boy:
I am the antagonist of pedagogy. I am the antagonist of epistemology. I am the opposite ethic. I am nothing of that, because I am the antagonist of that. And I insist, I don’t like discourses. I am not a “good boy.” I try to be a good person, but “good boy” — God forbid! If you want to hurt me, call me a “good boy.”
I am an educated person, very educated, polite, disciplined, and courteous. That I am, indeed, and more. I try to be respectful, but “good boy,” for God’s sake, no! So I am antagonistic to all this. I am contrary, the opposite of all this. I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend, along with the Chilean philosopher Fagundes, the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity.
After reading this brief excerpt from the interview, I was curious: what is the pedagogy of the question? The idea of asking lots of questions is central for my own pedagogical practices, particularly in my feminist debates class; the final part of this entry exemplifies this approach. I became even more curious when I found Freire’s book, Learning to Question. Now I just need time to read it and think about it in relation to my own practices and ideas about the question/questions. Maybe I will even assign part or all of this book to my students next fall in my Feminist Pedagogies course?
Another part of Freire’s brief remarks intrigued me as well: the deliberate way he distinguishes between the “good person” and the “good boy”. Here the good boy seems to be a direct reference to the good student who always obeys the teacher, complies with their demands and passively absorbs information without questioning or challenging it. For Freire, not being a good boy does not suggest that one is a bad person, that is rude or disrespectful (a disciplinary problem, perhaps?). Now, what is Freire doing with this statement? Is it merely a move to prove his respectability as a teacher, scholar, person–see, just because I ask questions doesn’t mean I am a bad person, a delinquent!? Or, could he be doing something more here (or maybecould we do something more here) with this distinction? In opposing the “good boy” with the good person, Freire could be suggesting that in order to be a good person, one must necessarily question and be curious; one must not be a good boy. So, to be a good boy is to not be a good person? Hmm…I need to think about this some more.