Civility in the classroom, Buddhism as a way of knowing.

Although the entirety of Friday's colloquia was thought provoking, two particular aspects of Dr. Squires talk stood to me: interpersonal civility in Academia and Buddhism as an alternative entry point into theorizing. I have been thinking about both on my own all semester, so I found the space for thinking about these things as a community particularly rewarding this week.

It is no secret that many educators love bell hooks because of her "radical" feminist pedagogy. Dr. Squires did not speak directly about hooks' work in education theory, but the conversation about civility situated itself in my mind in the classroom. Following Brittany's question about civility between colleagues who find themselves in differently places in the hierarchy of recognized academic achievement, the talk left me thinking about how we (graduate students) interact with one another in the classroom. I have been focused on this idea all semester with respect to the space I personally take up in the classroom. Dr. Squires talk provided an interesting alternative frame for my thoughts. Just as its important for instructors to think about the dynamics of their classroom as a part of pedagogy, it is equally important for members of a class to think about their participation in that space and what kind of energy they put forth. To some extent we are all responsible for the spaces we move within. Even if we do not have the power, authority, or ability to shift the dynamic dramatically we can - as Squires outlined - control how we respond and situate ourselves in those moments. The examples of how bell hooks responded to hostile colleagues at conferences shows exactly this. I've found that so many of my graduate seminars have gotten bogged down with what I've previously called ego, but with what Squires/hooks calls dominator culture. When, as a member of a conversation, your desire in that exchange is to be right, or to be recognized as the most knowledgeable you are participating in dominator culture. Even if you are the most knowledgeable, to interact with peers as though their lack of understanding is a burden to you is more than unproductive, it is hostile. I was particularly taken by the conversations about when to say "I'm not your teacher" in regard to explaining privilege to those who have it blinding and when to take the time and work with someone who generally wants to be a more conscious human being.

All of this is to position the hooks quote Squires put forth to us as a standard for academic interpersonal civility. What would classrooms, department meetings, committee meetings, mentor/mentee meeting look like if we all asked ourselves not just "what's in it for me" but also or more so, "and what can I do for you?" What could we learn, where would this take us if we honestly approached each moment with this attitude?

Unsurprisingly I was incredibly excited to hear bell hooks' Buddhist practice centered as one of the major frameworks for her thinking. As someone who has studied Buddhism for 10 or so years, this connected directly to my academic projects. Like hooks much of my thinking is framed in my mind through my Buddhist practice, even though I often use other language to discuss it. Squires is exactly right in her response to a question posted to her - Buddhism is not the answer, and hooks does not position it at such. Buddhist thought is simply another avenue or entry point toward answering some of the difficult questions we face as feminist scholars/thinkers/activists. As Squires showed so much of Western academic thinking is based on Judeo-Christian thought. To situate your work on alternative ways of knowing is to risk being viewed as unsubstantial.

My question then - via hooks/Squires - is how does structuring your feminist analysis though Buddhism differ from other feminist epistemologies seen as "alternative?" Could Buddhism Feminist thinking be seen as equal to Women of Color Feminisms, or Latina/Chicana Feminisms, or Queer Feminisms? To start thinking from some place else in rejection of dominant modes of thought is without question a feminist practice. If we are looking for different answers, then starting with different parameters for our questions seems advantageous. How might Squires talk, and bell hooks, help us understand Buddhism, eastern philosophies and other non-western genealogies of thought as a worthwhile, and equally valid mode of theorizing?


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This page contains a single entry by Angela published on October 31, 2011 10:46 AM.

Teaching Community: bell hooks and Civility was the previous entry in this blog.

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