Recently in Pedagogical Question Category

Authority and Vulnerability

In yesterday's class about vulnerability and authority, I experimented with a couple of different ways to a. make myself vulnerable and b. let go of (share?) some authority as the professor:
  • I asked you all for advice on a teaching question
  • I encouraged you to turn your questions about the effectiveness of feminist pedagogy strategies onto our class by asking you to assess how we negotiate the various levels of knowledge about feminism/feminist theory/feminist pedagogy
  • During discussion, I remained silent so as to listen to what you all had to say
In what ways were these strategies effective? Not effective? Can you think of other methods for sharing authority? What about ways to ensure that you (as the teacher) are not too vulnerable?

Undergrads and Radical Nuance

(Note: This 200 word thing is hard! This is not the most eloquent entry and it's 54 words over the limit, not including this disclaimer! eek!)

These readings reminded me that I was taught things as an undergrad (in progressive, feminist-agenda'd courses) that were highly un-nuanced, and completely underestimated my ability to understand complicated ideas. For example, I did not really have an understanding of "post-structuralism" until grad school.  On a less theoretical level, there is also the issue of teaching things that seem "good" but might actually be kind of "bad," depending on how radical one's politics are. The hate-crime bill that Obama just signed, for example, seems like a good thing, right? Trans and queer folk cannot be made victims of violence without the law stepping in to label it as a hate crime and "punish" the perpetrator. But when looking at the history of actual hate-crime legislation, it does very little to prevent crimes from occurring, and generally just acts as another way to give the state more power (often just "counting" the number of LGBTQ folks that have been victims of violence), and often puts more trans and queer folk of color in prison (a straight person could be hate-crimed by a queer person due to claims of sexual discrimination). A similar conflict is brought up between Fisher and Mohanty's respective take on affirmative action. My question is, how do professors with radical politics present nuanced views of liberal ideas while still allowing students to grasp foundational understandings of social justice issues? How can you be critical of things like hate-crime legislation and affirmative action without confusing undergrads who may have barely encountered the liberal perspective?

Official Pedagogical Question - Week of 11/11


In my research, I intentionally question how and why certain histor(iograph)ical narratives were constructed (by white, male scholars) in the twentieth-century. In this way, I see the project of my own research as inherently aligned with Caughie and Pearce's project in their article, "Resisting "the Dominance of the Professor": Gendered Teaching, Gendered Subjects." Caughie and Pearce question hegemonic authority in the classroom through a dialogic analysis of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. The authors read Woolf's discontinuous narrative form as a pedagogical model to be employed in feminist classrooms.

They outline, rather than the more traditional, patriarchal model of educational authority, a model in which multiplicity, flexibility, and overlapping voices are to be heard. Though I fully support their model for a classroom where multiple, overlapping narratives are located and encouraged, I have a harder time imagining how such a model should be mobilized in introductory courses where students might encounter certain topics for the first time.

In a university setting where prerequisites are increasingly rare, students don't always come to the classroom with the same level of knowledge as their classmates might. Some students are seniors fulfilling introductory-level credits while others are freshmen in their first semester. So how can and should instructors negotiate a classroom in which socially constructed narratives/norms are reconsidered while simultaneously providing students with information that may or may not be new to them? How might we present information in such a way that it seems less "foundational," but still provides students with a framework in which they can be critical and self-reflexive?

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?


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.

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?

response, 10/21/09

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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'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.

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.





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?