A blogging breakthrough?

As I have chronicled in my teaching with blogs section, I have been experimenting over the past year (yes, I have been writing in this blog for almost a year–May 12th is my one year anniversary!) with the blog as a writing and teaching tool. Ever since giving my workshop on “teaching with blogs and blogging while teaching” this past February, I have given special attention to thinking about how to use a blog entry as the foundation for and content of my in-class discussions. I imagine it as an alternative to powerpoint. Why, you may ask, do we need an alternative to powerpoint? Unlike many others, I am not strongly opposed to power point. But for some reason, I have never been compelled to use it. It doesn’t seem to fit with how my brain works or how I want to present and discuss images/video clips, etc. (Note: I am not ruling out powerpoint and am open to suggestions on how to use it effectively. Any thoughts?)

I plan to write extensively about my experiences with course blogs this summer. For now I want to highlight a few entries from this week that have been particularly successful and productive; entries that inspired me to think that I might just be experiencing a blogging breakthrough.

Example One: Thoughts about Happiness, the Unhappy Archives, Gidget, the trouble with dinner, and putting the hap back in happiness

This entry was used as the format for a discussion of Sarah Ahmed’s recent work on happiness in my graduate class on troublemaking (feminist and queer explorations in troublemaking). I used the entry:

  • to reference my own writing on Ahmed and happiness (from this blog)
  • to highlight particular passages from the readings (and questions that I want to discuss)
  • to connect the current readings with concepts/ideas/readings discussed earlier in the semester
  • to post video clips that allowed for further engagement/explanation/complication of some key themes in the readings

I found this format to be a lot of fun (to create and discuss). I am particularly proud of how well the two video clips worked with and against Ahmed’s idea of the feminist killjoy and her discussion of the killing of joy (and the exposing of bad feelings) at the dinner table. I have wanted to do something with Debbie Downer for a while now, ever since I suggested that J Butler might be one in my entry on grief. And I love how bringing in these video clips allowed me to approach the material in a different way–and bring in our discussion about humor and comedy from earlier in the semester.

Example Two: A Feminist Response to the Arizona Immigration Bill (SB1070)

This entry was used as the format for a discussion about the Prison Industrial Complex and “protection: for whom? and at what cost?” in my mid-level undergraduate feminist debates class. The class met this past Tuesday, just days after Gov. Brewer had signed SB1070. The topic of immigration rights, the PIC, and problematic claims of “protection” and “safety” seemed to fit very well with the bill and how it was being discussed by a wide range of bloggers and media outlets, so I decided to make this entry the focus of our class. I used this entry:

  • to provide some context and more information about the bill by summarizing parts of the bill and the discussions surrounding it, and by posting a wide range of links–including a link to the actual bill and to Gov. Brewer’s explanation of it
  • to offer a brief overview of some critical responses to the bill and the implications of it for people living and working in Arizona
  • to connect the reading to an important recent issue and allow students to apply their growing knowledge of feminist critiques of the PIC to current events
  • to post a video clip that encourages students to be curious and to think critically about current events and how they are represented within the news (or the “fake news”–can we call The Colbert Report fake news?)
  • to provide a space, and an example, that could enable students to revisit all of the issues we discussed during the semester and that would encourage them to be curious about the bill

All in all, I think I am figuring out some productive ways for using the blog for my presentation and discussion of key ideas and concepts. In past classes, I have relied (a lot) on extensive handouts. This requires using a lot of paper (especially in classes with 40+ students) and can be overwhelming (and let’s face it, boring) for students. Blog entries enable me to document my notes/ideas/reflections without wasting paper and in a way that is engaging and interesting for many (most?) of the students and for me.

One thing that happened in both classes that I thought was interesting (and cool) was that I didn’t merely read the blog entry from top to bottom. In both classes we jumped around, oftentimes coming back to material again and again. In the feminist debates class the students said several times, “can you scroll back up…I want to talk about how the language was used here or about the idea there…”. The format of the blog made it easy to go back and forth and back again. It also enabled me to jump around, click on links, and bring up new information that related to students’ comments.

One more random thought for today: Does anyone else have problems with boring group (or individual) presentations that seem unfocused and not well-thought out, and that rely too much on powerpoint? This semester in my feminist debates class, I encouraged students to give their very brief presentations directly off of their blog entries (which were a required part of the assignment). So far, the presentations this semester have been more interesting than past classes. A little late in the game (which always happens when I am experimenting), I realized that I should encourage this format even more and give them a sample format. So I posted this entry earlier today. I think that I might require students to use the blog for their presentation next year. I might even provide them with one or two possible formats to use. By making it a structured requirement, I might increase my chances for getting better presentations (that present the material more effectively and that are more interesting). Hmmm….

Living and Grieving beside J Butler

My mom died last year on September 30, 2009. Diagnosed with an especially nasty form of cancer, pancreatic, back in October of 2005, she had defied the odds by living for four years–that’s 3 1/2 years longer than was expected.

When she was diagnosed, I was pregnant with my second child and was frantically trying to finish up the final chapter of my dissertation. That chapter was about feminist virtue ethics and Judith Butler’s work in both Precarious Life and Undoing Gender on the livable life. I wrote part of it on my laptop at the hospital while the doctors were attempting to remove my mom’s tumor (and half of her stomach). My dissertation chapter was not on grief; it was on life and how to live.  And my reading of Butler was not motivated by my recent entry into the state of impending loss–my realization of how I was undone by my mom’s not-yet-death,  but by my urgent need to make sense of what kind of life my mom could expect to have if she lived past this risky surgery.

By the time my mom died in 2009, I had spent a lot of time living with Butler. I had read, written about, presented on, and taught Precarious Life and Undoing Gender many times. And as I had watched my mom slowly, and then rapidly, deteriorate I had thought about the livable life and how she was able to hold on to so much of it for so long even as it was being stripped away from her in many big and small ways. As she refused (or was unable) to die that last six months of her life, after the second round of chemo made her too weak to even walk, I thought about Butler and I wondered about the value and limits of grieving and staying in a state of grief for too long. I even wrote about it here on this blog.

In many ways, Judith Butler has been a part of my living with and grieving the death of my mom. It is not so much that her work has comforted me (although it has), or allowed me to fully make sense of my mom’s illnesses and death (what could, really?), but that her work has always been a part of this process for me. When my mom was diagnosed I was reading and writing about Precarious Life. When my mom died I had just completed (but couldn’t give) the draft of a presentation on Butler, Undoing Gender, and the virtue of staying in trouble. And for much of the time in-between those years of diagnosis and death I was reading and thinking about Butler and making and staying in trouble.

What, you may ask, is the significance of this confession (or story or account?)? I need to think about that question some more. And I hope to write about it throughout the summer. For right now, I feel compelled to mention this connection because I randomly came across a special cluster on grief and pedagogy in the journal, Feminist Teacher. In that cluster was a moving essay by Blaise Astra Parker entitled “Losing Jay: A Meditation on Teaching While Grieving.” At the beginning of the essay, Parker recounts her experiences reading and teaching Undoing Gender in a summer seminar, “Reading Judith Butler,” which took place right after the death of her partner. Discussing the first chapter of the book, which is about mourning, she writes:

Suddenly, strangely, I was reading Butler writing about me. My physical condition–“I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and one finds oneself foiled. One finds oneself fallen. One is exhausted but does not know why” (18), and my emotional turmoil–“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something…” (19).

In the midst of grieving for her loss while teaching, Parker finds in Butler a resource for describing her experiences of coming undone and losing all control over her body and her emotions. My experiences with reading, teaching and thinking about Butler are different, yet this essay speaks to me, conjuring up emotions and thoughts about my mom, grieving, teaching while grieving (I taught my feminist pedagogies class on the day my mom died). And it makes me wonder, Just how does Butler fits into all of this? How has her work, particularly her ideas about the livable life and grieving, affected how I have reacted to and dealt with the impending and then eventual loss of my mom? And what do I mean by making the title of this essay, “living and grieving beside j butler”?  More to come…

On curiosity, the pedagogy of the question and not being good

In the midst of preparing my learning exercise on women’s studies, curiosity and the pink sneaker, I came across an interview with Paulo Freire entitled “The Future of School.” Check out what he has to say about curiosity, the pedagogy of the question and not being a good boy:

I am the antagonist of pedagogy. I am the antagonist of epistemology. I am the opposite ethic. I am nothing of that, because I am the antagonist of that. And I insist, I don’t like discourses. I am not a “good boy.” I try to be a good person, but “good boy” — God forbid! If you want to hurt me, call me a “good boy.”

I am an educated person, very educated, polite, disciplined, and courteous. That I am, indeed, and more. I try to be respectful, but “good boy,” for God’s sake, no! So I am antagonistic to all this. I am contrary, the opposite of all this. I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend, along with the Chilean philosopher Fagundes, the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity.

After reading this brief excerpt from the interview, I was curious: what is the pedagogy of the question? The idea of asking lots of questions is central for my own pedagogical practices, particularly in my feminist debates class; the final part of this entry exemplifies this approach. I became even more curious when I found Freire’s book, Learning to Question. Now I just need time to read it and think about it in relation to my own practices and ideas about the question/questions. Maybe I will even assign part or all of this book to my students next fall in my Feminist Pedagogies course?

Another part of Freire’s brief remarks intrigued me as well: the deliberate way he distinguishes between the “good person” and the “good boy”.  Here the good boy seems to be a direct reference to the good student who always obeys the teacher, complies with their demands and passively absorbs information without questioning or challenging it. For Freire, not being a good boy does not suggest that one is a bad person, that is rude or disrespectful (a disciplinary problem, perhaps?). Now, what is Freire doing with this statement? Is it merely a move to prove his respectability as a teacher, scholar, person–see, just because I ask questions doesn’t mean I am a bad person, a delinquent!?  Or, could he be doing something more here (or maybe could we do something more here) with this distinction? In opposing the “good boy” with the good person, Freire could be suggesting that in order to be a good person, one must necessarily question and be curious; one must not be a good boy. So, to be a good boy is to not be a good person? Hmm…I need to think about this some more.

Note: I think it is significant that he describes it as not being a good boy (as opposed to being a bad boy). This sounds a lot like my discussion of Foucault’s notion of not being governed in certain ways or my discussion of Butler’s idea of asking why as a form of not-obeying. Excellent. What connections can I draw here?

Anxiety, the Examined Life and Staying in Trouble

The end of the semester is almost here (less than a month away!) and I am getting very excited for the thinking and writing work I hope to do this summer. In anticipation of my future work, I decided to take a break this afternoon from preparing for next week’s discussions on the Prison Industrial Complex and Hope, Utopias and Optimism to watch a recent documentary about philosophy and critical thinking called Examined Life. I have wanted to watch it ever since it came out last year, so I was very excited to see it show up on my netflix watch instantly page.

Seemingly inspired by the famous saying by Plato that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” this documentary consists of a series of interviews with famous philosophers/thinkers reflecting on their own ideas about thinking, philosophy and meaning. As an aside, I wonder why it is called the “examined life” as opposed to examining life–the past tense seems to suggest that thinking and examining is something that can, at a certain point, be accomplished. Is this ever possible? Do we want it to be? Life, even after death, can still be examined, right? Should our goal be to get to a point in which we have determined all there is to know about our life? Hmm….Anyway, here is how the film is described on the Zeitgeist Films’ website:

Examined Life pulls philosophy out of academic journals and classrooms, and puts it back on the streets…

In Examined Life, filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today’s most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas.

Featuring Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor.

So far, I am really enjoying the film; it’s a great way to get an introduction to some of these thinkers’ big ideas, like West and his focus on finitude and blues/jazz, Appiah and cosmopolitanism or Nussbaum and human capabilities (that’s as far as I have gotten in the film). One of the first thinkers to speak is Avital Ronell. I am not that familiar with her work, having only come across it in Butler’s 2nd preface to Gender Trouble, so it was exciting to hear her thoughts on non-meaning and anxiety. Describing the search for meaning as a cover-up or a “way of dressing the wound of non-meaning,” she argues for a politics of refusing gratification and an ethics of anxiety. Here is what she says about anxiety:

Precisely where there isn’t guarantee or palpable meaning, you have to do a lot of work and you have to be mega-ethical. Because it’s much easier to live life and to say, “that you shouldn’t do and that you should do because someone said so.” If we’re not anxious, if we’re okay with things we’re not trying to explore of figure anything out. So anxiety is the mood par excellence of ethicity, I think.

She continues her discussion of anxiety, suggesting that the truly ethical person (which she contrasts with GW Bush) is one who is always anxious and always concerned with whether or not they are doing the right thing; the ethical person is the one who can’t sleep because they are uncertain about what they are doing or failing to do. The responsible being is not the one who does one good deed and then thinks that that makes them an ethical person. The responsible being is the one who thinks they have never done enough, that “they have never taken enough care of the other.” Wow–an ethics of anxiety seems similar to my idea of staying in trouble. I was particularly struck by how she connects this (only fleetingly) to the idea of care. Anxiety and trouble (being troubled, staying troubled) are central to being ethical responsibly and effectively caring for others. Cool. I like her discussion here. I am not sure I like how she describes it as anxiety (in the interview she indicates that she is not suggesting that we should all get anxiety disorders), however. Is anxiety the best (as in most productive, most rewarding, most hopeful, most sustainable) way in which to discuss this mood? Could we describe our vigilant effort to care for the world and others by using some other term? One final note: Ronell’s discussion of anxiety makes me think of Ahmed and her notion of unhappiness and worry (which my troublemaking class is reading about in two weeks).

Here’s the trailer for the whole movie (can I just say, having heard Cornel West speak on three different occasions, at each of the 3 institutions that I got my BA, MA and PhD from, that he is amazing!):

oh bother, part 11

“Ladies, raise your spoons”…is this the legacy of feminism? The freedom to eat granola that won’t make us fat? The invoking of freedom in the (implied) context of feminism, makes me think of this earlier oh bother post. I also posted this commercial here on my course blog for feminist debates.