August 2015 - September 2015 Online Reading Group and Discussion
Topic: Towards a Pedagogy of Equality
Discussion Group Leader: Danica Savonick, HASTAC Scholar, Futures Initiative Research Fellow, Doctoral Student in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, Teaching Fellow at Queens College
Sponsoring Organization: The Futures Initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center
Suggested Readings and Viewings:
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter Two (widely available online)
- Samuel Delany, “The Polymath” (video)
- Cathy N. Davidson, “Why Start with Pedagogy? 4 Good Reasons, 4 Good Solutions”
You are invited to join this student-led reading group, “Towards a Pedagogy of Equality.” This is the first of eight conversations as part of The University Worth Fighting For, a year-long project designed to tie student-centered, engaged practices in our classrooms to larger issues of institutional change, equality, race, gender, and all forms of social justice. Join the discussion by adding your own ideas, suggestions, syllabi, classroom tactics, feedback, and other responses as comments on this post.
HASTAC has invited Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow and HASTAC Scholar Danica Savonick to get us started on our first conversation. Danica is a doctoral student in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY and an educator at Queens College. She has posted several blogs on pedagogy and equality on HASTAC (on collaborative pedagogy and social justice, teaching #BlackLivesMatter, and designing collaborative digital projects). Danica is currently writing a dissertation on pedagogy and social justice.
Join the Conversation
Anyone can join the conversation, any member can post. We encourage lively debate, respectful of difference. We hope undergraduate and graduate students anywhere will join this conversation, and we hope faculty members might challenge their students to contribute to this public forum by posting in the Comments section.
You can also join us on Twitter for an ongoing dialogue using the hashtag #fight4edu.
“Towards a Pedagogy of Equality”
Discussion led by Danica Savonick
Join the discussion by adding your own ideas, suggestions, syllabi, classroom tactics, feedback, and other responses as comments on this post.
Classroom as cell—unit—enclosed & enclosing space in which teacher & students are alone together
Can be prison cell commune
trap junction - place of coming-together
--Adrienne Rich, ‘What We Are Part Of’ Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974
In graduate school...the university and the classroom began to feel more like a prison, a place of punishment and confinement, rather than a place of promise and possibility...The feminist classroom was the one space where students could raise critical questions about pedagogical process...That small acceptance of critical interrogation was a crucial challenge inviting us as students to think seriously about pedagogy in relation to the practice of freedom.
--bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
What would a classroom look like if it were designed not to reproduce traditional hierarchies of privilege and power, but instead to produce justice and equity? Would it begin with a privilege checklist, or with everyone sharing their preferred gender pronouns? Would there be a values statement in the syllabus, or would you ask students to draft a class constitution? Would someone be assigned to take progressive stack to ensure that marginalized and excluded voices get to drive the conversation? What would you ask students to produce in order to demonstrate what they have learned? Would you ask them to produce it alone or together, and why? Who would read, evaluate, and provide feedback on their work?
Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate in drafting a set of questions to help digital humanists think about designing their teaching and research in ways that might help produce social justice. This got me thinking, what would a similar list look like for pedagogy? What questions can we ask ourselves to work not just towards an equitable classroom, but a more equitable world?
Important practitioners of critical and creative pedagogy, included in the suggested readings and viewings for this conversation and in the resources and references cited below, invite us to think about how our teaching and learning practices relate to conditions of inequality and injustice beyond the classroom. This discussion is intended to take up the challenge.
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968/1970) remains an essential text for those interested in social justice, especially because he succinctly names the problems, promises, and politics of the classroom. Freire argues that education functions an instrument of power that can reproduce hierarchies, or help liberate those most disenfranchised by the social order. He calls the oppressive form of education the “banking” model, “in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits” (72). This banking model, he argues, “stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression…[We] cannot use banking educational methods in the pursuit of liberation” (78). For me, the idea that we cannot use banking methods of education to produce justice and equity has always resonated with Audre Lorde’s (1984, 112) notion that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In my own work, I’ve been exploring how justice and equity emerge from dialogue, debate, and collaboration--they cannot simply be lectured into existence. Socially just, equitable, and more pleasurable classrooms that can challenge hegemonic forms of common sense require different ways of circulating, valuing, and producing knowledge. In other words, one cannot teach active, critical, and creative participation in world transformation while denying such participation in the classroom.
Education needs to change to produce a world in which those historically marginalized and dispossessed by the social order can instead thrive and flourish. Despite having spent six terrifying, lonely, and dangerous years living in a concrete cage, in July of 1967, Black Nationalist George Jackson (1970, 76) wrote that his Catholic school education was “the worst thing that ever happened to me.” More recently, in his powerful memoir Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015, 25-26) illustrates how education facilitates the racial injustices of a segregated, white supremacist society: “If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left…. I suffered at the hands of both, but I resent the schools more … To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly...I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance.” Note the presence of carceral language here and in both epigraphs, which critics of the school-to-prison pipeline have demonstrated is more literal than figurative (see also these recent podcasts on segregated schooling). The questions that we most urgently want to ask are how the classroom prepares us for our role in society, what ways we can change the classroom, and how that might model new roles and arrangements of power in the social order.
In this interview, science fiction writer and educator Samuel Delany offers a compelling example of how the classroom can catalyze different social relationships. He argues that every time students don’t raise their hands in class, they’re learning something: “You’re learning how to make do with what you got, and you’re learning how not to ask for a raise…you’re learning how to take it.” Instead, he has every student raise their hands in response to every question—an effort to teach them that what they have to say is important, and that their participation is necessary to produce the scene of teaching and learning. What other tactics might we use to take a place, to have a position, in the classroom--and in the social life beyond it?
I began this post quoting two powerful, feminist, anti-racist activist-educators who taught at City College (part of the City University of New York, where I currently teach). Both Adrienne Rich and bell hooks illustrate how the classroom can function as “a prison, a place of punishment and confinement” or a space of transformative, communal “promise and possibility” in which we learn how to be “alone together” in more just, equitable, and pleasurable ways. Recently, my research has focused on Adrienne Rich’s pedagogy, and how her understanding of literature--what it is, how and why it should be taught, what it can do to catalyze social change--was transformed by her experiences teaching at City College. In 1968, Rich (who is most often studied as a lesbian, feminist poet) came to City College to teach in the SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) program, “which sought to demonstrate that, with the proper supportive services, students who were being excluded from the University because of existing admissions criteria could attain a college degree.” At City College, Rich encountered students who were steeped in political consciousness and eager for social change, yet had been profoundly disenfranchised by the pedagogies of a white supremacist, patriarchal social order. By listening to, and dialoguing with the primarily black and Puerto Rican students in the SEEK program, Rich learned that undoing the modes of learning (and not learning) incentivized through years of unilateral, oppressive, and punitive education would involve helping students “discover a new relationship to learning.”
In a memo to her colleagues, Rich writes,
...although the lecture as art form and social event may still have a place in the university, the first needs of our freshman are for something else—for a kind of classroom in which students find themselves having to learn for themselves, and to teach each other, more than they have ever been asked to do. The value of this is not merely to “increase participation” but to break, once and for all, the modes and patterns which 12 years of public or parochial education have left as their legacy. When he/she can get rid of that legacy, the student can approach the lecture or the textbook or any other medium with an entirely different relationship. He will no longer accept it passively as an agent acting upon his mind, but as one of many materials on which his mind can act. ( 2013, 34)
With this first conversation about pedagogy and equality, we hope to explore how education can produce “something else,” something other than the status quo. Like everything we do at HASTAC and the Futures Initiative, this series of posts, workshops, forums, and readings is informed by the practice of “collaboration by difference.” I understand this to mean that any task, project, or conversation will be drastically more complex, nuanced, and robust (i.e. better) if we seek, from the very beginning, to include multiple, diverse perspectives, and especially those that are most silenced by the status quo. This means people of color, women, people who identify as queer, transgender, or gender non-conforming, people who may be differently abled, and in the context of classrooms, it can also mean students. “Because nothing is sufficient, we must use everything,” Rebecca Fullan recently remarked, in a discussion about how to disrupt what Donatella Galella (following bell hooks) calls the imperial, capitalist, white supremacist heteropatriarchy. In order to bring about a more just, equitable, and pleasurable world, we also need everyone, from the privileged academic who can contribute her cultural and actual capital, to the first-year community college student, who may also be an activist, community organizer, blogger, etc.
Rich (2013, 25-28) offers a number of questions to get us started: “When you come out of here, who will you be?...Who decides what you are allowed to learn?...What determines the courses you take each semester?...Where is the power that controls your life here?...What does quality education mean? What is a university?...Can a quality education take place under these conditions?...What are your expectations here and what do you have a right to expect?...And who makes the decisions that are even now shaping your future life?”
We want to hear from you. What do you think?
- If you are a student (graduate or undergraduate): tell us about your own path to the classroom. What would you do differently if you could reinvent higher education from scratch?
- If you are a professor or a teacher: who are your students? How did they get to the classroom? How did you get to the front of the classroom?
- How do you understand the relationship between teachers and students?
- How do you understand the relationship between the classroom and the world beyond its walls?
- How can your classroom challenge current conditions of injustice and inequality such as racial violence, police brutality, segregated K-12 education, gender discrimination, cuts to public education, etc.?
- What material conditions help or hurt the possibility for learning (from the classroom furniture, to the cost of students’ tuition, to how much your institution’s staff and administration are paid)?
- Given the research that demonstrates how race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, language, and ability/disability affect who succeeds in education, what tactics do you use to produce a more egalitarian, non-discriminatory, inclusive, and just classroom?
- What changes need to occur in the world in order to bring about a more just and equitable future, and how might these begin in the classroom?
- If you are a student (either an undergraduate or a graduate student), who do you hope you will be when you leave the classroom? What do you want to take from the classroom? What skills do you want from your classroom--beyond the obvious one of content mastery?
- If you are a teacher or a professor, what do you hope your students will take with them when they leave your classroom? What do you hope that they will know? Who do you hope they will be in the world? What pathway do you help to make from the classroom to that world? How do you help to make that pathway?
- If you are a teacher or professor, what modes of assessment do you use and why? What purpose does assessment serve? How does a given mode of assessment distribute power, knowledge, and agency in the classroom?
- If you are a student, how has your learning been evaluated in the classroom? Have you taken tests, written essays, given presentations, etc.? How have these been assessed? What did you learn from both the assignment and the feedback you received?
- How are power and authority distributed in the classroom? How (think about Delany’s video) can they be redistributed?
- What ways of living, being, and knowing does your classroom incentivize?
- How can pedagogy account for the diverse ways in which people learn?
- What else? What’s missing? What can you add to this conversation? How can your voice as a student, a graduate student, a librarian, an administrator, a community organizer, a professor, etc. help to change the practices so often taken for granted in the classroom?
Join the Conversation
Cong-Huyen, Anne, and the FemTechNet Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Committee. 2015. “FemTechNet Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Workbook.” http://scalar.usc.edu/works/ftn-ethnic-studies-pedagogy-workbook-/index
Davidson, Cathy. “How Do I Get Started? A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing a Student-Centered Classroom” https://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2015/08/04/how-do-i-get-started-step-step-guide-designing-student-centered
Participatory Google version here http://bit.ly/1hj9zrb
Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning. https://www.hastac.org/collections/field-notes-21st-century-literacies
HASTAC. 2015. The Pedagogy Project. https://www.hastac.org/pedagogy-project
Hybrid Pedagogy. 2015. http://www.hybridpedagogy.com
Pinkard, Nichole. “An Ecological View of Equity: Reframing Our Understanding of Youth Access to Connected Learning Opportunities.” Digital Media and Learning Plenary 2015. http://digitalyouthnetwork.org/nichole-pinkard-at-dml-2015-equity-by-design
The Futures Initiative. “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education.” http://futures.gc.cuny.edu/about-mapping-futures
Wesch, Mike. “Spotlight on K-State.” https://kansasstate.mediasite.com/mediasite/Play/f9f9b2ffa5cc44dc9d7c7eda182bf75c1d
Ahmed, Sarah. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham: Duke Univ. Press.
Chatterjee, Piya, and Sunaina Maira, ed. 2014. The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2015. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
Davidson, Cathy and Danica Savonick. 2015. “Gender Bias in Academe: An Annotated Bibliography.” HASTAC.org. https://www.hastac.org/blogs/superadmin/2015/01/26/gender-bias-academe-annotated-bibliography-important-recent-studies
Ferguson, Roderick. 2012. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: Minnesota Univ. Press.
Freire, Paulo. (1968) 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Guinier, Lani. 2015. The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America. Boston: Beacon.
Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella, et al., ed. 2012. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Logan: Utah Univ. Press.
hooks, bell. 2003. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. New York: Taylor & Francis.
---. 1994. Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routledge.
Jackson, George. (1970) 2010. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank. https://libcom.org/files/soledad-brother-the-prison-letters-of-george-jackson.pdf
Lorde, Audre. 1984. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In Sister Outsider, 110-113. New York: The Crossing Press Feminist Series.
Moten, Fred and Stefano Harney. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions.
Newfield, Christopher. 2008. Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.
Ranciere, Jacques. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press.
Rich, Adrienne. (1968-1974) 2013. ‘What We Are Part Of’ Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974. 2 vols., edited by Iemanja Brown et al. New York: The Adrienne Rich Literary Estate.
Tomás Reed, Conor. “‘Treasures That Prevail’: Adrienne Rich, The SEEK Program, and Social Movements at the City College of New York, 1968-1972.” In Rich 2013, 36-65.
Read Conor Tomás Reed's essay here.
Wilder, Craig Steven. 2013. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. New York: Bloomsbury Press.