The Official Pedagogical Questions for 9/23


By Michelle Garvey

The liberatory power of consciousness raising (CR) hinges on the ethic of valuing experience as a method of knowledge.  Though diversity exists in a number of ways, one can see how the potential effectiveness of CR can become diminished when classrooms are composed of dominant identities.  At best, this kind of classroom--which surely exists at the U of M--may be less experientially equipped to explore the consequences of power intersections and systemic oppressions.  And at worst, this group may resist anti-racist, anti-imperial, feminist theories and methods.  How/can CR still be employed toward liberatory ends in this situation?  Elenes' discussion might be particularly helpful in this case.


How could the tenets and values of CR be applied to teach in your field or discipline?  Perhaps they're already employed?


Shrewsbury mentioned that feminist pedagogies strive to be ecological and holistic (6), and Crabtree et al mentioned that certain feminisms discuss environmentalisms (1).  Yet none of our authors actually engaged in pedagogical questions surrounding space or species, and the potential of our classroom environments to curtail or condone environmental injustice, speciesism, nature-culture dualisms, and unchecked natural resource consumption.  Perhaps this is because, as Elenes observes, many feminists view oppression exclusively through the axis of gender (697).  What would a feminist pedagogy that embraced ecological justice and sustainability entail?  Need feminist pedagogies engage with questions of humanism, interspecies ethics, and ecology at all? 


(From Fisher, 12)  In your experience, how have your professors--or you as a teacher--embraced, ignored, or evaded activist movements, what were the consequences of these decisions, and how did it enhance or inhibit your learning experience in that course?


What are your opinions or thoughts on the following authors' arguments:

-       Omolade re: power, authority, and evaluating her students' academic skills (see 35-36)

-       Shrewsbury re: women's and/vs. men's "ways of knowing" and community building (see 9-11)

-       Elenes re: white women's appropriation of the rubric "woman" (see 696)


Finally, a personal anecdote:

I really appreciated Elenes' discussion of students and teachers as hybrid entities (691), and Omolade's conception of teachers as clarifiers or consultants (35).  In this vein, I found it productive to think about the feminist classroom itself as a borderland, which transgresses the boundaries between participants' civic, family, social, intellectual, and communal selves, in hopes of achieving critical consciousness as a community.


Thanks for some really provocative questions Michelle!

To engage with the first question you pose, I find Elenes' suggestion that a goal of transformative (feminist) pedagogy is to help our students "demystify their own ideologies"--including dominant ideologies--to be a really productive way to think through how to do the work of consciousness raising in classroom spaces that remain comprised of (or dominated by) dominant US social groups. This, in fact seems to be a central tenet of a decolonizing feminist pedagogy if we think through the ways that our classrooms are framed (overdetermined?) by the university's model of multiculturalism that continues to streamline middle-class/anglo-american/heteronormative identities while fetishizing "Other" peoples and cultures (within and without US national borders). This "making sense of " one's own social position and accompanying ideologies--in relation to other students, the instructor, and the texts a course engages—becomes a way for a classroom to engage in collective resistance work by challenging a paradigm that discourages dominant groups from practicing critical modes of self-reflexivity. Such a practice requires that everyone within the space (instructor included) “be cognizant of where our ideas and opinions come from” (695), and destabilizes the notion of “native informant” by reminding students how all of our social positions are interrelated—and in a very real way constituted—by the presences and absences of each other in the classroom. Thus, these questions posed by Elenes are foundational to feminist pedagogies: “How is it that we know and understand how we are formulating our opinions? How do we arrive at certain conceptualizations of the world?” (695)

Of course these thoughts don’t effectively answer the profound ways in which absent voices affect what becomes said and not said in the classroom, or the ways in which such absences position consciousness raising as a potentially ineffective/easily appropriated method within a dominant institution. The question then becomes, how do we make absent voices present in the classroom in ways that resist the university’s superficial “inclusion” method? How do we make the power relations of the classroom and academy visible to students, especially those privileged students for whom such relations remain largely invisible? And/or how does the framing of the texts we assign affect how students will engage with them? How does the social positioning of the instructor also affect student engagement and their (un)willingness to recognize interconnections of social institutions at work in society and the immediate classroom in which they are engaged?

Oh my, I am totally overwhelmed by how much you’ve thrown out there for us to think about… I want to comment on the connections between your concerns about Fisher’s embrace of CR, the absence of substantive ecological/environmental considerations, and Elenes’ critique of exclusionary practices of white feminisms and white students.

I read Fisher’s piece first, and was disconcerted by her insistence on consciousness-raising and her experience of hegemonic second-wave feminism. The focus on consciousness-raising excludes many other genealogies of feminism. Feminism has existed and thrived in many different forms that have met the needs of those who developed them. In my reading, Fisher has effectively written these other forms of feminism out of feminist history, movements, and pedagogy. Although she periodically and superficially mentions race and class, she almost exclusively addresses gender and women’s oppression (for example page 3). As you note, Michelle, consciousness-raising can be problematic when classroom demographics do not allow for a variety of experiences, especially in terms of race and class. And, I do not think this is incidental, for her model of CR was developed in groups that were relatively homogenous. Perhaps, CR, then works best in these kinds of groups, which is precisely why we may not want to embrace her vision. This is not to say that I want discount everything that she says, but rather that we must seriously consider the paths by which she arrives at her conclusions. Other kinds of feminists have long worked across differences and have found ways to learn from experience, produce knowledge, and develop political commitments that Fisher clearly desires. And working from these genealogies would help us avoid 1) centering feminism on the experiences of the white women; 2) teaching feminism as a single-issue movement; and 3) replicating exclusionary practices.

Clearly these are just the kinds of critiques that we find in the anthology, Elenes, and Omolade essays, as well as in Michelle’s prompt for us to consider the role of ecological justice in the feminist classroom. What I found so useful and thought-provoking about both Elenes and Omolade was their attention to particular histories of multi-dimensional feminisms as a source of pedagogical practices and inspiration. These “other” models of feminism are not applicable only to those who share their social location. Indeed, suggesting so makes white feminisms the normative or universal models of feminism while leaving woman of color feminisms as “special topics.” Elenes finds such assumptions “troubling because they take a dialectical oppositional stand where discussions of racial differences can only occur as mutually exclusive” (697). This “odd logic” reproduces normative whiteness and white privilege (697). I think that at this point in feminism, especially academic feminism which is tied so closely to multiple privileges, the epistemological and ethical challenges lie less in recognizing our own experiences as a source of knowledge (even in non-feminist classes, students are quick to use personal anecdotes or comment that “as a ____, I think ___”), but in acknowledging that the very different experiences of others also allows them to make knowledge claims that may, in fact, be contradictory, stronger, or more informed than our own.

Thanks, Michelle, for the thought-provoking comment. Your point regarding the demographics of the classroom and how it may undermine the apparently emancipatory potentials of certain feminist-pedagogical approaches (like consciousness raising or CR) underscores a general problem that has bothered me while doing the readings - how far can the question of conceptualizing effective and appropriately deconstructive and/or empowering pedagogies in the classroom be separated from questions of contesting and changing the institutional structures within which these pedagogies are embedded? Fisher, for instance, repeatedly contrasts various classroom situations that may call for different pedagogical strategies (e.g. the differences between Velma, Cassie, Lucille, Edith etc.) To her credit, Fisher does point out the varying institutional contexts that these different quasi-fictitious people are coming from, and how this influences their decisions. However, the institutional context seems to be taken as an external variable that has to be taken into account - but hardly directly contested - in the pedagogical process. Even Elene, who pays close attention to the social context of the classroom and the institutional representation of different dis/empowered sections, seems to separate out the arena of institutional change from that of classroom teaching and discussion, howevermuch she foregrounds the experiences and inputs of women of color in radical socially transformative projects. The result seems to be a reification of classroom pedagogy from other political or activist interventions and organizing on and off-campus. This trend is most disturbingly normativized in the definitional reduction of 'pedagogy' to classroom-teaching, encompassing curriculum, instruction and evaluation, in the introduction to Feminist Pedagogies (Crabtree, Sapp, Licona: 1). This - despite the acknowledgment of Freireian pedagogy as one of the prominent antecedents, which is hardly *just* or even primarily about classroom teaching. In other words, the institutional reification of pedagogy itself - the sequestering of academic and pedagogical praxis and practitioners into a professionalized domain walled-off from other arenas of intervention and praxis - is hardly challenged. Given all the talk of borderlands and transgression and hybridity, what are the risky practices one could envision to make the classroom and other locations speak to each other and interact, beyond a discursive inclusion that leaves institutional structures intact? Fisher does have an interesting but highly specific example to do with Berkeley in the 70s, when student organizers drifted in and out of a classroom during a particular session. Can we extend our imaginations to other possibilities keeping in mind contemporary situations? Could the web - for instance - be a tool in breaching pedagogical borders beyond the classroom?