December 2009 Archives
Our final topic of hope is fitting in light of world events surrounding climate injustice and the urgent need for UN leaders to create a legally and economically binding treaty--a treaty that reduces global emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and addresses the global power inequities that exacerbate global climate change's effects.
But they're not going to come anywhere near such a solution at COP15, despite the devastating consequences of their decision for generations of humans and nonhumans to come. Of a handful of world super-powers, we have the inept U.S. Congress and President Obama among them to thank for blocking the transformative initiatives put forth by the majority of the Global South.
An article appeared over the summer that's lingered in my thoughts, and I've found that my experience in Copenhagen, in addition to reading bell hooks, has put it into sharp relief. Derrick Jensen is a rather famous author and eco-activist, and he wrote a persuasive piece for Orion entitled "Beyond Hope." In it, he describes the dangers of false hope, the idea that somehow, inexplicably, the system will magically change (3). But he also takes hope itself to task, writing the following powerful statements: "hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless" (2); "To hope means you've given up any agency" (2); "when we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to 'hope' at all. We simply do the work" (2-3); "When hope dies, action begins" (3); and finally, "A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place" (3).
I appreciate his take on false hope because I see so many people in this world deluding themselves into thinking that Jesus or Allah (or insert your god/s and miracle-makers here) will solve our problems. While this may be true eventually, and while I do believe in the transformative power of thought and prayer, I am stunned by those who would substitute hope for meaningful action.
There are a few problems with Jensen's reasoning on the issue of hope itself. First, like those who hope instead of acting, Jensen creates a false dichotomy between hope and action. Like hooks, I believe that hope, or what she also calls "prophetic imagining," envisions possibility, and action makes that vision possible by bringing it into fruition. Second, he ignores the range of power people have to enact their hopeful visions. For billions of people, for a variety of unique reasons, "work" cannot "simply be done" because they are denied the agency to do so. The decision the UN will make this Friday is a case in point: they will actively deny agency to marginalized entities across the globe. What, then, keeps people going every day, caring for themselves, their families, their environments? What has inspired hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, to convene in Copenhagen for two straight weeks, strategizing, rallying, learning, networking, testifying, marching, and committing civil disobedience--when we know full well that we will be disappointed by the outcome, that many of us will return home to our countries as bearers of--in many cases--the devastating news that despite their best efforts, they will be prevented from caring for themselves, their families, and their environments?
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, ex-political prisoner, nonviolent activist by training, and the first democratically-elected president in Maldives history, answers this question by telling us that hope is all that kept him alive while he was persecuted for five years, and hope is what keeps him fighting for his country--the most vulnerable nation in the face of global climate change. Every day he attends COP15, often speaking as the sole voice calling for 350ppm carbon emissions.
As bell hooks writes, "hopefulness empowers us to continue our work for justice even as the forces of injustice may gain greater power for a time" (xiv). Not only does this speak to the impossibility of distinguishing hope from action, but it also speaks to the reality that power imbalance is a fact of contemporary life; thus, finding a way to navigate those imbalances so that they do not destroy you, whether by simply surviving, or consciously subverting them, are meaningful actions that chip away at domination. Neither, however, can be accomplished without a vision for a different, better, way of life.
It is at this point that Jensen, hooks, and Nasheed agree: Jensen acts upon his despair over a ravaged planet because he is "in love" with life (3). hooks acts upon her hope because she believes life is "worth taking the next step" (xv). And in an electrifying speech Monday night at Klimaforum, the People's Climate Summit in Copenhagen, President Nasheed stated, "And just as there were doubters in the Maldives, so there are doubters in Copenhagen. There are those who tell us that solving climate change is impossible. There are those who tell us taking radical action is too difficult. There are those who tell us to give up hope. Well, I am here to tell you that we refuse to give up hope. We refuse to be quiet. We refuse to believe that a better world isn't possible."
To read Jensen's piece, click here: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/170/
To read Nasheed's speech, click here: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/12/maldives-president-mohamed-nasheed-eco-rock-star-copenhagen.php
Even though this syllabus is for an as yet fictional course, it has been one of the most rewarding and helpful projects that I've worked on as a graduate student and would-be professor. Workshopping it with my peer review group and the class has made it infinitely better and so I thank you all for your extremely helpful comments--I took a lot of the comments that you made in class in our more general discussion to heart as well, so you've all had a part in this process.
Because I can sense others' presence in my syllabus, your voices, my voice, Berenice Hausman's voice, Sara's voice, I got to thinking about syllabi created for co-taught courses and how that process might differ from this one. Even though we're all in this course together because we are all interested in feminist pegagogies, I doubt that any of us have identical teaching philsophies. Mine is really centered around the body as a site of knowledge formation, but I don't think I've really articulated my position on this all that well in my syllabus.
And so even though I'm at the end of this project for this course, I continue to wonder if my syllabus is a true reflection of myself, my course, and my teaching philosophy. Accepting that this might be an unattainable goal has been a good thing though, because it's freed me to be able to think about creative ways that I can incorporate others' voices into my document. One helpful suggestion that I received both from my group and from Sara was to allow for student-created assignments. In my own pedagogical statement, I emphasize student responsibility in the process of knowledge acquisition. And so for my second written assignment, I've decided to give the students the choice to chose between my prompt and a topic of their own choosing. This might be a minor change to my syllabus, but I feel like it takes large steps in bringing me closer to my own teaching philosophy.
My syllabus workshop group was incredibly helpful and provided excellent feedback (thanks, Shannon and Patricia). They raised a lot of good questions that I've tried to think about and accordingly incorporate the results into my syllabus - I think the document now has more clarity, a more consistent tone, and a better balance between authority and student autonomy. One question I haven't been able to resolve for myself is about classroom technology: do I allow my students to use laptops in class? On my previous draft, I avoided the issue all together, not having any particular policy at all. Obviously not the best idea--I'm a firm believer in putting it all in writing so a student can't fight it later because "no one ever told me."
I've come up with a brief policy, but I'm still not happy with it, because there are so many potential situations that could arise that I'm not yet prepared to address or have a policy for:
Technology in the Classroom
You may use a laptop in class during writing exercises only; if you use your laptop for any non-class related activities during class, you will no longer be allowed to use it in this classroom. Please turn off all cell phones, iPods, and other devices during class.
I didn't include the possibility of using a laptop for note-taking or reading PDFs; I hesitate to open the door for these practices but may need to say something about them. Also, I didn't directly address laptop needs for disability accommodations -I thought just having a blanket Disability Services policy would be sufficient, but maybe I should include this info?
Luckily, I've still got a month before this thing needs to go live, so I'll spend some time finessing this section. I want to be inclusive without being wimpy or dragged out. Any suggestions?
The syllabus addition that I am most excited about, however minor, is elaborating on course expectations with questions that invite further consideration of the topic, and hold students accountable for taking initiative in their own education:
How will your knowledge and understanding grow throughout this semester? What intellectual abilities will this course help you develop?
What will you do to pursue the goals of this course?
What guidelines will help ensure a dependable, respectful, equitable classroom atmosphere?
How does the university help to ensure my safety and academic success?
What resources will guide and expand our classroom discussions?
The conversations in our two peer review classes gave me a lot to think about. Reading all of your syllabi also provided a lot of inspiration. I did significant re-writing of the course overview based on feedback and what I heard in the large group discussions. I removed some negative and shame-based language that had crept into my intro. The language was in direct opposition to what I was trying to say! I also got feedback that it might be better to begin with writing and move to more generalized ideas of learning and thinking. Sara also asked me to define "critical thinking." Defining this concept allowed me to talk about some of my broader goals without appearing to wander too far away from the "core" purposes of the course. So the second paragraph was removed.
I thought a lot about attendance policies. There were so many different perspectives on this. Different nuances in language and tone as well as policy. I thought about it quite a bit before returning to my syllabus and realizing there's a pretty clear attendance policy dictated by the course directors. Still, I now have a lot to consider. One of the things I have done is added an extra credit option for attending office hours. I'm also not going to announce it in class but I've mentioned it in the syllabus, incorporating our experiment of getting people to read the syllabus. (I wonder if this is clever, or just annoying)
My research and constructed syllabus for this class center on women's testimonial literature, so Megan Boler's "A Pedagogy of Discomfort" and Ann Berlak's "Confrontation and Pedagogy" (wherein they speak to "bearing witness" as an ethical posturing in classroom culture) were really helpful in terms of connecting the notion of "bearing witness" to each other in the classroom to the literature itself (which is totally shaped by this paradigm).
Although I thought that I had framed my syllabus to enable this bridging in classroom practice, when writing my essay last week, I realized that these connections were much more vague than I initially thought. And so, based on all of these influences, I revised my syllabus by thinking about how to more directly bridge this gap. I did this in part based on the valuable feedback from my workshop group. By calling attention to how the volatile themes addressed in the readings might trigger emotional reactions and traumatic memories from students, I added a statement on how by bearing witness to each other's reactions in the classroom, we enable a richer, more embodied engagement with the readings (I also encouraged students to meet privately with me to discuss these responses if they feel uncomfortable sharing them with the class). Additionally, I opened up three course periods during the semester to devote to discussions of students papers. By "bearing witness" to each other's analyses, challenges, and questions, I hope this will help to foster an environment in which student contribution is noticeably valued. Overall, I hope these changes help to model an embodied form of pedagogy (to reference hooks) where the whole person is allowed to enter the classroom space (This of course is still idealistic--a large part of discusson will also discuss what does not allow for the "wholeness" we seek).
While I won't really know how well I am able to bridge the notion of "bearing witness" between the texts and peer interactions until I teach the course, I am really excited about being able to pay so much attention to this aspect of my syllabus.
I really appreciated the opportunity to workshop my syllabus with Ani and Michelle, and felt further enriched by our large-group workshop too! What a productive use of time....I only wish all professors had the chance to do this before every new course! Having so much prep time, and getting the chance to hear others feedback will inevitably shape the teaching all of us perform if and when we conduct these courses, and I think that makes us and our future students really lucky! (Side note: Because this was such a positive experience, I am considering committing myself to developing some sort of support group for profs who want to do this sort of thing before courses. Maybe inter-departmentally, or not. I'm in the process of creating a "Socially Engaged Scholarship" group with another Comm student, so maybe this could be part of it. Let me know if you're interested!)
Because we're supposed to keep these entries short, I'll list the top three most helpful things I took away from the workshop:
1) Remember that I am a *worker* and that I should not exploit myself with an unnecessary work load, as it will ultimately also be a disservice to the student (in terms of quality of my feedback, etc).
2) remember to invite guest speakers into the course! Another great way to de-center hierarchical structures and learn awesome things from different voices!
3) give specific writing guidelines/expectations in advance of any written assignment to avoid really terribly structured (but perhaps good content-oriented) papers
Sharing this class with all of you was wonderful! Looking forward to our last session!
I have thought a lot about what is in my syllabus, but not so much about what is not in my syllabus. I wanted to briefly discuss why my syllabus has no group projects and no exams.
1. The reason for having no group work is a selfish move. I dislike group work. I find group work really stressful. Not only do you have to create material, you also have to coordinate your material with your group. Plus, there is added hassle in managing a time to meet up outside of class. And we all know what happens when someone in the group is not a very hard worker. With that said, I envision a lot of group discussion in my class. Group discussion is more relaxing for students, where they do not seem to be in the spotlight so much. This is especially important when considering the content of my class (I am assuming talking about erotica is a bit more challenging than a few math problems). But, no group work. I just do not see enough positive aspects to incorporate it. I would like to hear your thoughts though, if you disagree!
2. I have no traditional exams in my class. My cousin's professor says that exams are the ultimate examples of the abuses of the elite bourgeois. Sounds about right to me. Moreover, as most students like to cram for exams, I feel that students will be no closer to internalizing the theories discussed in class. But if the students interact with the theories outside of the classroom perhaps the theories will stick more. Plus, in another selfish move, grading exams is boring. Grading sex shop analyzes is fun!
Inferentially I have discussed the syllabus being impacted by what I (do not) want. This gets at bell hooks' argument that to be a healer (teacher), one must care for herself first. I am not sure hooks was talking about whether to have group work in class, but I see some parallels.
Thanks for an inspiring semester everyone! Hopefully I'll be talking with you all in the future.
Is this blog going to stay up for all of eternity?
1. I've added more student-driven content, but not too much more. Hurray for more vulnerability.
2. I've changed the font 4 times.... not certain on a final "favorite". My Times New Roman is to formal, you're right Sara. It's got to go.
3. I've reconsidered readings AGAIN, and hope to have some closure on that by Wed. However, this is where the chance to teach with these pieces will be much more informative than merely thinking I like them.
4. I've considered adding some images, but test tubes can be boring. I used to do that for all of my high school assignments, syllabi, worksheets, tests. The tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders seemed to appreciate that, I hadn't considered it for grad school, I'm not sure why.
You get the idea.
What I'm trying to say, is that what I plan to turn in on Wednesday, will still be a work in progress. Does anyone else feel this way?
cheers - bb
Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Am I overreacting to reading previously marked-up passages or does providing students with my thoughts and reactions really change how they read the material? Should I even worry about these things in planning a syllabus?
p.s. Is anyone else loving this book? I am going to make my partner read it when I am done (he is an elementary math teacher and I think he could get a lot out of it, too.)
This is my first ever attempt at taking a video with my phone...and it shows. I wanted to see if I could get it to work on the blog...sorry it took me so long.
Also, we discussed why this information was required and how it was used both by students and the instructor. Is it a passive thing that is added to "protect" ourselves and/or the institution? Do those students who need it, see it? How many instructors actually go over the information in their classes? And, how would this type of activity fit into the nature/practice of feminist pedagogy?
Sara was talking about an idea to create a quiz of sorts about this information, what other ideas do you have about using it in a class?
What has really changed about my syllabus is the organization. I moved the official U requirements to the end. Other than that, I added the professional ethics for school administrators and an activity that I had completely forgotten about! In my principal preparation program we used case studies as a way in which to discuss current events, problem solving, and personal experience. I think an activity such as this fits very nicely into a feminist pedagogical framework and enhances critical thinking for both the instructor and the students.
For next week's class we will continue discussing syllabi. Instead of breaking up into groups, we will have a large group, informal discussion. I thought maybe we could loosely structure the discussion around parts of the syllabus (course description, goals, assignments, reading list, etc). So come with lots of questions! And, before class, check each all of the syllabi on our WebCT site (filed under Student Syllabi Drafts).
Try to stay warn and have a great weekend!
In both cases the comments were made by someone higher up the chain. One was an offhanded comment about "mexicans." in a one to one situation with a superior. The other though, was a much more subtle and more troublesome comment. This is not coming from my own department so I don't think anyone in particular could be implicated. In a formal meeting the director of a program said "We don't have any minorities in our program. We don't recruit those people." This wasn't said with any particular "malice." It wasn't "THOSE people." It was as though minorities are all well and good, but diversity isn't RELEVANT to this particular program - as though diversity were a discipline specific concern. In this case there were two other people in the meeting, both also higher up the chain than me and nothing was said.
Do you have suggestions about how I might have responded? There are more and less agressive ways that this sort of thing can be addressed. I'd love to hear about strategies for responding to racist comments in the past. What are things you actually have done, and what has been the response. In particular how do you confront these things when the racist comments are coming from someone higher up the chain?
Urgent Meeting for Grad Students interested in Sexuality Studies
Please RSVP by 12 noon on Monday 12/7 to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we have
Eden Torres (faculty in GWSS and Chican@ studies) has written a grant and
received a healthy chunk of funding for a grad student group focusing on
sexuality studies. This can be anything we want it to be (reading group,
retreat, guest artists/activists, etc), but we need to find out who wants
to be involved and decide what we want to do. There was a meeting Wed
morning, but only 6 grad students showed and I know there are a lot more of
us interested in this. I think it would be a waste of an opportunity to let
this pass. So come eat dinner with us and let's brainstorm something
All are grad students are welcome, particularly those in schools and
colleges that have less institutional support for sexuality studies
(Carlson, Public Health, Med School, Law School, Humphrey, etc.). All
levels of students will be involved from first years to those completing
dissertations. Also, sexuality studies for our purposes will be broadly
conceived (attending to LGBTQ issues but not to the exclusion of others)
and committed to those who approach sexuality as deeply enmeshed in other
social structures, practices, and identities (race, class, geopolitical
location, law, culture, etc.).
If you cannot make it but want to be involved in the group, please email
Beng Chang (administrative support for teh group through GLBT programs
office and Schochet Center) email@example.com. Or, if you have ideas that you
would like to be brought up in the meeting, please email them to Jessica
Petocz (GWSS grad student) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I work more on the syllabus for my 'dream course' ('Perverse Modernity: Gendering Caste in Postcolonial India'), I seem to run into problems and blocks with things that would seem really simple issues at first sight: dividing up the course readings for two classes a week, for instance (in the first draft I shirked this task by just assigning readings on a weekly basis). Given that I intend this to be a 5000-level course, two classes per week would be the norm, one supposes. But the problem that poses itself in dividing up readings for two classes would essentially be evident even if there were but one class in a week: How would one structure readings vis-à-vis the lecture component (if any) and discussion time such that students have enough resources to draw upon at every stage and don't feel lost/confused on one hand, and yet have enough room to formulate their own ideas and make their own links without feeling like they are only supposed to spew forth readymade theories on social justice issues, on the other? Does one make the first class of the week heavy on readings to have them all set out for the second class? Or does evenly dividing them help in creating sane workloads (especially with assigning books) as well as continuing space for discussion? Perhaps the underlying problem is that a syllabus requires a formal layout to be set out for the whole semester in advance, whereas these negotiations might be made much better on a weekly or even class-by-class basis, depending on the precise classroom dynamics, the level of engagement, etc. In at least one aspect then, this seems to be an inherent issue with syllabus making - setting out a plan for what remains unpredictable.
But this brings me to another issue that has been bugging me while working on the syllabus specifically, but also more generally regarding pedagogy in the metropolitan academia itself: the imperative of productivity, and a measurable productivity at that. By this, I mean the institutional culture that poses a pressure to have lots of activities in my course (thus in the syllabus) that can somehow calibrate and demonstrate 'how much' of something has been learnt. This demand for efficiency within a meritocratic culture proves problematic when thinking of courses that are in their very nature motivated by concerns of social justice. How far can one measure ethical engagement or interest, even as one plans concrete activities to both to direct the course 'productively' and to gauge how productive individuals have been? Of course, in graduate or advanced undergraduate courses the standard solution is to use qualitative rather than quantitative means, such as term projects and essays, response papers, this blog post, and the like. But such means are still individualized (even for formally collaborative assignments) and contingent on following through certain procedures that may say little about ethical and political investments and growth; and even less about the creativity (or otherwise) of spontaneous collaboration and dialogue during discussions and pedagogical interaction between and among students and teachers. Perhaps one way of thinking about it is to conceptualize graded assignments and activities as spurs for the process, rather than necessarily as ends to be 'achieved' by it? And maybe to accept that for some people they will remain ends-in-themselves rather than having any further significance beyond the course, whereas for some others they hopefully might. Radical pedagogy, as long as it seeks institutional space and legitimization along which come grades and assorted meritocratic paraphernalia, would seem to have to be framed by such possibility of failure in its very conceptualization. Making a syllabus might seem an unlikely occasion for such pessimistic reflections, but somehow seemed to manifest these problems even more explicitly and in a concrete manner for me.