Teaching the Gender and Geography course is … well … exhilarating. For a Geography course that is so heavily theoretical, we have a surprising diversity of personal frames of thinking in the class. It’s both delightful and frightening. I also have a surprising number of young men in the class – they make up a substantial proportion (maybe 25%?).
Yesterday, i could not have been more proud of them. We spent the first hour talking about the Occupy movement. I had planned a lecture around Gramsci and the early Marxian debates (particularly between Lukacs and Rosa Luxembourg) about the difference between (and the different ideological attachments to) spontaneity and vanguardism. Instead, i opened the floor to let those of my students who have been heavily involved in the Occupy Seattle protest to explain to the class what the movement is about. One of them pulled out the formal statement from OWS and three of them read it aloud to the class.
What ensued turned into a heated debate about “appropriate” ways to protest or to try to get things changed in Congress and in the laws. I’d say the class was 1/3 for, 1/3 against and 1/3 completely unsure about where they stood. What i admired about their debate was the way in which they helped each other to remember to be polite – let people finish before jumping in, raising hands to make sure that people were aware of who wanted to speak next, not speaking for too long at a time, taking notes so they could respond point by point. We had some incredibly tough moments, but they made it through rather swimmingly. What i appreciated most was their ability to catch each other and start laughing at their own frustrations.
I pulled the conversation short when the room got so heated that we headed down the normative judgment path – when students started making statements like, “Poor people are lazy” and “I know someone who…” We took a break, washed our hands, took a deep breath and started on the second hour looking at news articles (each week, students bring news articles that are gendered in nature and discuss them together). And then Slut Walk and issues of women being told that dressing suggestively (whatever that means) leads to rape.
Bless him, one of my male students ventured to mention that it was “kind of like advertising when you wear a short skirt” … i don’t think he got to finish his thought. And that’s about the time i shut down. *sigh* … thank goodness the bell rang, but not before i thanked them for being so willing to put themselves in the line of fire and to ask the really hard questions. Really, if we were all of like minds, the class would be very boring and not very useful to anyone. I just hope they understood.
The issue i have been having is that i want the students to have an open forum in which to discuss their ideas. The lowest marks i get in teaching is that i don’t make enough room for students’ opinions. I know that when i start soap-boxing, i can be extremely silencing. So how to balance the push for critical thinking without shutting down students who disagree with what i’m teaching? In the entry level courses, i’ve always been able to frame it as offering a new way of thinking for the toolbox. But in a 400-level course, i feel that they should have the tools and don’t need to be beaten with them.
Maybe i’m being to lenient. I suppose that i’ve given them enough time to start understanding that i’m not shutting them down, and now i have to really start pushing them harder – asking the difficult questions… I absolutely abhor confrontation (unless i’ve had a glass of wine or two – then i have no problem pulling out the velvet bat and bopping people on the head), and yet, here i am teaching a rather controversial course in a very controversial time. But i’m still trying to break some of them off the habit of using normative judgment adjectives as truths…
One of my older students approached me after the bell rang asked if we could start drinking in class… i hear you, sister! I think i might be slipping a flask into my bag on Mondays and Wednesdays, too…