October 2009 Archives

Official Pedagogical Question for 11/4

I had previously stated in class that I am a proponent for struggle in the classroom.  I sincerely believe the best lessons are those that we have to work for.  But I also know what it is like to want to keep this work from my students.  To let them benefit from my lessons so that they can forgo the pain of learning.

I have often wondered about the nature of the type of person that goes into teaching, especially those that teach young children.  It isn't my purpose to essentialize, I am just curious about the desire to enter a helping profession such as teaching in relation to the messiness of learning.  Many of the teachers I work with, and perhaps the majority of them, work very hard to create a path for students free of struggle.  They want to provide for, do for, model for, inspire, motivate, and guide.  They envision a gentle learning process that is pain free.  

Obviously, the work of Jane Elliott as depicted in Erickson's article speaks to the issue of pain and trauma in the classroom.  She talks about the trauma that occurs when "participants beliefs and views are challenged and their sense of themselves as moral beings is unsettled by an encounter with the workings of power and privilege" (p. 147).  Elliot's work is a model for troublemaking, but how does one get to that point?  There are so many shades of gray between protecting our students from pain and invoking trauma.

How do we teach trauma?  How much trauma is too much trauma?  How do we avoid the pitfall, as Erickson describes, of taking the "judgmental and dogmatic position that may be uncomfortable for us to occupy?"  How does taking this position fit with a feminist pedagogical classroom where power and authority are shared?  Does creating/using/examining trauma automatically create a hierarchy of oppression/suffering?  If not, how do we avoid it?  How do we move students from the trauma itself to their reaction to the trauma?  Is trauma the most effective way to examine privilege?  Can examining privilege be pain free?  Finally, does anyone have experience with trauma in the classroom?


Video: Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes

| 1 Comment
In case you have never seen Jane Elliott's exercise and are interested:


Syllabus Progress Report

Hi everyone! Planning my "dream syllabus" has been really fun (and distracting from other more pressing assignments, eek!). Here's what I'm envisioning:

Communicating Resistance: Rhetoric and Performance of Contemporary US Radical Protest Movements

General Overview: I am envisioning that each week will analyze the communicative (rhetorical and performative) elements of different radical (left) social/protest movements in the US. The first week would give some history of radical protest movements, probably from 1968-late 80s, and I'd pick up with movements in the 90s to the present. Ideally this will serve as a foundation to explore issues of "in the system" vs. "outside of the system" activism, identity politics, how to "organize resistance," and will allow for a critical analysis of movement texts and performances.

Service-Learning Component/Advice: I want to make this a service-learning course, but am thinking about doing an entire collaborative class service-learning project, rather than sending them to different organizations. While there are radical activist organizations I could send them to (Books to Prisoners, Food Not Bombs, IWW, etc), I'm wondering if sending students to an explicitly political org (rather than a non-profit or community-based org) is problematic? Do you think I'd get too many complaints from students who wouldn't want to work with political groups they might not agree with? Could this be more damaging to the groups I send students to, if students aren't "on the same page"?  Could this instead be geared towards students who are already involved with activist projects? Perhaps a pre-req could be "desire/ability to work with radical political activist groups"?

The other option is waiting to see what's going on on campus when I teach the course. For example, at DePaul a Women&Gender Studies course organized a campaign to get the university to reconsider the tenure denial of a well-respected lesbian prof.  I could wait to see what is a pressing issue, discuss it with the class, and we could work on creating an activist project as a collective group.


Week 1:  Foundational Theory on Social/Protest Movements
Readings: Althusser, Gramsci, Bowers&Ochs

Week 2: Historical Overview 1960-late 80s
Readings: Students for a Democratic Society (1962), The Port Huron Statement; The Weather Underground (1970), Communique #1; Guy DeBord (1967), Society of the Spectacle
Screenings: "Steal This Movie"

Week 3: Anti-Globalization Movement
Readings: Starhawk (1999), How we really shut down the WTO;
Screenings: "Battle In Seattle" (2008)

Week 4: Anarchists (Anarcho-punks, Anarcha-feminists, Anarcho-syndaclists, oh my!)
Readings:Raechel Tiffe (2008), Food Not Bombs: A critical analysis of a radical decentralized "re-claimed" food sharing movement;     
Screenings: "Bombs and Beating Hearts" (2006)

Week 5: Riot Grrls, Derby Babes, and New Feminisms
Readings: Melody Hoffman (2012?), Chatper from upcoming dissertation on bike culture!; Riot Grrrl Is (1991); Kathleen Hannah (1998), Punk Planet Interview;   
Screenings: "Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl" (2003)

Week 6: Radical Queers
Readings: Cathy J. Cohen (1997), Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?;   bashback.wordpress.com; Liz Highleyman, Radical queers or queer radicals? Queer activism and the global justice movement; Raechel Tiffe (2008), Radical Cheerleaders of Chicago: A Rhetorical Analysis of Performing Genderqueer through Radical Activism;

Week 7: Sex-Positive Movement
Readings: Elisa Glick (2000), Sex Positive: Feminism, Queer Theory and the Politics of Trangsgression; Wendy McElroy (1998), A feminist defense of pornography

Week 8: International Solidarity Movements (Zapatistas, Palestine, Iran) and the Anti-War Movement

Week 9: Militant Labor Movements and Direct Action
Readings: Sharon Smith (2006), Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States; Bill Fletcher, Jr. (1999), Can Black radicalism speak the voice of Black workers? 
Screenings: "Live Nude Girls Unite!" (2000); "Bread and Roses" (2000)

Week 10: Prison Abolition and Anti-Racism
Readings: Victoria Law (2009), Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women; Anti-Racist Action, "Turning The Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education"

Week 11: Radical Environmentalism

Week 12: Free School Movements and Re-claiming Universities
Readings: Paul Avrich (2006), The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States; Take Back NYU!, http://takebacknyu.com/

Week 13: Identity Politics, Post-structuralism and Moving Forward

Week 14: Student Presentations

Week 15: Student Presentations

Other assignments:
PAPERS: Aside from the service-learning project (whatever form it takes), I will also require a research paper about a radical social movement, past or present that interests the student (and that focuses on something we didn't focus on specifically in our readings). I go back and forth as to whether or not I implement tests. I'm leaning more towards quizzes on readings, and assigned papers. Another paper will be asking them to self-reflexively examine their positionality within radical movements (if they are part of them or, if they aren't, what makes them hesitant to do so).

READING PRESENTATIONS: In addition, individuals or pairs will sign up and pick an article to present on the week it's assigned. They will be required to create an outline/summary and discussion questions, and will be encouraged to use media (clip, song, etc.) in conjunction with their presentation.

FINAL PROJECT- ZINE OR BLOG: The final assignment will be to create a zine or a blog. I've yet to decide on the requirements for content.   

NOTE: This is obviously a work in progress; I'll continue to add more readings, but I would LOVE reading list suggestions, and any other thoughts folks might have regarding class structure, service-learning, etc. Thanks! 

What does feminist pedagogy look like?

I am in the process of doing a close reading of your essays (so far, they are wonderful) and it got me thinking: what do our different models of feminist pedagogy look like? By "look," I don't mean how would/should we implement them in the classroom. No, I mean, if you had to draw your vision of feminist pedagogy (as a picture, a chart, some sort of image), what would it look like? How might you draw the relationship that exists between the instructor and the students or the instructor/students/methods? Would it be a triangle? A circle? Something else? Does representing your vision of feminist pedagogy in picture form help you to understand and communicate it better?

If you know how to do it, feel free to post your picture on the blog. If not, maybe some of you could bring an image to class next Wednesday...

Happy Halloween everyone!

Midterm Evaluations

I had originally intended for you to fill out the midterm evaluations at the end of class tonight, but we ran out of time. If you are able, you can put them in my box in FORD 425. If that isn't possible, please bring them to class next week. After thinking about it some more, I want to discourage you from emailing them to me directly. I want you to write as honestly as you would like, so I think it is best that the evaluations remain anonymous.

Here is the form for the midterm evaluation, in case you didn't get it tonight.

Have a great rest of your week, Sara

Blog Assignment Reminder

Just a reminder about the blog assignments for the class:


You are required to actively participate on our course blog. In addition to posting your pedagogical question on the blog (worth 50 points), you are required to post 10 posts (either as new entries or comments on other class members' entries) over the course of the semester (worth 15 points each).

10 Required Posts:

5             direct responses to pedagogical questions

2            related to the development of your syllabus/reading list

3            your choice on feminist pedagogies

Direct responses: These 5 posts can be comments posted directly on the original pedagogical question post, or they can be new entries that directly engage with and respond to the pedagogical question. Your response should be thoughtful and draw upon course readings, discussions and/or your own experiences in the classroom as a student or teacher.

Syllabus-related posts: The purpose of these 2 posts is to enable you to chart your progress as you develop your syllabus. Your posts can be about anything related to that process: questions about possible readings, mini annotated bibliographies on sources that you are planning to use, reflections on figuring out your topic, readings, or assignments. The only requirement is that one of these "syllabus progress reports" must be posted by November 4 and the other one must be posted by December 16.

The remaining 3 posts can be about anything related to the course and feminist pedagogy. You could post questions about the readings (what certain terms mean, etc) or mini annotated bibliographies with sources on feminist pedagogy or teaching. Or, you could share images/ideas/examples with our class that might be useful for teaching. You could even post your critical reflections on why blogging is/isn't effective in the classroom or offer another direct response to a pedagogical question.

You are required to make 5 posts by November 4.

The remaining 5 posts should be completed by December 16.

So as a recap, you must make 5 posts by next Wednesday.  You must also post a syllabus progress report by next Wednesday.

Sexualities special issue on pedagogy

| 1 Comment
Some of you might be interested in the October 2009 special issue of Sexualities. Here is the table of contents:

Sexualities Special issue: 'Researching and Teaching the Sexually Explicit: Ethics, Methodology and Pedagogy'

Edited by Feona Attwood and I.Q. Hunter

Feona Attwood & I.Q. Hunter 'Not Safe for Work?: Teaching and Researching the Sexually Explicit'

Brian McNair 'Teaching Porn'

Clarissa Smith 'Pleasure and Distance: Exploring Sexual Cultures in the Classroom'

Susanna Paasonen 'Healthy Sex and Pop Porn: Pornography, Feminism and the
Finnish Context'

Katrien Jacobs 'Sex Scandal Science in Hong Kong'

Steve Jones & Sharif Mowlabocus 'Hard Times and Rough Rides: The Legal and Ethical Impossibilities of Researching "shock" Pornographies'

Alan McKee 'Social Scientists Don't Say "Titwank"'

Kath Albury 'Reading Porn Reparatively'

Dennis D. Waskul "My boyfriend Loves it when I Come Home from this Class":
Pedagogy, Titillation, and New Media Technologies'

Documentary tells story of South African leader

Good Afternoon Fem Bloggers.

If you have a free evening, and would like to watch a movie to escape from your literary and homework-filled lives, check out this documentary, about South African leader John Dube!

The movie is playing tonight (I think at 7:30?) at Oak Street Cinema - sorta near Ford Hall... closer to Espresso Expose and Philip Wangesteen (sp?) building.

And the man who made the documentary Cherif Keita - is a former professor of mine.  He's an amazing man.  And a good speaker. 

I haven't seen it - but would love to - just a recommendation for ya'll to ponder.  If you need a night "off".

Here's the link for more information, South African Leader John Dube: Documentary

Enjoy! barb

Troublemaking Readings for next week

Next week we are talking about troublemaking. As I will mention in class tonight, I am going to revise (only slightly) the readings for next week. Here is the *official* assignment, with the new readings in bold.

a. Boler, M. "A Pedagogy of Discomfort"
b. Berlak, Ann C. "Confrontation and Pedagogy"
c. Erickson. "Fighting fire with fire"
d. Labor Notes. On Troublemaking Schools
e. Labor Notes. Troublemaker's Handbook (While the entire book is not available online, you can click on many of the chapters)

f. Carroll, Amy. "Savvy Troublemaking"

a, b and c are available through WebCT
d, e and f are available on other websites. To access them, click on the titles. 

Optional: Rose in FP

I added these readings about educating workers on how to be troublemakers because several of you have expressed interest in union organizing and pedagogy. For more on my thoughts on these sources, check out my blog entry about them here.

With these readings, we will be discussing troublemaking and pedagogy in two ways: a. as confrontation and b. as a method for resistance/transgression. In my own work, I have thought a lot about the value of troublemaking. The presentation I gave on Monday was all about the ethics of making and staying in trouble. Here it is.

Sara's First FemPed Blog

So here is my first video blog. Check out my blooper at the end.

I've just finished a draft of a syllabus for a Renaissance Art in Europe course that I proposed to teach in my department this summer. On my syllabus, I included a pedagogical statement that was a variation of the one found online here: http://filebox.vt.edu/users/bhausman/information/femped.html. I adapted my statement from this statement by Bernice L. Hausman, professor in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's English department. There are a number of things that I admire about Professor Hausman's statement, in particular her emphasis on learning environments where student ideas count as contributions to knowledge, as opposed to the banking method, and her focus on student responsibility/engagment in the act of learning.

Though I kept much of Hausman's message intact, in the statement I included on the draft of my syllabus I made one dramatic change that I'm a little concerned about.

Here's my version:

"This course mixes collaborative learning activities with traditional measures of assessment (written, formal papers and exams). Each individual student will be responsible for his or her understanding of the course materials. Class time will be spent exploring the meanings of course readings; sometimes the instructor will lecture in order to provide background information not present in the readings, but at other times class will be more loosely structured to accommodate discussion, small group activities, and exploratory writing.


It is important to understand that students are more responsible in this course for the creation of knowledge than they are in a traditional classroom. The emphasis in this classroom is on students' understanding and synthesis of course readings and discussion for their own purposes and goals. This does not mean, however, that students can never be wrong in this classroom. The instructor's job, in this context, is to suggest to students when interpretations are not grounded in defensible interpretations of facts or texts. Students are never required to hold any particular view; students will be required to understand both their own views and views that they do not agree with.  The students and instructor must each be responsible for the particular positions that they take up, defend, and espouse. That means realizing the political, social, and economic stakes in any idea, theory, or action."


You'll notice that I left out any explicit mention of the words "feminist pedagogy." I did this not because I am in any way opposed to feminist pedagogy either in theory or in practice. I am just a little concerned that to include these words on a written document that I'm going to put in all my students' hands might be off-putting for some (though of course it might prove liberating for others). 

I'm hoping that you'll weigh in on this issue. I prefer to be a little less direct (or maybe I mean to say that I don't want to seem aggressive) in putting such a statement on my syllabus, but I also think it's important for students to know what they can expect from me and what sort of a teacher that I am. I don't want to be disingenuous, but I also don't want to alienate any of my students.

What sort of message do I send to my students if I do or do not include the word "feminist" in a pedagogical statement on my syllabus?

Official Pedagogical Question for 10/28


I realize that my real question is fairly long, so if you are in a rush, here is an abbreviated version of my pedagogical question for this week: 

What are some practical things we can do to create an inclusive classroom for students who stiff arm our theories, methodologies, and core beliefs? Keeping Orner's article in mind, how might a poststructuralist feminist classroom be inclusive of individuals who base their identity and core beliefs around notions of essential identities and immutable truths?

If you've got spare time, here's the long version of my question:

In the spirit of Berenice Malka Fisher, pedagogical question for this week begins with story and ends with a question that I am struggling with and hope your brilliant minds can help me problem solve.
This weekend, my aunt, whom I rarely see more than once a year, passed through town unexpectedly. En route to Iowa, she had breakfast with early Sunday morning and we briefly caught up before she hit the road. My aunt is a very caring and well-meaning woman; however, the severity of her religious fundamentalism and conservative politics, in addition to a temperament that at times is very stubborn, sometimes puts her at loggerheads with other people in the family. Sure enough, at breakfast she failed to avoid all those topics of conversation deemed impolite table talk, unabashedly bringing up politics and religion. While I felt a need to censor myself, trying to make my values less inflammatory to her, and sidestepping conflict when it came to our differing opinions, it seemed that she didn't feel the need to attempt to present her views in a manner that might be more palatable to me. (She felt comfortable praying loudly in the restaurant before we ate, talked about the church's "gay problem" in a manner that raised my hackles, and knocked environmentalism and socialized health care, for example.) There were probably times in the conversation when what I said made her uncomfortable or feel alienated, - for example, when I mentioned that I was taking a feminist pedagogies class. (I'd never stopped to wonder if she even believes that gender inequality is problematic.) Also, a quick mention of my understanding of poststructuralism during a larger discussion about T/truth seemed to make her quite defensive. To her, poststructuralism seemed to posit a world-view that was based on chaos, and nullified her belief in an absolute Truth. After we parted, I felt very troubled for a few reasons. I was frustrated with myself that I had been so silent and passive when my aunt made blithe comments that were insulting to my value system. I also wished that in our conversation I could have found more sites of commonality - I wished that I had been better able to steer us toward the "same side of the river," as it were. Perhaps most troubling to me was the feeling that I had failed at communicating effectively with someone who comes from a very different place from myself. 

As I often think of myself as a teacher in training, so I like to perceive different scenarios in my life as pedagogical training grounds. I find that these pedagogical training grounds tend to be less focused on imparting information to people than trying to learn how to participate in or facilitate conversation in a productive and inclusive manner - how might I be more aware of the structure of a conversation and my role in it in relationship to others'? Since my encounter over the weekend, I keep asking myself how, in a classroom space, I could better interact and communicate with people who come from very different religious/ philosophical/ political places from myself. Just as I perceive evangelical Christianity to be colonialist in spirit, is imposing a poststructuralist feminist structure to either the classroom or a conversation a similar attempt at coercion? (I don't believe that it is, but I would like to hear your feedback.) How might the "liberatory" theoretical practices we are studying be anything but liberatory to someone whose self-perception and grounding is based not only upon notions of an essential and whole self, but notions of an essential and immutable Truth? How can I communicate my ideas in a nonviolent way when the person with whom I am communicating is decidedly violent or attacking in voicing their beliefs? How might we think of pedagogically extending the olive branch to individuals who are resistant to our methods - listening to what they have to say with open minds, yet not condoning that which serves to oppress? Additionally, how and in what kinds of forms might antagonism be productive? If we can't find practical answers to these types of questions, are we doomed to preach to the choir? 

I would love, love, love to hear your feedback and ideas.

Syllabus Report/Question

| 1 Comment

I'm still deciding exactly which course I am going to work on. Right now I'm leaning towards "The Politics of Sex," which is a 1000-level GWSS course. But regardless of which course I do choose, I'm really stuck on how best to start the semester's work. So far, these are the three options I'm considering, along with some pros and cons of each method. I'd love to hear feedback about other options, your experiences as teacher or student, or your own approach to starting class. 

1. Theoretical Foundations: This is probably where I'd most like to start off, since I think it would help students have a framework for the rest of the course. It would set up the kinds of questions we ask and why, and it would ideally help them synthesize the wide range of materials in which we'll interact with. However, I don't want to give too much too soon, especially at the 1000-level, which is what I think happened in the class I TA for now. The first week or two of school would be a bad time to have them feel disempowered or to give up/check out.

2. Historical Context: I like this approach as well, because it allows students to see the historical groundings of the questions that seem important to us today. I think it gives them a better appreciation of how some current issues do not make sense in other eras and yet other issues that seem new are actually not new at all. But I worry about what they will get from this approach if we have not yet addressed theoretical foundations or power/justice/difference. Will they take historical examples as merely interesting anecdotes? Will we be able to talk productively about how they relate to power, social construction, cycles of oppression, etc? Or will the historical context seem like a grab bag of unrelated situations that students feel have no bearing on our other discussions and contemporary issues?

3. Power/Justice/Difference: Despite its heavy title, I think of this approach as a more methodological one in which I'd attempt to address the "why" behind the different kinds of politicized perspectives and types of readings we'll encounter. So, I would try to show why we'll talk about racism, classism, and imperialism in a course about sex. Or to try to set a helpful framework about how different feminisms and kinds of feminists have different interests and goals. And why and how we'll take fiction, memoir, poetry, art, and protest as seriously as legal texts and more traditional academic essays. The pros to this are being able to situate the social justice aspect of the class right from the start and to tie it to the intellectual questions the class addresses. Yet I worry that this is hard to make sense of if it's done so early on before we start engaging with some of the debates and materials themselves.

video blog! on labor rights!


woo! pardon me if I don't sound 100% concise--I did not write this out or anything, and barely planned it out. is that good or bad? not sure. 
there is also no need to really watch the video, listening to it works just fine. i do show some books at the end, though. 

here is the Mario Savio speech I played: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcx9BJRadfw

not in my blog, but a link to the open access journal, Workplace: A journal of academic labor: 

I would be interested in your reaction to my video blog. am I too casual? Is my off-the-cuff speaking skills annoying or easier to listen to than a planned out lecture-ish blog? Any reaction would be cool to hear! Posi and negative: I am not easily offended. 


An Official Pedagogical Question for Week 10/28


In the spirit of mid-semester reflexivity...

Adapting and revising the course syllabus is something that we know we "should" do when what we have planned and the needs, interests, and skill sets of our students do not align, and I'm wondering about some practical ways that people have adapted course material mid-semester, whether through revisions of writing assignments or additions and omissions of course readings.  What were some of your reasons for making these revisions?  How did the students respond to them?  What were the noticeable (positive, unforeseen, negative) consequences as a result of the changes you made?  Has anyone used mid-semester evaluations and student feedback as a basis for making these changes?  Has anyone directly involved the students in making these decisions?

My talk on troublemaking and Judith Butler


Hi all,

Sorry about the last minute notice, but I am presenting this Monday on Butler and troublemaking. I would love to see you all there!


An apology and some thoughts on telling students "no"

First, I feel need to apologize to the class for not actively engaging with so many of the thoughtful and provocative posts on this blog. I have to admit that I'm still getting over my blogging anxiety and am hopeful that I will become increasingly comfortable posting as the semester progresses. I have been reading all your amazing posts, though, and thank each of you for providing such helpful and interesting thoughts here!

Now for my comment/thoughts with regard to how I make myself accessible to my students. I had a conversation with a fellow TA yesterday about how I should handle student requests for meetings and/or to review drafts of papers after my set deadline had passed. To give you some context, I have 42 students this semester. Their first writing assignment of the semester was due today at 12:20. In an effort to make it known that I am available and willing to help them by looking over drafts and outlines (at any/all levels of completion) and to provide feedback, suggestions for improvement, I told them in section and via email that they could either meet with me in person during my office hours or by appointment OR send me a draft, etc. via email. I did set a deadline, however, of Sunday evening at 9:00. This time frame, I believed, would give them ample of time to work on the assignment, which had been handed out a week and a half prior to Sunday's date. It would also allow me plenty of time to look over their drafts without feeling rushed, etc. Many students accepted my offer of aid and submitted their drafts in a timely manner. There were a few, though, that missed the deadline and still wanted help from me. So, going back to the discussion I had with my fellow TA: I asked this individual how she responds to such student requests that are outside of the bounds she has set. My reason for asking is that I've never told a student requesting my help "no" before. I've always managed to find time to meet with a student or at least look over a paper via email. My friend was shocked when I told her this, just as I was shocked that she feels comfortable telling them that they are out of bounds and that she simply doesn't have time. I don't think either of us is right or wrong in how we handle this situation, but I am curious to hear what feedback you might have with regard to this or other similar situations.

Is it okay to tell a student "no" when they ask for help?

Sign up sheets

| 1 Comment
I scanned the sign up sheets for the pedagogical questions and practical exercise. You can download them here. I will also add them as a link, under handouts.

Coming out Pedagogy and other readings to consider

I have added the article, "Coming Out Pedagogy: Risking Identity in Language and Literature Classrooms" by Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Debra A. Moddelmog to our WebCT site. I put it in the folder for week 6: 10/28. After briefly skimming it, I think it might fit nicely with our discussion of Care and Being Careful on 11/18, soI will add it to the folder for that week (week 11) as well.

I have also added a folder entitled "extra readings." These are readings that you might find helpful in your thinking about what feminist pedagogy is and how to practice it. Please email me any articles (as pdfs, if possible) that you would like me to add to the folder. Here are two articles I just added:

1. Introduction--Feminist Pedagogies in Action: Teaching beyond Disciplines
Sara L. CrawLey, Jennifer e. LewiS, MaraLee Mayberry

With these specially themed and guest-edited issues of Feminist Teacher, "Feminist Pedagogies in Action: Teaching beyond Disciplines," our intent is not only to demonstrate hands-on applications of feminist pedagogies, but also to learn from each other's interpretations of feminist pedagogical techniques across disciplines. This desire to learn from each other raises a practical question: How do we recognize a pedagogy as feminist? In other words, if feminist pedagogies are not bound to a scholarly area of study, what are the commonalities that make a pedagogy feminist? It is necessary to outline some fundamental principles of feminist pedagogy to supply a framework for our discussion.

2. Twisted Privileges: Teaching Inclusion in Feminist Teaching
Frinde Mahler

As an academic feminist, however, I focus this paper on my classroom-- specifically, on a feminist theory class I've taught over the past decade at Wheaton College, a small, coeducational, private liberal arts school in New England, whose students are primarily white and middle class. I also draw on a study of feminist pedagogies published earlier. When my co-author, Mary Kay Tetreault, and I first published The Feminist Classroom in 1994, my own classroom and those we studied for the book were all about inclusion and "voice" and giving students' experiences validity and visibility. Seismic shifts have taken place since then. To remain, or to become, a radical feminist teacher today is to be centrally concerned with unpacking complex relations of privilege and oppression, and thus fundamentally reworking the structural as well as representational terms of inclusion that feminist teaching promises.

Safe Space, Site of Struggle, or Something Else?

Hello All,

Since encountering readings on feminist pedagogy I've been struck by the persistent binary construction of  the classroom as a safe space OR as a site of struggle.  While thinking through the logic of this binary construction, I am inclined to recognize it as a site of struggle, but I am never satisfied that the classroom space occupies such an either/or position. 

Questions of feminist pedagogy and institutional constraints will comprise a central part of my dissertation, and for my upcoming prelims one of my papers seeks to directly engage with the use of experience in feminist classrooms.  I am really hoping to push this notion of the classroom as safe space OR site of struggle, and yet my own attempts have only repositioned the classroom as a "safe space to struggle."  I am not satisfied with this reconfiguration not only because the binary is still evoked, but also because I think "safety" and "struggle" really need to be engaged and unpacked.

Have any of you either struggled to articulate alternative ways of thinking through the power relations of the classroom or find compelling reasons for continuing to employ this language?  Do any of you have experiences in the classroom that helped you to articulate some of the complexity not conveyed in the safety/struggle configuration? Any suggestions for articles that think through these issues?

When thinking through these questions I am brought back to a discussion I had with a student last semester.  He came to discuss his frustrations of how he felt that a couple of white women in a gwss literature class were overlysimplifying the power relations being explored in the literature we were reading.  As an immigrant man of color in the US he voiced a complex understanding of his relation to these white, US born women students, and could not decide how to voice his concern for the way in which they were engaging with texts by US and international women writers of color.  He was specifically thinking through ways of engaging the problem that allowed him to draw upon his own experiential knowledge as a immigrant man of color while also recognizing the experiential knowledge that he did not have as a woman.

I am bringing up this example, because as we talked about this situation and ways in which we could address it, in my head I was thinking that this epitomized the importance of understanding the classroom as a site of struggle.  Yet, to my amazement, this student--in the midst of this struggle--insisted on understanding the classroom as a safe space (without me ever evoking such language),which he just needed help decoding in order to engage this conversation. (In this way I was positioned as the key holder to this "safe" space).

Watching this student struggle with these questions and yet insist that the classroom was a safe space through which to engage the questions revitalized my interested in interrogating this configuration.  hooks, while acknowledging the struggle, retains that the classroom is a site of possibility, and I'm wondering if thinking through the complexity of the space itself could help to rethink this issue.

I would really appreciate any of your insights and/or suggestions on productive language you employ to frame your understanding of classroom dynamics!

(Michelle, I know that you spoke to some of these issues in an earlier post and they are actually what prompted me to post these thoughts)

Some more thoughts on teaching with technology...

| 1 Comment
Here are a variety of links on using technology in the classroom. I am not sure what this type of blog entry is called. Over on Alas, a blog it has been referred to as a link farm or linkspam. Regardless of what you call it, I find this type of entry to be very helpful. I have even thought about assigning it to students, as a way for them to demonstrate their blog research. Anyway, here is a mini list 'o links on technology and the feminist classroom.

1. Want to know more about how bloggers use this type of entry to present a lot of different links in a succinct and accessible way? Check out these two examples from Alas, a blog here or here.

2. Are you curious about what other feminist teachers, like this one or this one, think about technology in the classroom?

3. Facebook and Twitter assignments? Really? No, really, on twitter and facebook.

4. What does feminist pedagogy look like in an engineering classroom, with the help of wikis and blogs?

Okay, that's all I have time for now. Feel free to post your own list 'o links.  

Note: After looking over my list 'o links, I started wondering: Should I put more information about each site? Is a link enough? I am not sure how I feel about whether or not to include more information on the link, so I will leave the entry as is for now. What do you think? 

For class this week (10.21)

I have added two syllabus links (under links: resources at the bottom of the page on the right hand side)

1. The online syllabus tutorial here at the U of M. You can also check it out here: http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/syllabus/index.html

2. While this is specifically about teaching intro to philosophy, it has some great information about planning your course, etc. Check out the yellow buttons at the top of the page. You can also check it out here: http://www.teachphilosophy101.org

Remember to bring in a sample syllabus that we can discuss in class. It could be from a class that you have taken or taught. It could also be a syllabus from your department or one that you found online.

Come prepared with all of your questions about creating a syllabus.

response, 10/21/09

| 1 Comment
Barb, in response to your questions on how to implement feminist pedagogy (one at a time--if this is possible, or all at once--if this is possible!), I wonder if your questioning arises from the praxis inherent to feminist pedagogy, or the simultaneity of employing feminist theory and methods...it's difficult to have one without the other.  

Perhaps it can free us by looking at FP as a process that's contingent upon the context in which we're working (which seems to be the most feministy answer as well!).  Because feminist pedagogy isn't static; I don't think there could be a time or place when an educator feels s/he's finally "arrived."  There is always the potential for further change, spontaneity, creativity, deeper awareness of power relations, and more effective/strategic methods of addressing them...even on behalf of the most seasoned feminist pedagogues!  

And while I certainly can't deny the potential for students to resist FP, I have yet to personally experience its rejection in a classroom, whether I've been the student or the teacher.  Perhaps it's just that I've been lucky so far, but all in all, it seems to me that students are hungry for alternative educational methods; they enjoy variety, enjoy discussion, and when given a chance, step up to the plate in taking responsibility for their share of the work.  It's partly because the ideas students encounter in feminist classrooms are so different  from other disciplines (I can't tell you how often students have said to me "I love GWSS classes because there's nothing else like them; no one else is teaching us this stuff"), and it's partly because they're allowed to be themselves; in our classrooms, their identities actually mean something.  

So while I am sure it will happen, I still haven't experienced students going through the "5 stages of grief"!  Though if it's as funny as that video, Barb, I might welcome it!  


Pedagogical Question for 10/21/09


This weekend, I have been wrestling with my concept of feminist pedagogy.  I've been trying to look at each of the aspects of feminist pedagogy that hooks, Fisher, Elenes and Crabtree, Sapp, & Licona, described as essential components.  And I've tried to look at each one in isolation from one another to better understand them.    Some of the aspects that I've been analyzing are: 

Student voice

Student empowerment

Classroom discourse (political or otherwise)

Transformative nature of feminist pedagogy

De-centering the instructor and shifting the power to students


Ethic of care

I have found that when I try to describe or analyze any one of these in isolation it seems empty without the others.  Can one consider student empowerment separate from student voice; can they exist separate from one another?   How about the ethic of care and de-centering the teacher's voice? 

1.       Can these elements that are so imperative to critical feminist pedagogy be separated from one another?  Or must they be taken as a whole?

2.       When taken as a whole, it seems to me that this problematizes the implementation of feminist pedagogical methods.  How can you do it all at once?  But, separating them leads to a different complex issue, i.e. what do they mean in isolation?   How does one learn to implement all aspects of feminist pedagogy in her/his own classroom, if all aspects are to be considered as one? 

3.       Can feminist pedagogy be taken in baby steps?  Can it be implemented in stages?

4.       Do students schooled in the discourse of standard lecture courses, balk at the change in dynamics and activities in a classroom practicing feminist pedagogy?  

5.       Do students and/or instructors progress through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in "giving up" the classroom they're accustomed to?  If you're interested you can check out the following link for a YouTube video on the 5 Stages of Grief .

6.       How does an instructor manage the power struggles that occur in class?  Does the instructor need to manage them?  Or should the students be "empowered" to do this in their own?

I'm unable to synthesize this into one question, sorry fempedbloggers.  Thanks for any comments and thoughts on these questions.

video blog issues

hey all

So I really tried to video blog! But the web cam grabber that my tech-savvy friend recommended does not grab audio--just video. 

Does anyone know of a free web cam recorder with audio? I am also sketched out by free downloads online, so I usually wait for someone smarter about online safety to reccommend something. 


p.s. do I take y'alls silence about ESL support as meaning there is no resources for me to check out? If I am defeated, that's cool, I just want to make sure! 

Ideas and Resources...

So, each week I have lots of ideas about connecting feminist pedagogy to all the other interesting things I've done or know about, but of course there is never enough time to share them all. But here is more info as well as links to two things I've brought up in class, and one that I haven't.

I'd also love to hear more about the other kinds of various experiences y'all have had that you bring to bear on your teaching and thinking about pedagogy. I'm sure there are so many experiences, resources, and knowledges that our class possesses that never make it into the conversation!

Supplemental Instruction: http://web2.umkc.edu/cad/SI/

I brought up Supplemental Instruction (SI) with our first group of readings in response to questions about how to work with students who do not yet have necessary academic skills without being patronizing or stigmatizing. SI developed out of Kansas, and instead of focusing on "bad" students or remedial assistance, it works by identifying the courses across campus in which large groups of students consistently struggle. 

Not only does this help pool resources in a fiscally efficient way (which is why so many administrators like it), but it also works to destigmatize students by placing the emphasis on the class. Also, in practice, it attracts as many good students as struggling students, which makes it seem more about success than failure. SI works by offering out-of-class instruction (mentoring, writing, discussions, working on problem sets, etc) led by advance undergrads and grad students. There is no fee for students to attend, and often they also encourage a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere than most classrooms and some even provide food. The major drawback is that it is a huge undertaking, and also that it would be hard to implement outside of university settings or with non-traditional and/or working students. But I think it's success can inspire us to think about different ways of providing help and encouraging the development of academic skills.

Strengths-Based Advising: http://www.apu.edu/strengthsacademy/downloads/schreiner_anderson_advising.pdf

A few years ago I was an academic advisor at a large and reputable community college in Portland, OR. Through NACADA (the National Academic Advising Advising Association), I learned about an advising technique called Strengths-Based Advising. Whereas much advising and teaching takes a deficit-oriented approach to students (namely, that they need to 'fix' their shortcomings), this approach focuses on the strengths that students bring to the educational process. This actually grew out of research that demonstrated most successful people (and we can deconstruct that idea) don't actually pay much attention to their weaknesses at all, but instead intentionally use their strengths to compensate for or address those areas in which they struggle. Most academic advisors recognize themselves as teachers as well as helpers/facilitators of students development, and I think this article presents some interesting ideas that might be very effective as pedagogical strategies.                   

Posterous: http://posterous.com/

They tout themselves as a "the dead simple place to post anything." It's a site by which to establish a blog, but requires almost no set up and posting itself requires only an email! MP3s, videos, docs can all be posted just as an attachment. And connecting to content on the web (like videos, pics, and links) doesn't even require that - just a simple click on a toolbar button. I learned about this from a UofM workshop, and the tech folks said that the privacy was pretty good, but that we should keep an eye out in case they are bought out by another group who then changes the privacy policies. But this could be great for those environments where privacy isn't an issue and/or when working with low-technology folks.

Facebook article

Last night (10.14) I mentioned an article about facebook. I posed the question: could informal/private facebook groups for students (which are not open to the instructor) be a way to encourage/create affinity groups (a la Ellsworth)?

Here is the citation information:

"Facebook: The New Classroom Commons?"
The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 28. 2009

I will also post the article on our WebCT site, under the folder for 10/14.

What do you think? Is facebook a useful tool for feminist teaching?

Sharing a blog I follow and a teaching practice idea

| 1 Comment
I follow this blog Adolescent Sexuality It has a lot of really wonderful sex-positive stuff regarding adolescents. Not always as edgy as I'd like but regardless. This particular post, among other things, suggest a pedagogical technique I found interesting. Starting every class with a relevant song. I thought this was an interesting technique in terms of appealing to multiple learning styles, as a way to bring everyone into presence in the classroom, a way to invite personal connections to the days subject. Etc. I just thought I'd pass it on since I hadn't considered the idea before and I could see how it could have some useful applications in feminist pedagogy. (hopefully the fancy link works above but since I've never done this before I'll also put in the long version for your cutting and pasting pleasure http://karenrayne.com/2009/10/12/the-seductive-allure-of-the-music/


Something to try with small groups...

| 1 Comment
The question: When putting students in small groups, do you let them chose their own or do you assign them to groups? And if you assign them, how do you do it?

When students pick their own groups they tend to stick with people they know and they also tend to talk about things not related to the class, so I usually like to assign groups. Although I have tried a couple of different approaches, I often end up having students count off. Sometimes students resent this method. One time I had a student grumble, "We aren't in grade school anymore so don't make us count off." Regardless of how I do it, the process of assigning students to groups has always been just a a way to get to the real aim of the assignment: the small group discussion. But, what if the process of forming groups was more important? What if the process of forming into small groups was a crucial part of the learning exercise?

Here is something to try with small groups that my sister, who teaches geography (GIS to be exact) at Wollongong University in Australia, just told me about:

The goal: To review topology and how it works in GIS: how does the computer know what points link up to define lines and which lines join together to form polygons and therefore which polygons touch each other and which don't.

The exercise: Different signs (vector line, vector point, vector polygon, or roster) are posted around the room. These signs represent the different groups. Each student gets a card that has a description of something that would fit with a particular sign/group. They have to figure out which sign they belong to and then convince the other members that they belong. Then they have to explain, to the class and to the instructor, why they should be there.

While I can't envision this specific exercise working in any of my classes, the idea of making group formation be part of the process seems really cool.

Questions: Have any of you done something similar in your classes (either as the instructor or the student)? How have you used (or participated in) small groups?

On Reconciling the Contradictions

I agree with Melody's post below that the Ellsworth piece was difficult to get through. However, I can't say I entirely disagree with many of her claims. As graduate students, we are conditioned, I think, to be critical of everything, perhaps most especially, that of which we are a part. I know I tend to be similarly hyper-critical of the Left, despite my close affinity for that side of the political spectrum (if I'm even still on the spectrum, that is; kinda depends on my mood). But no matter what is being analyzed as yet another example of perpetuating problematic systemic oppressions, we ("we" being those invested in a commitment to social change, i guess?) are always left wondering "okay, so what's the alternative?." If we are always stuck "using the master's tools," is it possible for us to ever transgress from these stifling internalized "isms"?

One possible solution to this conundrum that seems to be suggested by all of our authors for this week is participating in the sometimes grueling process of self-reflexivity. Ellsworth writes that her goal was:

"to become capable of a sustained encounter with currently oppressive formations and power relations that refuse to be theorized away or fully transcended in a utopian resolution--and to enter into the encounter that both acknowledged my own implications in those formations and was capable of changing my own relation to an investments in those formations." (100)

I guess my question to her would be--in line with her critique of abstract concepts--to ask what that looked like, concretely. How can we participate in the process of deconstruction? Furtermore, how can we acknolwedge identities as empowering, positions of power as oppressive, and still mantain a non-essentialist, potentially poststructuralist politics? The latter is a question that weighs heavily on me in activism and organizing, particularly in the labor movement. The labor movement has proven to successfully rally around class, while only mildly addressing issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation. When do identity politics stop becoming empowering and start becoming divisive?

Questions like these---ones that seem so overwhelming, as they all seem to be riddled with paradox and contradiction--seem inescapable in academia. I have to admit I have had small points of panic  since starting my PhD program as to whether or not I really could handle this "ivory tower" for the rest of my life. I wonder if I will be strong enough to not get sucked in, and to mantain a commitment to connecting the classroom to the community, and to use my position for social change. I hope. Anyway, a former professor of mine from DePaul was very invested in these issues, as he had just recently received his doctorate in Communication and Performance Studies. In an effort to reconcile some of this, he and a colleague of his from his PhD program at Arizona, created a performance that discussed the walls we as academics run into when attempting to transcend hegemonic structures of academe. I asked him to send me a copy of the video after I read our readings for the week, because they address so much of what these writers discuss. I hope you have about 30 minutes to check it out: http://www.viddler.com/explore/dustygoltz/videos/3/?secreturl=44900526


Finally, I really hope we get a chance to discuss theories of the body in the classroom. I really appreciated the insights, brought forth most explicitly by the Anderson piece, about the importance of the bodies experience in shaping discourse and classroom space, etc. I think there was room for affect theory to come into play, but none of the authors really went there, so perhaps we could. This is of particular interest to me in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity disclosure. It seems that we've gotten through a significant change in social consciousness in which "gays and lesbians" are accepted, as there is evidene of somewhat solid enough discourse that enables them to exist without being directly associated with sex-acts, but I am still not certain of the safety for self-identified queer folk and transgender folk to disclose in the classroom. For the former, this seems potentially difficult because queer becomes more than just a sexual orientation preference (which for me and many other queers, is certainly not clear cut and easy to explain, nor does it fall into happy binaries (even same-sex binaries)), but also a political identity. Trying to explain this to undergraduates seems to tread a line that forces actual discussions about desire and politics, two very taboo topics! For transfolk that are not stealth (that is, that acknowledge their trans identity, and don't try to always "pass" as man or woman) this can become complicated too when trying to explain to a freshman that, for example, let's say: a Female-To-Male wants to be addressed with male pronouns, takes testosterone, but does not check the "Male" box on surveys, as he prefers to identify as Trans. Oh yeah, and he also dates cis-women and transmasculine folk, but does not consider himself gay. See how much explaining needs to go into one's introduction of "self"? How much can/should we disclose (and this question is obviously relevant beyond the trans and queer community)?

Other official pedagogical question for 10/14


Robert C. Anderson's "Teaching (with) Disability: Pedagogies of Lived Experience" raised several questions for me. Anderson examines both disabled teachers and teaching about disability, specifically focusing on disabilities and teachers with disabilities that generally are manifest in some overt physical expression (e.g. quadriplegia, deafness, blindness); instructors with "bodies marked as different (disabled, gay, pregnant)" (374) and even aging (368), are included in Anderson's discussion, because they are "almost always foregrounded by their bodies in some form or fashion" (370). This "almost" belies a very important segment of the population which he acknowledges only briefly when he later alludes to disabilities that the teacher may choose to "self-disclose" (373), which are not immediately obvious to students or other observers--that is, the conditions of the body that don't necessarily always manifest themselves physically. To me, this means chronic or serious illness that impact people's day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and even minute-to-minute lives but cannot be identified readily by the presence of a wheelchair, hearing aid, or other object of accommodation: chronic or serious illnesses such as diabetes (types 1 & 2), asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, Parkinson's, even  infertility and psychological conditions, to name but a few of the dozens (or maybe even hundreds) of conditions that plague millions of people. These conditions fit into Anderson's discussion of disability in that they have the potential to affect the instructor's presence in the classroom and the students' interaction with the instructor; they are often cause for discrimination (social and professional); and people who live with these conditions often feel shameful, "less-than," and/or anxious for a variety of reasons. These conditions also add another layer of meaning to Elizabeth Stuart's astute observation that "disabled people are everywhere and nowhere at the same time" (377).


Anderson cites Brenda Brueggemann's story of beginning each new class (with a new group of students) by having to inevitably, at some point, acknowledge, explain, and reveal that she's deaf; Brueggemann must contend with the "burden of representation" (376) - but this isn't so much a choice of whether as it is of when to disclose. With any kind of disability that manifests itself physically, it's impossible to proceed without acknowledging it. However, with the less visible or invisible disabilities, it's a different kind of burden; in a way, people with these conditions are in fact subject to being marginalized even further. If, as Anderson claims, "disabled bodies disrupt 'normal' educational settings" (369, italics mine), then bodies with these chronic conditions often can only disrupt the classroom if the instructor chooses to disclose them. I don't mean to suggest that the visibly disabled have an easier time of it; certainly, first/only being viewed as a disabled body is a serious form of inequality that has to be constantly fought--but the fight is there, and the general public seems to be achieving, slowly but surely, a better understanding of these visible disabilities. But teachers for whom a condition is not immediately apparent must wrestle with disclosing personal information--to people who may have misconceptions or no conceptions of the illness, resulting in uncomfortable/judgmental classroom environments--or suppressing an essential part of their daily existence or "authentic self."


We've talked about how, in a shared learning setting, the teacher can forge personal connections with her students  by make herself vulnerable, bringing her full self into the classroom and attempting to reveal her "authentic self" or her "authentic version of herself in that moment."  Sometimes the chronic illness may be relevant, but as with the revelation of other personal issues, even when no longer or not relevant, the teacher is still marked by it. So, what happens to the instructor's authority in the classroom when such information is revealed? "Authority" itself is a complicated matter, but if we think of authority as the ability to facilitate student engagement and interaction and to meaningfully guide (but not control) discussions, then students' perception of the instructor can be negatively impacted by the instructor's disability (or, more likely, the students' perception thereof).  Perhaps the larger questions, then, are the following: Should teachers with chronic or serious illnesses disclose this information to their students? What is gained by doing so (e.g. building trust and community, raising awareness, etc.), and how can we ensure these gains happen? What are the dangers (e.g. judgment, fear, disconnect, discrimination, etc.) and how can we prevent these dangers from occurring? In a feminist classroom, how can teachers with chronic or serious illnesses most effectively pursue their feminist goals without sacrificing their own psychological and emotional well-being?


On another note, I think it's important to reframe our vocabulary and our cognitive awareness of disability. Anderson points out the value of "re-imagining" or "reconceptualizing" difference (371), that "difference and defect are not synonymous" (371); he cites Garland-Thomson's focus on "interpreting impairment as human variation" (371) instead of mere disability. In fact, I find the term "disability" problematic in its limitations; the same goes for the terms "impairment" and "accommodation." Anderson himself urges us to think of disability as a "valuable source of lived experiences" instead of "something to be accommodated" (369), but the vocabulary we have right now for talking about these particular lived experiences automatically reduces the "disabled" individual to his or her lack, to what is missing, to his or her in(cap)ability to perform as fully as "able-bodied" individuals. How, then, should we speak of these conditions without devaluing the individuals who live with them? What are the possibilities and limitations of language to talk about individuals and groups of people who embody human variation?


Finally, I realize that I've been focusing my entire post on teachers with disabilities, but many of these questions are applicable or at least related to students with disabilities--or, in the case of graduate students such as ourselves, people who play both roles. And I should note that my thoughts on this week's reading are influenced by my own experiences with chronic illness. I would be happy to share my specific experiences, if deemed relevant, in the classroom; however, I prefer not to provide that information in a public forum.





ESL help? and other critical pedagogy thoughts.

In a completely honest move, let me paste here my conversation with my friend via online instant messaging: 

trying to find ESL resources at school., coming up short handed
 friend:  :(
that's usually an underfunded program at any university
 me:  yeh
seems like it
i cant find any resources for a teacher teaching a person from japan who needs help with english!
i just want to make sure im "doing it right"
 friend:  i think they expect it to be encumbent upon the student from japan to find his own help
me:  yeh, no, that doesnt work
ill talk to some people tomorrow
he did find help, but i want to help him on my side too

"'If you can talk to me in ways that show you understand that your knowledge of me, the world, and 'the Right thing to do' will always be partial, interested, and potentially oppressive to others, and if I can do the same, then we can work together on shaping and reshaping alliances for constructing circumstances in which students of difference can thrive'" (Ellsworth, 115).

right thing to do/doing it right...students of difference can thrive...

So, in other words, I'm feeling a bit anxious with my teaching right now. A student from Japan (1st yr student) is in my public speaking course. He is doing ok, but not excellent--mostly due to his oral skills. His critical thinking skills are suburb, but he can't manage to get his oral skills in sync with his brain. And that is ok. I met with him outside of class (foreshadowing a post on office hours in the future). We talked about his progress in class and I was very insistent that he tell me everything his ESL teachers and mentors told him about improving his public speaking. And yes, most advice he received was similar to my advice as well. BUT, I want some outside help beyond my student telling me what ESL mentors say. I want to talk to an ESL resource center person myself because this student will not be my last ESL student. I am thrilled to have a diverse student body and I want to do my best to address learning disabilities, struggles, blockades, etc. But I need help because, even though the student's potential failure or success is ultimately determined by the quality of interaction this student and I have (Valle, 170), I need a bit of a knowledge boost on my end of the interactions. 

So can someone here refer me to this wonderful place? My online searches are directing me to the STUDY of ESL (how to teach ESL students) and to CARLA. Neither have teacher help resources on campus. I am new here, so the answer may be under my nose. Maybe you could point me in the right direction? Thank you. 

In other news: 

I am so digging all the readings we did this week. Over the weekend I read the words/voices of scholars often made invisible on campuses. For that I am thankful. My continual enlightenment via this class is ever expanding. In this post's theme of honesty, I must say Ellsworth's overall attitude really rubbed me the wrong way (although I am indebted to her awesome concluding statement). I have two issues with the article: one, she criticizes most things I thought were so righteous with feminist pedagogy (party pooper!). And two, some of her sweeping claims assume her experience as essential and in which does not understand/explain how her experience could have been altered by assuming a different teacher (that of race, sexuality, class, etc). 

Now, I am not educated on the back-story of or in-fights about critical pedagogy. I may be missing some context that would make her aggressive attitude more understandable. But don't get me wrong, I love when people get angry and fight the system/preconceived notions about anything!

If I am grasping Ellsworth's main grievance it is that the concept of critical pedagogy is unattainable in practice when we do not understand our personal biases, racism (?), authority, and learned modes of oppression. At times she even shoots down some of my favorite pedagogy tactics! 

Ellsworth problematizes the concept of breaking down the student-teacher hierarchy. She does this by explaining the students are actually being brought up to the teacher's knowledge level and that critical pedagogy does not account for the teacher's automatic superiority of the knowledge being learned/taught in the classroom (Ellsworth, 98). So I would ask her: does the knowledge/classroom content have to be that in which a teacher is already familiar/superiorly knowledgeable on?


My second issue, that of which she assumes a specific instructor experience comes up a few times. Now, yes, I know she is a white teacher and she is acutely aware of her race impacting classroom dynamics. But I wonder if some of her thoughts are too presumptuous of a particular brand of instructor? And as I write this I am even arguing that my argument kind of  sucks, but stick with me: 


Case in point:

p. 101: "The concept of critical pedagogy assumes a commitment on the part of the professor/teacher toward ending the student's oppression...I could not unproblematically 'help' a student of colors to find her/his authentic voice...I brought to the classroom privileges and interests that were put at risk in fundamental ways by the demands and deviances of student voices."

My question is then, is her critique of critical pedagogy fully reliant on her race, gender, and/or privilege? How would we understand her critiques if she was of a different experience?

On p. 104 Ellsworth speaks of her class's pain, confusion, and difficulty in speaking because of discussions calling up multiple and contradictory and social positionings. Everyone in class found it difficult to speak for their own reasons.

I have a feeling bell hooks may come back and say: good! Classes like this are suppose to be difficult and uncomfortable! 

There are other examples I want to discuss to uphold my argument, but this post is getting very longwinded, and thus I'll save some of my thoughts for class.


Thanks for reading! 

establishing trust, becoming allies

"'If you can talk to me in ways that show you understand that your knowledge of me, the world, and 'the Right thing to do' will always be partial, interested, and potentially oppressive to others, and if I can do the same, then we can work together on shaping and reshaping alliances for constructing circumstances in which students of difference can thrive'" (Ellsworth, 115).

This statement really resonated with me, and I intend to reference it in the future to guide my pedagogical practices.  At the heart of Ellsworth's argument here, it seems, is the importance of trust-building, and becoming reliable allies. 

I agree with Ellsworth that classrooms are not safe spaces (106-7), and I have a classroom experience that was personally difficult to navigate to illustrate this.  Toward the end of my first year, I took a "Narrating Women's Lives" course in my MA program, and one evening, a second year expressed her opinion that no one could possibly do justice to her biography if they were not a disabled, black, queer woman like herself.   I voiced my opinion that because no one--even one who identifies similarly--can ever share the same experiences of another person, the process of constructing another's biography will always be partial, incomplete, and somewhat inaccurate; it is a retelling of a person's life, so it would have to be.  She responded angrily, and said something to the effect of, "of course" I could say something like that; people "like me" have been appropriating and distorting the stories of people "like her" for centuries.  While I agree with the latter part of her argument, I was deeply hurt that she thought I could never retell the story of a person "like her."  I had the support of my fellow first-years, who believed, through countless personal and classroom experiences, that I was a trustworthy ally of people whose identities I didn't share.  But the second years, who didn't know me, had no reason to trust that I considered the fact that people "like me" have been oppressing people "like her" for centuries as a priori knowledge.  Nor did we have the level of trust established between us that would forgive comments I may have expressed due my perceptual limitations; nor did they have reason to believe I might be humble in accepting my ignorances, and take responsibility for them.

Perhaps I wouldn't be able to retell that story as well as someone who has experienced similar struggles, accomplishments, and oppressions in her life.  But this seems all the more reason to maintain my argument that we have to find ways of relating with others across racial, gender, ability, gender, and even species boundaries.  And the only way we'll learn to accomplish this is by establishing trust--gaining the confidence of all others that we are trustworthy allies.  As Ellsworth writes, "'everyone is someone else's "Other"'" (114).

In even the most democratic and progressive of classrooms, biases will be revealed, stereotypes will be perpetuated, feelings will get hurt, and well-intended assertions will be received as narrow or oppressive.  After accepting this fact, the challenge for instructors is facilitating a classroom community where trust can be established.  This is surely a lesson that extends beyond the school setting as well; if students can develop skills of trustworthiness--empathy, responsibility, humility, good listening--even amidst significant and at times, painful conflict--it seems our goals as feminist educators will largely be met.  

Official Pedagogical Question for 10/14


This line of questions continues some of the thoughts from hooks and last week's online discussion, but also takes them in a new direction.

  1. Do you think it is appropriate and/or useful to present material related to pedagogy, and particular feminist and/or liberatory pedagogy in the classroom? If so, when? What kinds of classes or for what kinds of students? And, have any of you had instructors who intentionally included readings or lessons about collective learning and pedagogy? If so, how did it work out?

I ask this because it seems to me that, if one truly wants to have a more democratic classroom, then it might be both ethical and useful to actually bring this to your students in a more formal way. I am torn between two different sentiments about the instructor/student relationship in this context. On one hand, I fee that it's an instructor's decision to decide how best to achieve the aims of the class, and perhaps that means not having students know why they are doing certain things (like group projects, sitting in a circle, blogs, grades for participation, etc), that in some way maybe knowing the ends would jeopardize being able to achieve them. On the other hand, it seems that this is a very instructor-centric and undemocratic way to go about it. Particularly when "normative" education does not often articulate the why behind its methods, perhaps incorporating pedagogical strategies into our classes will help students think more critically about education as a process.

And it also would demonstrate that some things that "we" do differently than hegemonic education processes are not merely the whim of an instructor, which I think they are often viewed to be. I think that maybe we should be more transparent about why and how we use feminist/liberatory pedagogy. And perhaps it is a bad assumption that the moves we make to democratize the learning process will be understood (correctly) by the students. Finally, what kinds of challenges would this present in different kinds of classroom environments? What would it mean to communicate to and with students of all ages and locations about why we are doing things one way instead of another?

I have only had a couple, very brief encounters in which the instructor shared literature and/or ideas about pedagogy in the classroom, and I was a Women's Studies major. I was fortunate enough to have classes that generally did things more progressively than is typical, but it wasn't until one instructor actually articulated the why behind it that I understood these choices as political ones, and not necessarily about the disciple or teacher's preference.

  1. Along the same lines, what are your experiences as a student or teacher with collaborative syllabus planning? Have you ever had an opportunity as a student to revise or contribute to a course's plan? As an instructor, have you ever opened the door to this kind of input? Do you think that this is a logical extension of democratizing the learning experience? Or is it foolish or unfeasible or something else all together?

In high school, I spent a year as an exchange student in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I attended a Danish high school I was confused and a bit shocked when, in the first week of school, we helped decide what it was we wanted to learn that year. Yes, there  was a lot less flexibility in Physics and Pre-Calculus, and other classes had certain requirements. For example, in Art we had to choose one technical skill (we chose figure drawing - yes nude models in the high school!), one 19th century movement (Pre-Raphealites) and one 20th century (Graffiti). The same happened in our geography, Danish lit, English lit, and French courses. I can't really explain how bizarre yet wonderful this felt to me, as a 16 year old who had come from a very tightly controlled public school system.

What possibilities do you see for this in your own field and with your own students? Clearly there are some technical difficulties in different locations (like preparing students for mandated exams), but I wonder if our hesitance to do so comes more from fear of losing control or the fear of acknowledging the limits to our knowledge and expertise?




Response: Theory/Practice

Ani and Mel, I'd like to comment on your questions regarding theory as liberatory practice.  It seems to me that the discussion surrounding the exclusivity of certain theories could be reframed as a twofold issue: what consists of exclusionary language--the method of conveying the idea, and what consists of exclusionary theory--the subject matter and arguments made?

In the case of language, exclusions often depend on audience.  What audience is the theory trying to address, and why?  hooks believes theory should try to speak to the widest audience possible; indeed, this is perhaps the most democratic argument.  And while language can be used to segregate, dominate, and oppress, complex language that is used to describe liberatory theory--while surely excluding some audiences--can also challenge forth the expansion of certain ideas that address the concerns of an even wider, and perhaps more marginalized, population.  Muddling through complex language can be an effective learning exercise in itself, as well as a means to achieve the theory in both the subject matter and the method.  In this sense, I disagree with hooks that complex language is necessarily patriarchal (65).  Indeed, it's informed by this legacy (what isn't?), but I also think we shouldn't foreclose the potential for that language to be subversive.

In the case of the theory itself, we have to ask, what is its purpose?  All theory emerges in some way from material existence and experience, and so with hooks, I argue against the mythical theory/practice split.  Even the most abstract, metaphysical theory can have liberatory applications.  Therefore, no theory can be dismissed on account of it being always already detached from experience or practice.  If the theory appears detached, however, this is a consequence of either exclusionary language (using oppressive terms or unsituated language that posits the author as unbiased/objective--what Haraway calls "the god's eye view") or exclusive subject matter (ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and arguments that seek to uphold hierarchical, oppressive status quos).  Obviously, this sort of theory works against collective liberation.

I've been variously challenged, bored, liberated, inspired, and outraged by both simple and complex theory delivered in various combinations of vernacular or obscure language.  Ani, this is why I really appreciated how you problematized theory's supposed "density;" we can encounter "dense" material in a lecture on quantum physics, in a theatrical performance, or with a stranger on the city bus, and those discourses can be empowering or disempowering.

Therefore, I am not against prohibiting the use of any theory in class (besides, "accessibility" is a subjective and context-dependent concept); to do so would exacerbate the supposed theory/practice or theory/activism dichotomy. 

What this entails, then, especially in a feminist classroom, is maintaining a critical eye toward the theory--asking those questions about language and purpose--as well as historicizing/situating its evolution.  This may mean embracing it, or it may entail rejecting it.  Both are valid educational explorations.  

2nd Official Question for 10/07

| 1 Comment

Sorry for the delay in putting this up!

1. My first question/area of inquiry draws from bell hooks' chapter on 'Essentialism and Experience'.  I felt that the essay does a great job of working past some of the binarisms that can seem to paralyze feminist conversations inside and outside of the classroom, especially when it comes to questions of identity and its relation to knowledge production. hooks is critical of the use or evocation of 'experience' as an authoritative mode to stall critique and discussion (p. 81, 84), but she also guards against the blanket delegitimation of experience as a source of knowledge - given that it can be an extremely valuable resource especially for those sections whose lives and interests may not be adequately represented in available theoretical literature. The problem seems to be when particular experiences - especially of dominant groups - can be elevated into the status of general theoretical assumptions, rather than coming into critical dialogue with those from other social locations.  In fact, her analysis shows how Fuss's hostility to the use of 'experience' in the classroom ironically draws from Fuss's own particular experience, which is generalized onto a theoretical dictum against experience. Thus, hooks' analysis shows how Fuss ironically demonstrates a convergence of two disabling polar trends - the silencing of 'others' based on the authority of experience, and the dismissal of experience altogether as a valid 'way of knowing'.

My question draws from hooks' insight that experiences are both partial and a valuable mode of engagement in the classroom. Social inequalities and structures of domination mean that all students in a 'mixed' setting are not on a 'level playing field' inside or outside of class. Thus, any simple approach to 'diversity' or equal representation might not be adequate to actually addressing dominant structures, and might regress into a tokenistic multiculturalism where privilege and oppression go unrecognized in favor of a frictionless accommodation. How is then one to facilitate the mediation of experiences that might lead to the recognition of their partiality and their implication in socio-economic structures? To play the devil's advocate here, might not a certain degree of 'banking' be important just to instill a critical consciousness especially for more privileged sections? Or, perhaps 'realization' could be a better mode of approach... where the teacher could perhaps provoke or push students to contextualize and explain their experiences in more than either personal, subjective terms or authoritative, general ones. Do people have pedagogical experiences that could shed light on these concerns?

2. The second question draws from hooks' approach to 'theory' as a 'liberatory practice'. What I find interesting here is the unusual premium placed on both affect ('wound' and 'pain') and accessibility, whose relation to theoretical practice often goes unremarked - even though now we increasingly recognize via thinkers such as Foucault the mutual implication of knowledge and interest and are suspicious of claims to 'unbiased' or 'neutral' theories. My question is really to do with the issue of accessibility - to hooks theory is a more than the province of academia, it is a critical approach to the given order of things (the critical child asking 'why?') that encompasses a range of practices that cannot be contained by what goes recognized as 'theory' within the academia. So, to hooks, theory can and should slide between academic and everyday contexts, disturbing the common sense prevailing in both spheres. However, how would this approach compare with the insistence of certain contemporary theorists, notably Butler, on the density and inapproachability of language as a marker of complex thought? (There is a well-known controversy around this issue when the Marxist theorist Terry Eagleton attacked Gayatri Spivak for her inaccessible and dense language and invited a retaliation from Butler who said that not everyone were to be confined to writing 'primers' like him!)  I myself am disinclined to judge a work's 'actual' complexity either by its seeming accessibility or its apparent inapproachability/density, but would love to hear the thoughts and experiences of others on this. Of course, this is complicated further given that density and accessibility are relative and subjective (Is only academic and disciplinary language potentially dense? Cannot 'everyday' registers of language be similarly rendered complex, as they often are in the space of fiction or poetry?) When can experiences of reading 'theory' be empowering or disempowering on this count, and is it perhaps more to do with factors like classroom atmosphere, pedagogical approaches etc. than the question of 'density' per se?

Belated thoughts on community

From the small group activity, 9/23 -- Colleen Coyne & Erika Prater

In our readings for 9/23 , there seems to be an unrealistic, utopian view of "community"--that if we will it and work toward it (which we should), an unflawed space of nurturing, caring, and love will undoubtedly form. However, real life classroom situations are far more unpredictable; there may be students who are resistant to our ideas and our implementations thereof. Finding a balance between the utopian ideal and the pragmatics of reality, then, becomes important.

"Building" community assumes the neutrality and malleability of a classroom that may or may not actually exist. There's also a danger in making essentialist assumptions about "communal values" when the teacher is from the same ethnic/cultural background as the students; these assumptions can be useful but aren't always correct and can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings--and potential an uncomfortable and unwelcoming classroom atmosphere.

A teacher can build community through both structure and content, and a classroom is a conscious, deliberate space to be crafted, taking into consideration both what kind of classroom we want to have and what kind of classroom we're already working with--its limitations and possibilities--as the foundation for any changes we might want to make.

In a community-based classroom, we strive to practice democracy and empower students. This can be problematic, however, as noted on p.8 of Feminist Pedagogies, and raises important questions: How can we balance the need for validating our students' autonomy while still reserving the authority necessary to facilitate and manage conflict in the classroom? How can we, if we should, think about authority vs. empowerment in terms of our professional presence and career-building?

And finally, on a practical level, humor works to create a comfortable, accessible community in the classroom. When people are laughing, they are engaging with the material and participating actively--vocalizing, even--and taking some ownership in their learning experience.

pedagogial question for 10/7



My pedagogical questions for this week:


1. My first question is about engaging students and sharing the responsibility of the energy, content, and productivity of a class.


bell hooks: "To these students, transgressing boundaries was frightening." She continues to explain that after a challenging class (in terms of student engagement) it made her realize that she could not alone "by sheer strength of will or desire, make the classroom an exciting, learning community." (Teaching to Transgress, p. 9) hooks implying that students need to also be a part of making the classroom an exciting place to be.


She continues in "Engaged Pedagogy" to discuss that students want to be seen as "whole human beings with complex lives and experiences rather than simply as seekers after compartmentalized bits of knowledge." (p. 15)


As an instructor for undergrads, I am skeptical of the latter portion of hooks that I quote. I believe students have been in a much disciplined institution of learning for a long time. I find that when I address them as smart human beings with complex lives, they seem rather scared to take me up on being allowed to act as such.  They are frightened of this transgression I am exposing them to. (For example I often insist that they look at our textbook critically and come to class with some critical thoughts. Even though I give them endless examples, they are so afraid of arguing with a textbook)


As instructors how can we undo this brainwashing by the banking system (Freire) of education, and the disciplinary state of the educational system (Foucault) to thus get students to see themselves as active people in a classroom? How can we get them to be not so scared of a feminist pedagogical classroom?


2. In "Theory as Libratory Practice" hooks denounces theory that creates an intellectual hierarchy (p. 64). Dense theory may impress the patriarchy, she says, but it acts to undermine the feminist movement (p. 65). I cannot agree more. hooks calls for theory that can be shared in everyday conversation (p. 64). I cannot agree more. I would like to give bell a high-five, for now, I finally do not feel alone in my thoughts regarding theory.


She does not comment too much on how theory operates in the classroom beyond the actual written theory having to be read by students.


I am interested in your thoughts about how theory plays out verbally in your classes (keeping in mind hooks' call for understandable theory). My friend Kristine crafted a classroom concept:  "theory bingo." Theory bingo refers to a student that references theorists and theories not so much as to make a point but to impress other students and the instructor. She observes that a large percentage of theory bingo players are white men.

Do you experience an abuse of theory by other students? How should an instructor address this? And also, as an instructor, how do you draw a line between presenting theory as a challenge to students and presenting theory to students that leaves them lost and frustrated?


3. My third question dives into a personal concern being a white female with somewhat of a privileged background. While I was reading "Embracing Change" I started to question my ability to create a classroom that includes awareness of race, class, gender, and sexualities. "No education if politically neutral," hooks warns us. She gives us the examples of the white male professor who only teaches white male literature (p. 37). I then realized that this semester I have only shown examples of public speaking that are of white people. Mostly women I realized, but all are white (and I think all hetero). *Slams head into desk* Now I am totally embarrassed and will make a full effort to show examples of speeches that include a more diverse group of speakers (not because bell made me feel bad, but because I genuinely care about creating an inclusive classroom).

Considering my experience and hooks' examples:


Can instructors be subconsciously perpetuating patriarchy in their classrooms? What does that say about the instructors? How can we help each other make sure we teach from a wide array of cultures, experiences, etc?



In closing, I just want to say that I really love this class and I love the connection we have. It really seems like a community, like the one bell hooks talks about (p. 40). So thank you. You all really make my Wednesdays awesome!   <3, Melody 

No class next week

As I mentioned last night, class is canceled for next week.

For 10/7: Even though we will not be having class, please read bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress. Although not required, I also encourage you to read Eden Torres' chapter--it is available on our WebCT site. If you are scheduled to post a pedagogical question, please do so. Your questions can be related to the reading and/or about anything (theoretical OR practical) that is related to the class.

For 10/14: When we meet again in 2 weeks, we will discuss hooks and Ellsworth, Valle, and Anderson. These three readings are all available on our WebCT site.

Thanks, Sara

Burning question on Freire

| 1 Comment
Freire's paradigm seems to assume the possibility of an outright revolution. In the systems he was working within power was more concentrated rather than diffused throughout the system. Beyond an incredibly violent organized geographically limited coups, I can't quite picture a sudden change. In the meanwhile, Freireian pedegogy specifically opposes facilitating better adaptation to the existing oppressive structures. As I was reading I kept thinking, yes, yes, exactly! (But how will oppressed groups become doctors, lawyers, teachers, legislaters, judges?

How will oppressed perspecitves gain enough power to influence the system through a more gradual revolution - one which seems much more tenable? What are the consequences and what is the moral responsibility of a teacher in a position of power who might be witholding the "keys to power" or bringing a consciousness of oppression to the oppressed without the tools to overthrow this oppression? Is there a way to do both at once? To subversively teach the tools for access to power, while at the same time developing consciousness and encouraging incremental revolution?

This is a very important question to me because these paradoxes drove me out of teaching. I simply didn't feel that I could continue to contribute to a system that felt inherrantly oppressive to me. But I feel that I abandoned my students and prospective students as well. I really struggle with this one, and as someone going into a PhD program and curriculum and instruction, how do I negotiate my work in terms of working within a system I see as inherrantly oppressive? It can be a quesiton of access as well. Working only outside of the system significantly reduces access. Those without resources don't have the luxury of shoping around for education, and the risks of opting out increase as oppresion increases.