On (Re) Claiming Education

One Story,
lots of questions,
some lists,
and an invitation
from an Undisciplined
Feminist Educator

The following is a talk, given as part of the Women’s Studies Colloquium series at Minnesota State University, Moorhead on April 1, 2016.

When Dr. Creel Falcón first approached me about giving this talk, way back in August, I envisioned discussing some of my recent experiments with online storytelling. Since 2012, I’ve been documenting my storytelling process and the development of my storytelling philosophy, grounded in a feminist ethic of care, over on my blog, Story. I imagined talking with you all about what I’ve learned and some of my ideas about what feminist ethics and pedagogies might offer to the online storytelling process.

But in November, I felt compelled to return to a project that I’ve been working on since early 2013, about a year after leaving my University teaching position: accounts of my undisciplined life in the academy. I started this project by closely examining my unofficial student life, from kindergarten to graduate school in ethics and women’s studies to post-Ph.D experiences in the GWSS department at the University of Minnesota, where I learned while teaching feminist and queer theories and pedagogies.

Called Unofficial Student Transcripts, it includes accounts of my student life that could be read as failures, distractions or obstacles within the dominant academic narratives of success. I wanted to focus on these accounts, which would never be included in any official academic transcript, so that I could trace my path to a space beside and besides the academy.

I always anticipated that someday I would return to this project to examine my teaching. Starting this fall, I have. Enough time has passed since my painful experiences of feeling burned and burned out as a university teacher and I’ve gained some critical distance and a willingness to revisit my teaching materials. I want to think deeply about them and what teaching has meant and might still mean to me. To take on the questions of doubt and uncertainty that haunt me about my relationship to the academy and my abilities as a teacher. And then to stay in the trouble that taking on those questions generates.

So since November I’ve been tracking down syllabi and old assignments, rereading notes and articles on pedagogy, writing about my teaching life, and planning how to put together an undisciplined teaching portfolio. My goals? To take my teaching life seriously by paying sustained attention to it and to develop and share some thoughts about my undisciplined feminist pedagogy. Not to offer those thoughts up as advice, but as evidence of other ways to be an educator and as an invitation to imagine new possibilities for being, doing, learning, and teaching.

It is this project, tentatively called A Troubling Teaching Portfolio, that my talk is about today. I’m focusing on it partly because I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve spent five months (so far) working on. But, perhaps even more importantly, I’m talking about A Troubling Teaching Portfolio because I’m hoping to use it to initiate a conversation with you all about teaching and education: what it could mean to be an educator, how and where it’s possible, what an education at this moment in the 21st century could be for, and why gender and women’s studies is so important to how we might effectively grapple with these questions.

Where do I fit into this conversation? Am I still a teacher even though I’m living beside/s the academy and haven’t formally taught since fall semester of 2011? Do I want to be a teacher? I don’t know. What I do know is that my training and teaching in gender and women’s studies has given me the tools, the desire, the courage, and the curiosity to not only ask these questions but to feel the force of them and to experiment with responding to them–with a story, some better questions, and, my new favorite way of expressing myself, Lists!.

Explaining the Title

For the first part of this talk, I want to do something that I frequently would ask my students to try as they worked on understanding a text: Explain the Title. The title, again: ON (RE) CLAIMING EDUCATION: One Story, lots of questions, some lists, and an invitation from an Undisciplined Troublemaking Feminist Educator

I’ll work my way backwards. First, Undisciplined Feminist Troublemaking Educator. Yes, that’s quite a name! I’ll break it down even further. Undisciplined refers to the identity I use most frequently online: It’s my twitter and Instagram handle and it’s the title of my main website. I’ve found it to be an effective way for describing who I am and what I do as a scholar and educator. My Ph.D is in women’s studies, an interdisciplinary program, so I don’t have a home discipline. My methods are unconventional, bringing together disciplinary approaches in unexpected and undisciplined ways. And, since leaving the academy in 2011, I’ve devoted a lot of attention to breaking down and breaking free of the disciplinary values that encouraged me to be too rigid and limited in my thinking and that privileged knowing over feeling and engaging.

Troublemaker. I’m also a troublemaker. That would have been my twitter handle, when I picked one in 2009 (I think?), but it was already taken. As Dr. Creel Falcón mentioned in her awesome post, troublemaking is a big focus of my work. I’ve been writing about and tracking different forms of troublemaking on my TROUBLE blog since 2009. I really appreciate how Dr. Creel Falcón describes what I’m doing, imagining troublemaking “away from the practices of punishment, consequences and/or surveillance, as an active agency that encourages us to make trouble as virtuous, as necessary, as political and just.”

Finally, Feminist Educator: From fall 2006-fall 2011 I taught in the GWSS department at the University of Minnesota. Courses in feminist and queer theory, feminist pedagogies, queer ethics, feminist pop culture, and feminist and queer explorations in troublemaking. Since leaving the University, I’ve been continuing to explore and experiment with how to use feminist pedagogies outside of formal classrooms, especially in online spaces.

List 1: Inventory of Courses
  • Intro to Women’s Studies
  • GLBT Studies
  • Politics of Sex
  • Contemporary Feminist Debates
  • Pop Culture Woman
  • Queering Theory
  • Queering Desire
  • Rebels, Radicals, and Revolutionaries
  • International Feminist Theory
  • Feminist Thought and Theory
  • Feminist Pedagogies
  • Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking
  • Queer Ethics

Invitation: In this talk, I’m offering up my story, along with some questions, and a few lists, as an invitation to trouble, to question, and to critically and creatively explore new possibilities for education and feminist educators. What is a feminist educator? What is the relationship between students and teachers? How can drawing on feminist and queer pedagogies enable us to experiment with answers to these questions?Also, I’m offering up my story as an invitation to celebrate and honor the value of women and gender studies education because of the possibilities it can open up for us in how we imagine, resist, and engage. The tools it gives us for thinking critically, creatively, and transgressively. The courage and inspiration it provides us with for being curious, refusing to accept things the way they are, and asking questions aimed at paying attention and caring about the world.

Lists! Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using lists to express my ideas in a pithier, more compact way. My lists are never about ranking or creating a hierarchy. I like lists of demands, inventory lists, how-to lists, wish lists, and reading lists. Lists provide order and some structure, which is helpful in balancing out my undisciplined approaches and my frequent posing of questions.

Lots of questions: Speaking of questions, I like asking them. Lots of them. Questions that aren’t rhetorical with assumed answers, but that make me curious, troubled, uncertain, capacious. Questions that don’t have easy answers, or sometimes any clear answers at all. Questions that open up conversations and possibilities, not shut them down.

A Troubling Teaching Portfolio started from a need to struggle with a haunting question: Am I (still) a teacher? Engaging with this question has led to other, perhaps more fruitful, questions about pedagogy, higher education, students, and teachers. I’m posing these throughout my talk.

List 2: Questions I like to ask
  • Why?
  • At whose Expense?
  • Why not?
  • What do you mean?
  • Does this question/statement/idea/author make us curious?

One Story: that is, one story, among many, to be placed beside countless others from women and gender studies teachers, students, scholars. This “one story” is about how my teaching was transformed as I encountered more feminist and queer pedagogies, started developing a pedagogy based on not knowing and unlearning, began experimenting with troublemaking practices in the classroom and online, came to doubt both how transformation was possible within the University and whether or not there was room for my teaching methods there, and then carved out a beside/s space where I could imagine and experiment with a troubling and undisciplining way of being an educator.This story combines excerpts from my first teaching statement, blog posts, accounts first published in Unofficial Student Transcripts, and new writings completed this month.Finally, On (re) claiming education: Let me offer a short explanation and then a much longer one.

The Short Version: This talk is about claiming education in order to reclaim it.

The Longer Version: In a 1977 convocation address, “Claiming an Education,” Adrienne Rich encourages her audience, primarily women students, to stop passively receiving their education and start actively claiming and being responsible for it. This claiming involves students taking themselves and their ideas, perspectives and intellectual abilities seriously. And, just as or more importantly, it demands teachers take those students seriously.

As I reviewed my teaching materials and thought about whether or not I was still a teacher, I was reminded of Rich’s argument. This was partly because I had used her speech in the opening paragraph of one of the earliest versions of my teaching statement, written in 2006. But it was also because the understanding that all students might claim their education by demanding that they be taken seriously—their perspectives, their experiences, even their basic right to fully exist within academic spaces…this understanding is currently under attack.

Starting last summer but intensifying this fall, in the midst of student protests at Yale and the University of Missouri, depictions of students as coddled, easily offended, spoiled “cry-bullies” who act like consumers rather than learners and who disrespect professors and violate the “sacred values” of higher education have been circulating in the mainstream media. Not only do these media depictions conflate all sorts of student demands and erase the specific material realities of institutionalized oppression on college campuses, but they misdiagnose students as the Problem and reason for current crises in higher education. And they misunderstand what and who students are and what it means for students and their teachers to claim/demand an education.

List 3: Reading list on student demands

Contrary to some of the misunderstandings circulating last spring and recirculating this fall, claiming an education is NOT worshipping professors as exalted Experts and uncritically regurgitating their ideas. It is NOT perpetuating and protecting harmful academic values that ignore and exclude ideas, experiences, and voices that oftentimes by their very existence within the academy, question what and who education is for. And claiming an education is NOT rigidly fixing the “relationship between teacher and students as one in which a Teacher only teaches and students are only taught. Or, as Keith M. Parsons’ arrogantly expresses it in a “Message to my Freshman Students”: “At university, learning is your job and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”

I began thinking about my teaching this past November in the context of Rich’s speech and in the midst of recent circulation of harmful misreadings of student demands and of what the biggest problems with higher education really are. These student demands are not a central part of the story I’m telling today, but they most certainly should be placed beside it as something that has deeply influenced how I envision myself as an educator.So what does it mean to claim and reclaim an education? Let me offer three ways of answering that question. The first is Adrienne Rich’s, then Dr. Creel Falcón’s in her recent post Seeking Rabble Rousers: Naming and Owning the Role of WGS in the Academy. Finally, my own vision as I understand it in my “one story.”

First, claiming an education and then reclaiming it repeatedly. Adrienne Rich argues that claiming an education requires taking that education seriously, actively seeking it in, demanding it, even in face of resistance and the belief that you’re not worthy of it. And it requires “an ethical/ intellectual contract” between teacher and students that includes both a mutual pledge and shared commitment toward academic spaces that value women students and their abilities. This ethical/ intellectual contract must remain flexible so that students and teachers can return to it and rework it to reclaim education from the “depersonalizing and cheapening pressures of the present-day academic scene” that discourages us from taking students, teachers, or even education seriously.

Second, reclaiming educators to stake a claim for their worth. Kandace Creel Falcón argues for the reclaiming of the herstories of Women and Gender Studies scholars and educators here at MSUM by celebrating the persistence of their “troublemaking spirit” and remembering and documenting them through projects like the WGS Herstory Reclamation Project. This reclaiming enables WGS to stake a claim, in it’s precarious state, for it’s value within the University as a program that pushes the University “to be better accountable to our communities, not just an educational institution’s bottom line.”

Third, claiming an education to reclaim a passion for education in order to stake a claim for a different way of educating. In my story, I will describe how I came to claim my feminist/queer education by taking it seriously, paying attention to it, and then allowing it to transform my practices and understandings of mySelf as an educator. This claiming enabled me to reclaim a passion for education that I had lost. Here’s how I describe my need for reclaiming on the homepage of my undisciplined site:

I want to RECLAIM my passion for engaging with ideas, authors, theories and education that school sparked within me and then, over the course of 33 years, disciplined out of me.

This reclaiming is leading me to STAKE A CLAIM for a space beside and besides the academy for imaging and experimenting with new ways of being a feminist educator.

One Story

Okay, so that’s some explanation of today’s talk. Now here’s my ONE STORY:

To tell one story about how my teaching was transformed, I’ll start with one of my first formal articulations of my pedagogy: my statement of teaching philosophy from 2006. I wrote it around the time I began teaching in the GWSS department at the University of Minnesota—it was that fall that I first met Dr. Creel Falcón.

In my first years of teaching, before I encountered many feminist and queer pedagogical theories and practices, I crafted a fairly generic statement of my teaching philosophy. Drawing upon Rich’s famous address, I discussed my responsibilities for ensuring that students claim their own education. I wrote:

Empowering my students to claim their own education is the central goal of my teaching. I believe that this empowerment must occur on three levels. First, students must be able to think critically about the world, to challenge assumptions and question dominant ideologies. Second, students must be able to use their questioning and critique to develop a critical voice, one that allows them to express themselves and to be active participants both inside and outside of the classroom. Third, students must be able to think about the world beyond themselves. They must use their new critical theories to reassess their relationship to and responsibility for others.

Looking back on this statement, I appreciate the student-centered approach and the focus on three key elements: developing a critical voice, being an active participant, and connecting one’s education to the broader world. However, after spending considerable time researching, writing, and teaching about and with feminist and queer pedagogies, my philosophy on teaching became far less neat and logical and didn’t offer three easy steps to empowerment.

When I first started teaching women’s studies, way back in 2002 as a graduate student, I was a big fan of empowering students. Find your voice! Use critical tools from feminism to resist and reframe! I still think these are important goals and I believe that feminisms offer compelling languages for speaking and critical tools for resisting. But feminist spaces aren’t by definition empowering, especially feminist spaces within the academy that participate in and perpetuate hierarchies and alienating logics of rationality. And feminist teachers, while responsible for providing students with resources and shaping the class environment and how class participants should engage, are not all-knowing Educators who bestow critical voices on voiceless students.

The more I read and taught essays in feminist and queer pedagogies, the more I realized that in offering up my neat and tidy formula for empowerment I had failed to interrogate many of my assumptions and claims about what it means to be critical, whose voices are heard and taken seriously, how feminist classrooms function within the larger structure of the academy, how interactions within the classroom (between students, between a student and the teacher) always involve negotiations of power and privilege, and how the model of enlightenment and empowerment that undergirds the liberal education often ignores or suppresses some valuable and necessary ways in which students engage with, respond to, and resist ideas, concepts and authors.

A brief side note: Sometimes students resist, are unwilling or unable to learn, are silent or disruptive or uncooperative not because they are lazy or spoiled or not smart or capable of reasoning or critically analyzing or because they lack a voice, but because they feel defeated or stuck or angry or exhausted or overwhelmed or too disciplined or troubled or just fed up. What methods can we develop to address these feelings?

List Four: Students are NOT…

Some of my lack of awareness came from inexperience. When I wrote my teaching statement I had only taught a few classes. But a lot of it came from having been indoctrinated and disciplined into a system that prioritizes Reason! above everything else, promotes discovering and acquiring Knowledge as opposed to engaging with ideas, theories and authors, and establishes rigid divisions between the Teacher who Knows and her students who don’t.

LIST 5: Reading list on troubling pedagogy
  • Luhmann, Suzanne. “Queering/Querying Pedagogy?”
  • Boler, Megan. “A Pedagogy of Discomfort” in Feeling Power
  • Kumashiro, Kevin. Troubling Education
  • Freire, Paulo. Learning to Question
  • hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress

At some point, maybe after reading and teaching Luhmann, Boler, Kumashiro, Freire, or bell hooks, I started to rethink my goals for what could happen in my classrooms. Instead of envisioning the semester as involving a logical progression towards Knowing, I began to imagine what a course that took feeling and experiencing and unknowing as its goals might look like.In my classrooms, I wanted students to feel the effects of ideas (Kumashiro), to process how they were implicated in a theory (Luhmann), and to commit to bringing their full, that is, personal, intellectual, spiritual, embodied selves into spaces of engagement (hooks). I wanted them to unlearn their assumptions, about ideas, about how to read, and about even how to be/act in spaces of engagement. And, perhaps most importantly, with my serious love of questions, I wanted them to experience the force of the questions posed by each other, by a reading, an idea, a different perspective, a troubling concept (Freire).

A few years ago, I wrote about “feeling the force” in a blog post on TROUBLE:

I think this passage speaks to some of my key pedagogical aims. It’s from Freire’s Learning to question:

the point of the question is not to turn the question, “What does it mean to ask questions?” into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students.

I want my students to not only learn how to ask questions, but to develop the habit/virtue of asking questions. This development requires not just learning how best to ask questions, but also how best to feel (experience) “the force of the question and the challenge it offers.” To effectively feel the force of the question, one needs to learn more than how to make trouble, but how to stay in that space/moment that trouble creates. My approach to assignments, discussions, readings is frequently motivated by my interest in giving students tools for both creating and inhabiting troubling spaces.

Were these practices successful? Did they enable students to start unlearning habits that had discouraged their curiosity? Did they develop skills for staying in trouble instead of trying to get out of it? Were they able to effectively engage online? I think so, but I’m not sure, partly because the kind of work we were doing was difficult and required ongoing practice beyond a student’s time in my classroom. My goal was hopefully to plant a seed (of doubt, of a desire to engage, question, be curious and stay troubled) for their future work inside, outside, or beside the academy. List of practices.

As I became more invested in encouraging unlearning, not-knowing, troublemaking and being curious in my classes, I became less certain that my troublemaking approaches were possible within traditional academic spaces. Were the limitations of the physical classroom, the over-emphasis on learning as acquiring knowledge and skills for getting a job, the dismissal of online writing and engagement as lacking rigor, and the relentless push to increase class size, where students were reduced to “butts in seats,” too much for these practices? What could discomfort and unlearning look like in an auditorium-sized classroom of students-as-numbers and how could that size be managed online?

Perhaps more than any other factor, the push for larger classes (more butts in seats), pushed me to my limits, forcing me to confront a painful realization that my feminist/queer pedagogy of troublemaking and trouble staying was leading me to, but that I was ignoring: my approach to education and being an educator didn’t seem to have a place in the academy.

The summer after I taught my biggest class, I reflected on my troubled feelings about University teaching. Here’s an excerpt from a blog entry posted on TROUBLE in July of 2011 in which I put those feelings in conversation with bell hooks and her amazing book, Teaching to Transgress:

I’ve been thinking a lot about bell hooks and Teaching to Transgress lately. In particular, I am reminded of her description of the bad class that she taught one semester. It was a very early class and she would have frequent nightmares that she overslept and missed it. The students lacked energy and were very resistant to engaging with new ideas. hooks hated the class.

I came to hate this class so much that I had a tremendous fear that I would not awaken to attend it; the night before (despite alarm clocks, wake-up calls, and the experiential knowledge that I had never forgotten to attend class) I still could not sleep (hooks 9).

Before my class even started in the spring, I dreaded it. It was a big class (almost 3 times bigger than any of the classes that I had taught before) and I was doubtful that I would be able to develop it into an effective and transformative learning space. Once the class began, I was certain that my feminist pedagogical principles/tactics (such as: discussions instead of lectures, frequent small group activities, student-lead activities) would not work. I hated that class. Unlike hooks I wasn’t afraid that I wouldn’t wake up and would miss the class. Instead, I had fantasies about not going at all and just walking away from the university altogether. I wondered, what would happen if I just didn’t show up?

For reasons I cannot explain the class was also full of “resisting” students who did not want to learn new pedagogical processes, who did not want to be in a classroom that differed in any way from the norm. To these students, transgressing boundaries was frightening. And though they were not the majority, their spirit of rigid resistance seemed always to be more powerful than any will to intellectual openness and pleasure in learning (hooks 9).

I did have some great students in my class that semester. Some students who probably got a lot of the class and were excited to be exposed to new theories on sex, gender and sexuality. And who liked using the course blog and critically analyzing pop culture. But the students I remember most were the ones who complained. Who were unwilling to engage with new ideas. Who refused to claim their education or think for themselves. And whose “spirit of rigid resistance” made the class increasingly difficult to endure.

More than any other class I had taught, this one compelled me to abandon the sense that the professor could, by sheer strength of will and desire, make the classroom an exciting learning community (hooks 9).

Even as I grew to strongly dislike the attitudes of some of the students, I knew that their resistance wasn’t simply because they were lazy and didn’t want to learn. The more I taught, the more I realized that my painful teaching experience had so much to do with other factors beyond my and the students’ control: the alienating space, the institutional emphasis–heightened by the economic crisis–on increasing class enrollment instead of enhancing engagement, and the overall conditioning of students into passive learners who aren’t prepared (or willing) to experiment with new ways of engaging with ideas and each other. These factors aren’t just accidents; increasingly, they seem to be built into teaching at a research university. It makes me wonder, if these factors are part of the teaching experience, (how) will it ever be possible to cultivate exciting and transformative learning communities within the University?

So I left academic teaching at the end of the 2011 fall semester. My leaving was partly by necessity—my temporary assistant professor contract, which had already been extended by a semester, was done. But it was also my choice. I stopped looking for any academic jobs and stopped formally teaching.

Initially when I left, I was relieved. I could finally spend time on the projects inspired by my research and teaching that I wanted to do, but had never had time for. And I did. And it was fun. But, in less than a year I felt compelled to revisit my life as an academic, to take on the questions of doubt and uncertainty that haunted me about my relationship to the academy. And then to stay in the trouble that taking on those questions generated. After several years of encouraging students to “feel the force” of the questions that their education and resistances to it prompted, I was finally really doing it myself. I was CLAIMING my education, taking it seriously, paying attention to it, and practicing it, not just preaching (teaching) it.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, I revisited my student life first. Using my own archive as the source material, I crafted critical and creative reflections and interrogations of my life as a student. I titled it Unofficial Student Transcripts and made it available for free on iTunes and on a website I designed for it.

Here is the BOOK TRAILER that I created for this book:

Unofficial Student Transcripts was prompted by a basement encounter with a glowing evaluation of my senior thesis from 1996 and focused on working through the questions: What happened to my promise as a scholar? Why don’t researching and writing academic essays thrill me anymore? If not this, then what? Having shifted to my teaching life, the haunting question that I’ve been taking on and working through since November is: Am I (still) a teacher?

List Six: Questions that have haunted me
  • What happened?
  • What do I do now?
  • Am I (still) a teacher?

I deeply enjoy engaging with both my student and teaching life. And I’ve found that even though the process of taking on the questions that haunt me is painful and uncomfortable, it’s also transformative and healing and a lot of fun. I’m using the tools and the troublemaking spirit that I developed through my feminist education to RECLAIM my love of critical thinking, writing, and researching. And to RECLAIM my passion for “engaging with ideas, authors, theories, and education.”My posing of and then “feeling the force” of the questions, What happened? And what do I do now?, enabled me to take seriously my student life—to spend time with it, value it, document and archive it, to use what I learned from it—and then to have fun through creative experiments with it. Through my “unofficial student transcripts” I offered up playful (and critical) accounts of the invisible thinking, feeling, engaging, resisting, and troublemaking/trouble staying work that occurred in the midst of my official academic labors.

My posing of the question, Am I (still) a teacher? has inspired months of research, analysis, and experimenting with the development of a troublemaking response to my teaching life in the form of a troubling teaching portfolio. Part 1 of this portfolio will include:

  • A troubled teaching statement
  • An undisciplined, shadow CV (of failures in teaching effectiveness and successes in unlearning/resisting academic values)
  • Evidence, not of teaching excellence, but of resistance, imbalance, frustration, discomfort, creativity, curiosity, care
  • Evaluations that don’t assess the performance of teachers but expose the limits of the university and its learning environments.

Through the process of working on Unofficial Student Transcripts and A Troubling Teaching Portfolio, I’m doing more than claiming and reclaiming my education. My willingness to confront and struggle with the questions that haunt me has enabled me to imagine another way of being in relation to my education, a way that exists not inside or outside, but beside (as in, next to) and besides (in addition to) the Academy. I’m STAKING A CLAIM for that beside/s space and the different possibilities of being an educator (and a thinking, feeling, troublemaking SELF) that it allows me to imagine and possibly practice.

To ask, am I (still) a teacher? is a demand to critically explore why this question haunts me, but also an opportunity to wonder and be curious about what a teacher is, how/where they can teach and why teaching is important. And it’s an opportunity to rethink, and ruminate on the possibilities. This is a key element in my beside/s space. It’s a space that allows for uncertainty/doubt and wonder, critique and creation, resistance and imagination, but it prioritizes possibility.

I’m Staking a Claim to a beside/s space where I can imagine and practice new ways of being an educator. Where I can imagine other answers besides Success!, Status!, Earning an degree to get a job that makes tons of Money!, to the question: What is an education for? Where I can continue feeling the force and living the questions that my undisciplined thinking and troublemaking and trouble staying create. And where I can dream up, and maybe experiment with developing courses that I’d teach if the university was less expensive, more experimental, embraced trouble, and was more resistant and transformative.

For the past four years, I’ve been experimenting with ways to live beside/s. A life beside/s the academy. That’s the tagline for my undisciplined site. And that online space, along with my TROUBLE and STORY blogs, are where I’m doing most of my experiments with living beside/s as an undisciplined troublemaking feminist educator. How? So far, I’m using my spaces to undiscipline myself, to stay in trouble, to make visible and accessible my process of feeling the force of my questions, and to archive my teaching materials: All of my past syllabi, course assignments, and some lectures are posted on my undisciplined site. Processing notes, analyses of texts, reading lists, and critical reflections are posted too.

I experience my online beside/s as capacious (that is, roomier and more open to a wider range of perspectives, and generous to valuing and taking seriously those perspectives). And, using Freire’s language in Learning to Question, it encourages me to be more open to surprise, curiosity, risk, and adventure.

Lately, I’ve started to think more about how living beside/s isn’t just about space, it’s also about time. A different way of living and learning in time. Within the university, time moves quickly and it’s divided into segments in which you must cover a lot of material in not a lot of time. There, an education is expected to be efficient, practical, and highly productive. I agree that this is important. But, what about other time frames for learning? What about rumination? Spending more time struggling with, reflecting on, being curious about and generous to ideas? Taking longer is impractical and inefficient, but also necessary for deep engagement.

Briefly: Is slowly down possible within the University? I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I can’t wait to spend some time with an article that I recently encountered: For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.

I imagine my beside/s space as disrupting fast time and productivity, where you can learn how to be patient with ideas and authors and devote serious time to feeling the force of them. In a list I created for Unofficial Student Transcripts titled “How to Read, One Strategy,” I suggested the following:

  • In your reactions to a reading, do not rush to judge (or convict, condemn) the reading or the author’s claims. Be generous and patient.
  • Develop some tentative conclusions, but keep working at it periodically until you can figure out why you are troubled or moved by the essay. This might take a long time; I’ve spent 16 years trying to figure out why one passage from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble moves me.

Thinking about living beside/s as an online space functioning with a slow time frame, I’m ready to start work on the second part of my Troubling Teaching Portfolio. The development of some imaginary syllabi that might be possible to actually teach, but might not too. I’m calling this section: Am I a Teacher? Im/possible Teaching Practices. I’ve run out of time to talk about them now, but you can ask me about them in the Q and A, or read about them online in my undisciplined processing notes.

Speaking of online spaces, I’m posting this entire presentation, with lots of links to my research, lists, and teaching materials, on my unDisciplined blog. I see making my talk and research available online as part of way of slowing down the process of thinking, engaging, processing, and learning: You can spend more time (as much as you’d like) with the ideas I’m proposing, the story I’m telling by accessing them online. You don’t have to quickly and immediately digest them as I speak.

Claims that aren’t Conclusions…

So that’s my one story. Instead of offering a clear conclusion, I’ll end with two lists that I’ve been creating in the process of working on A Teaching Portfolio and a tentative thought about the beside/s space.

First, 2 lists that speak to some of the most important questions that frame my engagement with whether or not I can still be a teacher.

What is an education for?
I see the IS in this question to be more about imagining possibilities—What CAN an education be for?—than dictating prescriptions—that is, What SHOULD an education be for?

Here are some answers that I’ve come up with. I’d like to place them beside and besides the current “should” answers, which are: learning marketable skills, earning a degree and getting a job.

List 7: What is an Education For?
  • To develop new languages for understanding my Self and the world.
  • To connect with ideas, authors, other people.
  • To cultivate and practice being curious and capacious.
  • To be exposed to new ideas, new worlds, new ways of being.
  • To harness passion and direct it in meaningful ways.
  • To develop resources for processing and healing.
  • To acquire tools for resisting and reimagining.
  • To engage in/with LIFE.
  • And to contribute to and sustain ongoing conversations that are bigger than any one individual or institution.

Who is an education for?
This list was prompted by a tweet from Joy Castro about a humanities education. She writes:

Is humanities education a human right? Thinking about class & social-justice implications of #highered admin decisions to reallocate funds in favor of more immediately, obviously practical majors, departments, & programs. You know the Ivies won’t be cutting the humanities. So whose kids will still get to engage with all the provocative ethical, aesthetic, & historical stuff in college? Who’ll miss out?

List 8: Who is an education for?
  • Everyone.
  • Everyone.
  • Everyone.
  • Everyone!

And second, a tentative thought: Is this beside/s possible within the academy? In “Seeking Rabble-Rousers,” Kandance makes an excellent case for WGS and ethnic studies programs as troublemaking spaces that resist and make room for other ways of being, modes of learning, practices of liberatory education. I don’t think that my practicing of the beside/s place is possible within the academy, but I do know that without spaces like WGS and the invaluable education it gave me in making and staying in trouble my living and learning beside/s would never be possible.