ReMediating Identity and Bluster

This make started out more ambitiously.  I was thinking about what I might do when the news of Chris Christie’s announcement of his presidential bid came on the radio.  Much of the coverage was focused on Christie’s history of bluster and temper, and I got thinking about the ways in which the public might tolerate that sort of behavior differently were it not a white male in a business suit and neatly pressed shirt.

I wanted to play with words, visual representations of identity, gender, race and identity.

And some apps.

Among things he said:

America is tired of handwringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office.

I spent some time looking for ways to create voice syntheses — to  rip the audio off the videos of the speech and then literally change the words coming out of Christie’s mouth into accented and gendered voices to play with how we (I) might respond differently to the same words coming from speakers of different identities.

I gave up on that after seeing that it would take me too long and/or cost too much to get access to decent voice synthesis software (and who knew — there are such sites for business use).

Seeing others in #clMooc use ThingLink and then Plotagon,  I remembered that I had Tellagami on my iPad.

So I made some different characters saying the same sentence from Christie’s speech.

(it seems that ThinkLink doesn’t want to embed here).

I had fun, even while the final project seems pretty limited in the end.

And I’m putting it out there anyway.  Make and move forward.

Things I learned:

1.  The accents in Tellagami beyond standard Adult American English are pretty limited.

2. While Tellagami offers choices of 7 different emotions, all the characters sort of seem to be on the same dose of Valium.

3.  I downloaded what was supposed to be a large image (via Google search parameters) of Christie, so am disappointed by the quality.  Duh. Check image size after download next time.

4.  If I was going to do something like this again, it could be fun to have collaborators don symbolic elements of costume/accent and act out different emotions on video.

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Mapping the Nodes, Take Two

In a week in which in which I’ve had too little time to get any blog post  beyond the draft stage, I did import the newest sets of data on the Mapping the Nodes form and present to you Take Two of Mapping the Nodes with multiple new entries.


  • We’re now beyond the limits of individual colors for each person, so while this may be less interesting visually, the map grows richer with each entry.
  • If you still will be filling this out and want to see the full spreadsheet (that data is imported here), there will be a link on your confirmation screen to take you to “other responses” and from there to the spreadsheet.
  • For others, here’s a copy of the spreadsheet as of today.

As I’ve clicked through blogs on the run these past few days, I’ve seen such great posts where people have posted their favorite photos (one of the questions on the form) and written about them.  Very cool.

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Mapping the Nodes: First Take

Wondering who all the people in #rhizo15 are beneath the tweets, I tossed together a Google form a few days ago and invited people to answer some basic questions about themselves.

The form is here and if people want to keep adding their data, I’ll keep updating the maps.

I then imported this (imperfect) data into a Google Map.  The last time I did this, I could put multiple markers for each person, but that seems not to happen now.  I love that many of us identified “home” as somewhere that can’t be found on a map, so that marker wasn’t going to work anyway.


It’s difficult to tell from the preview, but my sense is that this will be best viewed by clicking through to the actual map.  Click on the markers, of course.

I’ve used this in my classes as we’ve launched new teacher education cohorts where we work hard to create learning communities where it will be safe to take intellectual and personal risks, and I want to clarify right way that when I talk about “tech”, I am *not* talking about the digital worksheets that they see in so many schools.

My inspiration for this was teacher Steve Goldberg.

I, for one, have loved beginning to click through to read more about people as people.

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The People at the Nodes

There have been comments on Facebook and Twitter about coming to know people in work like #rhizo15– both about the excellence of quick connections to lively and generous people, and also about the distinctive challenge of doing this much open sharing without really knowing who is out there reading.

We spend a lot of time in my classes getting to know one another as part of making the risky work we do less risky.  One thing I’ve done early in classes is use Google forms to ask students some questions about their geographies and then I import data into a  Google Map about people’s stories of being in and from these places.

Wanna play as part of mapping the nodes of #rhizo15?


  • the “where” questions will be the ones I map so be specific about location:  An address, rather than “my grandmother’s house”  works because not even Google knows where you grandmother lives (I hope).
  • you can use the spreadsheet to access fields of work/study.
  • this does not update automatically so I’ll re-import every few days — starting on Monday mid-day (your time) so do the quick form by then if you can so we can see if this works.    All questions are voluntary, of course.
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Rhizomes as Weeds and as Salvation

I’m sick for the first week of #rhizome15.

I could feel it coming just as the tweets started up… the sore throat and stuffy head, and two days later, I have energy for little but clicking through the many posts and scrolling through the Twitter feed.

The longer I sit up to read and to write, the lower I slump,  but am energized by what I’m seeing: The sheer joy in learning and creating ,  the humor and generosity in kicking around ideas (50 comments??),  the open and generous sharing.

It’s better than hot tea today.


I designed my own major as a young college student because I had a sense that I didn’t want to be contained by what someone else thought I should know.  I went out on a University Without Walls program so that I wouldn’t have to sit in a classroom to learn. And I took pride in figuring all this out myself, a kid from a small town in the middle of cornfields. All. By. Myself.

Oh, had I known about the connections ahead, about how there’s no pride in isolation when the world is full of funny, generous, smart, musical people who’ll push your thinking over and over. And over.


Until last week I had the dream teaching assignment.  I taught in a cohort teacher education program, so I met with the same students over the course of a year.    We were working toward connection — reading moral philosophy about the ethics of teaching as a public role, always linking blogs and tweets to things we were reading and talking about in class, and then also working with colleagues to translate some of what we were learning from the rich networks we were joining into the other classes in the program (a small digital project here, some video work there).

The students were getting it.

Last week, I found out that while I’m away this year, my colleagues decided that the [small digital project there, some video work there] was enough about “tech” in our program, so they dropped the broader connected learning and teaching seminars from the program curriculum.  There’s no more “this is how we now learn “,  only “this is some of what we learned. Last year. ”

So I am a bit sick over that also, to be sure.

And I’ll be working to rebuild something elsewhere in my School, with other colleagues, so this rhizomatic goodness is coming at a perfect time.


As I scroll through the many emails piling up in my inbox while I sniffle and nap, I’m seeing lively conversation on a faculty listserve in which multiple voices proudly proclaim

that they ban all laptops and mobile devices from their classrooms.

Because of distraction.


Bring on the distraction.

Colliding worlds of subjectives and objectives, with tea and tissue within reach.

I love it.

And I’ll run to catch up when I can breathe again. (I know, I know, there’s no catching up…..)

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Silence, Voice, Anarchy, and Schooling

I have had an ambivalent  relationship with formal schooling.

In a small town high school on the edge of the the cornfields of the rural US, my teachers gave a good student like me a lot of freedom.  It was not unusual for me to skip class to organize school events, contribute to an “underground” student newspaper (I’m sure now that  everyone on staff was more amused than threatened), or get into debates with school board members.  Everyone knew that I was aiming for college, and I knew that I had to do enough of formal high school work to get there, but no one ever, ever talked to me about making sense of the *which* colleges might work for me. I figured out how to get to college pretty much on my own.

And that felt wonderful when I was 18, but I know only now that there were many other choices open to me.

My college was a pretty innovative place for a regional state school, and I designed my own undergraduate major, and then also enrolled in a University Without Walls program that allowed me to do a great deal of self-directed learning in the community.  I figured most of this out on my own, too, and was pretty proud of myself for so rarely checking in with advisors.

And I know now how much I didn’t  know then, and think back to how I would  have done things differently.

After college, five of us moved to a very low-income community in Southern Appalachia to live in intentional community while we worked out how to contribute to positive change in the region. We were flat broke and had no way to earn money there, but we believed strongly in this non-materialistic leap of faith.  We believed that our education had been about preparing us to build a more just world, not  about getting jobs for our own economic mobility.

And I was shocked when new friends there doing similar work–  friends who looked and sounded like us — instead talked casually about how their parents would be buying  them their first houses when they decided to go back home and how they’d been given their cars as gifts. For all the good they were doing, these people had generous safety nets cushioning their choices.   I had no idea at that point in my life that any parents bought house and cars for their kids.  I was stunned that I was learning this amidst the deep poverty all around us.

And I was more stunned that these friends assumed that the five of us, who were literally living on faith that this would all work out, were just like them.

That is not a story of self-righteousness.  It’s a story of academically successful young people committed to and well-read in social justice who still had no idea of the depth of inequality in their childhoods.

So when I think about anarchist education, I share with Maha Bali  my concern about how our #moocmooc readings give no acknowledgement power differentials amongst human beings and about how this power plays out in positioning people around silence and voice,  quite apart from formal government authority.

And Sarah wrote:

This picture of anarchism is not a world without rules, but a society without a ruler.  Anarchy is not, as some have thought, a place of chaos, it is the freedom to think for ourselves.*  It comes with a belief in the ability of humans to think for themselves, and to act from their conscience as an inner policeman rather than out of fear of punishment. I may be dubious that such a society can ever come to pass, but I hold it as an ideal and dream of a society where I can skip around and smell the pretty flowers.

Yes. I want to skip and smell flowers too :).

My theoretical grounding comes from sociology, and I’ve come to understand that power and status differentials are deeply embodied and played out in the thousands of encounters in daily life.   Andrew Sayer says:

 Condescension, deference, shame, guilt, envy, resentment, arrogance, contempt, fear and mistrust, or simply mutual incomprehension and avoidance, typify relations between people of different classes.

Betsy Leondar-Wright studied social class dynamics within a range of social movements  in the U.S. and found

Two-thirds of members of anarchist groups came from the professional-range of backgrounds. Their mean class background was the highest of any movement tradition.

My young adult self believed strongly in much of what I read in the Shantz chapter for #moocmooc this week.  And that young adult self had no idea of the deep class differences between me and others who shared those beliefs;  nor did many of my more privileged idealist peers have any sense of the social distances between us.

My older self has read and taught and thought a great deal more about how we don’t simply live under the authority of the state,  but that inequality is internalized in ways that create silence, exclusion, contempt, and access to very different opportunities for “thinking for oneself” when many of us still have no idea what is even possible or how others have had access to very different ways of thinking about themselves in the world.

Richard Rodriquez, writing of his own very different ambivalent relationship with formal schooling and the distance it created between him and his family and culture, wrote that in the end, his education at least had given him language to understand what had happened to him and his family so that he could step away from merely moving through the system to make different kinds of decisions and to bring his critique to the system.

And this week has helped me to deepen my sense of why I teach and why I continue to hope –against much of the evidence — that our schools and colleges can become places where poor and working class people learn to name their own experiences and to speak on their own behalf, and where privileged students learn of their privilege and thus learn to listen much more than they speak, and from this can come more democratic ways of governing ourselves together.

We’re far far from that ideal now in school and university.

But that’s still where I place my waning hope,  and the readings this week only strengthened that for me.

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Critical Pedagogy Sans People

I had stopped trying to keep up with Giroux’s work some time ago.  I read him diligently as a new scholar, but for me, he was always one of those authors that made me question whether I’d make it in academia.  Early in my career, I couldn’t as readily distinguish between complex ideas and convoluted writing.

I don’t assign him in my classes any more because I’ve witnessed students wondering if they’re “smart” enough to read texts like these (even while he’s addressing them — at least in the 3rd person [more about that later] — as educators)*.  Writing past those you intend to change goes  against my work with students to nudge them to “go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities”.

I believe strongly that academic work should invite students — especially those new to the culture of universities — to enter new intellectual worlds, not dare them to prove that they belong there.

I stopped assigning Giroux long ago, even as I teach ideas that he shares, particularly that

Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and in which they actually live out their lives and everyday existence.

Maha Bali  shares my concern about the abstractness of Giroux’s writing, and on this read, I shared her impatience with him revealing so little about his own work to enact these ideas.  With hooks, I believe so strongly that critical pedagogy is not only about book learning always about about who we are in the world.


On this read, I found myself  underlining the many times he uses the language of:

Educators must

Critical pedagogy must

Academics must

Educators need to

Educators will have to

I confess to skimming some of the paragraph-long sentences, but looking over my “notebook” on my Kindle app, I see Giroux employing this “educators must” sort of language at least a dozen times in this chapter.  It started to feel as if I am being scolded, and by someone whose moral authority to do so is not at all clear.

Noticing this language today as I’m reading him again within these weeks of rich  #moocmooc  dialogue around critical pedagogy,  I have new ways to think about writing that is intended to further the work of critical pedagogy, but that addresses in the 3rd person the educators that the author wants to change.

It can feel as if students (and even I, as a life-long student of education) are relegated to eavesdropping on a relatively small, closed circle of intellectual peers.   In “banking” education, teachers at least speak directly to students.

I notice also that the only actual people in this chapter are the other cited scholars.   I sat up  a bit when I saw him begin to talk about critical pedagogy being “relational” , since so many feminist scholars use this very term to write about how in the end, our teaching is first and foremost about the relationships that we develop that provide the the community within which students can grow.

But no, I instead read:

By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life.


There is almost nothing I disagree with in this chapter.

But I have a hard time reconciling being told what I must do while I’m working to develop course experiences that “emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and in which they actually live out their lives and everyday existence”.

I mean nothing about this to be ad hominem critique.  I do mean for it to be about doing the hard work of trying to figure out critical pedagogies that don’t bypass the actual lives of students on the way to the revolution.

And I welcome conversation about where my grumpy reading missed the mark.

*how’s that for convoluted writing!
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I Feel Anger Sometimes. But Not At You. Really.

When women are prevented from expressing anger at injustice, transgression, or violence, they are forced to submit without expressing resistance. Further, women’s silence is interpreted as willing agreement to their subordination.

-Megan Boler, Feeling Power, Loc 420

I do not feel that my responsibility as a social justice educator is to pamper those who have experienced a life of privilege, nor to validate desires to cling to privilege and not to recognize injustice. However, education is not effective if it is combative and alienating. The story I tell in this essay reveals to me that compassion and offering hope are important complements to a pedagogy of discomfort.

-Megan Boler, Teaching for Hope: The Ethics of Shattering World Views. Here

I’m thinking a lot this week about critical dialogue in class, and about what Boler calls a  pedagogy of discomfort, and about Ellsworth‘s quoting the wonderful Valerie Walkerdine about the limits of rational discourse:

According to Valerie Walkerdine, schools have participated in producing “self-regulating” individuals by developing in students capacities for rational argument.  Rational argument has operating in ways that set up as its opposite an irrational Other, which has been understood historically as the province of women and other exotic Others. In schools, rational deliberation, reflection, and consideration of all viewpoints has become a vehicle for regulating conflict and the power to speak, for transforming “conflict” into rational argument by the universalized capacities for language and reason. (p. 301)

Reading hooks, I agree with (and often enact) what she says about the importance of faculty leading with

confessional narratives to academic discussions so as to show how experience can illuminate and enhance our understanding of academic material.  But most professors must practice being vulnerable in the classroom, being wholly present in mind, body,  and spirit. (p. 21)

So:  Can I convey anger as a woman faculty member, as part of being wholly present?  Or must I self-regulate, staying within the bounds of rational argument? I’m not of course talking about anger at students, but anger over the patriarchy and sexism that still shapes so much of education. (Does that make me seem angry, to use bold face there?  Uh Oh).


Two framing stories:

#1.  I’ve been grappling with how to say what I want to say this week.  And while I was procrastinating to avoid writing this post, some of my academic friends on Facebook started discussing a new movie debuting at Sundance about sexual abuse on campus. Here’s just some of what I read:

I share [what happened to me] with my students every semester, bc I want sexual assault to be visible. And every semester, I have at least 3 women who either come forward in class or reveal to me in private. It’s horrible.

Every time I teach about violence against women, I have women coming forward sharing their experience with sexual and physical violence. Yet, many still want to deny how serious the issues are…

My last semester doing gender and gender violence, I told all the males in the room they wouldn’t be allowed to speak. The females shared their stories and it got very emotional for everyone, but then there were still “deniers”. One or two women kept saying they “felt sorry” for the guys who were unable to speak.

I have no idea how to have a measured dialogue around  (and more importantly, within) the sexual assault and objectification that many of our women students experience in campus cultures, because I think that it is something that should anger all of us.

#2.  I teach a great deal about deep inequalities in U.S. schools, about how current reform policies are dehumanizing education for teachers and low-income children, about how we’re the only developed nation that expects young inexperienced kindergarten teachers, rather than a social safety net, to be the first line in the project of equalizing opportunity.

Two years ago, we were ending my class with pecha kucha presentations on “who we’re becoming as teachers” at the end of their first term of their internships in schools.  I assure them that this is a “closed door, no posting to any website” sharing and a chance for honest reflection.  I’ve worked with these same students over several courses.  I saw many inspirational images about soaring, learning, and helping.

Then a young woman stood up and her first image was was a full screen photo of her hand with middle-finger raised and she said “I’m angry. I’m angry about what we’re doing to kids and how people far from my classroom think that they know anything about  what I need to do in the interest of justice and equality”.

There was almost no response. I tried to generate conversation about anger and got nervous laughter.  I emailed her right after class to thank for for being honest and ask her if /how she wanted me to bring this up again, to ask if she’d gotten any pushback that I could support her in addressing.  She said she’d gotten emails from several people privately thanking her, but she didn’t want to talk about it in class anymore.

I actually feel a great deal of anger about what’s happening to poor kids in schools now and how teachers are blamed for their inability to make very bad policy work.  I worry that more teachers won’t talk about their anger.

I’m actually a pretty funny teacher, and some days, it’s a sharp humor.


So,  in no particular order, things I’m thinking about today that make me wonder about the place of anger — and women, teaching,  caring in its many forms, and critical feminist pedagogies:

  • Rusul Alrubail wrote about how the work of solidarity with the oppressed is, in the end,  about an act of defiance. That’s not rational dialogue about different intellectual positions, but defiance.
  • At an academic conference in the fall, in every session, a white male stood first during Q and A and as has been often satired, gave his own talk — followed by other men who did much of the same thing, and nearly everyone at this conference would self-define as a critical pedagogue.
  • I read and tweeted about bias against women faculty in course evaluations, and in  reviews of scholarly work. These things have very *real* consequences for one’s career, to say nothing about one’s sense of doing good and valued work with one’s life.
  • And then there are decades of Salary gaps .  On my campus, the new, young, mostly male Computing faculty and Finance faculty now make as much if not more than senior women in Education.  I’m really not interested in dialogue about this.  I want it fixed.  Yesterday.
  • And I post this next part hesitantly but Rusul beautifully nudges all of us out of our silence:  In our positive,  supportive, enthusiastic conversations in #moocmooc, it’s hard to go to an ugly place, and yet  it is hard to have reasoned dialogue about what has happened to our feminist “read” for the week on sexism and legos .  Anita Sarkiseesian has had to put up with way too much (also here and  here) for speaking out against the misogyny in the tech and gaming world.*

And I feel a very healthy dose of anger that anyone is still dealing with this after decades of teaching about gender, and that free-range misogyny is part of whatever hopes we might have for an open, connected, networked version of learning as an alternative to all that is limiting about the institutionalized version.


So, with Megan Boler, I work hard at a pedagogy of discomfort.   I will not temper my anger over much of this, but I will be as clear as possible that it’s about patriarchy, not about the ways that patriarchy is being channeled in any given course.  I work very hard to make sure that men — and the women who perpetuate patriarchy — in my classes don’t feel personally attacked, but neither am I willing to invest enormous amounts of effort in ensuring that they don’t feel discomfort.

I believe that discomfort is potentially a very educative place.

And I work to teach about sexism in public schools and universities and beyond, with a great deal of compassionate impatience.

Because as bell hooks so straightforwardly writes, these issues are not “just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world” where women are being harmed in tangible ways every day.

And have been now for decades and decades and decades.  And decades.

And I am authentically angry about this.

*Just today, Anita posted ( and be warned.  It’s very ugly)  only one week of the hateful tweets she has gotten, and again my response wasn’t completely rational.  This made me sit back away from the computer screen, cringing.

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What if Freire’s Students Were On Tumblr?

A few years ago in class, we were having  lively conversation about different interpretations students had about an author’s position.  One of the students, a young woman who was the first in her family to attend college, just pulled out the iPad mini our program lends to all students and tweeted the author asking him to weigh in. He responded in a few minutes.

I thought about that story yesterday during the sparkling, roaring waterfall that was the Critical Pedagogy #moocmooc Twitter Chat yesterday.  To me, that was a liberatory moment in my course, that a student engaged an author as a peer.

Some context:  I keep thinking about the complications of the desire shared by many of the us on the chat to move to something closer to peer-to-peer relationships where we are all co-learners.

Reading #moocmooc blogs and thinking today about how impossible it is in formal education to abdicate much of our power as teachers, I began to think about how my job isn’t so much that students understand themselves to be my peer  in our classroom space but that they find their voice in a contentious world that often works to silence those outside the margins of  formal power.  Our classroom can be a lab for that, and more and more, I’m working to make those actual connections to discourse outside our classroom, rather than rehearsing there for “authentic” work that will happen somewhere down the road.

I’ve also been thinking that how the  transition to “peer-like” classroom relationships might work in very different ways at different campuses.  In the U.S., higher ed is increasingly stratified along class lines.

My career has been at places serving a high number of students who are still finding their way into the hidden rules of formal education, who have not been raised with the expectation that adults will treat them as peers as many upper middle class kids in the US are now raised,  and who do well with very open conversation about what it looks like to make this shift.

And most importantly why.

When so much of what we do in on campus is second nature to students who were raised from birth by their professional parents to be successful in college, other students are figuring it out as they go and they learn quickly that grading is one of the most direct ways they figure out that they got something fundamentally wrong.

So, given that Freire writes of educating “the oppressed”, (or “the underdogs, as Jade Davis translated from the Portuguese on the chat yesterday), might it not be the most entitled students who find themselves at ease in courses in which they’re encouraged to assume the role of peer with faculty? While newcomers to college may well flounder, or work very hard to simply comply with what they think they’re supposed to do, for fear of “failing” at a game that makes little sense to them?

So I’m thinking and rethinking some of my own teaching practices today.  In no particular order are some of my recent attempts to move more toward “peer” while still retaining what Maxine Greene suggests is my unique moral responsibility as  teacher for ensuring that we’re created a community in which everyone can thrive:

  • Where I’ve been able, I’ve shifted my courses to “credit/no credit” grading and we talk a great deal in the first weeks about what it means to not be working for a grade for perhaps the first time in their lives.   Mostly, students dive in.  I work one-on-one with them a great deal, and as much as possible, their writing is done in public forums so that it is actual communication, not pretend communication filtered through me acting as the evaluative proxy for some vague eventual audience.
  • When I do have to grade, I create a rubric that outlines as clearly as possible what students have to do to aim for any particular grade they choose, and I’ve worked hard to make these performance criteria.  Students can show what they know and can do in a variety of ways, and can negotiate the relative weight of various assignments.  And I’m open about despising the role of grader and will always, always talk with them about better ways to do this.
  • I connect students to voices outside the classroom as much as possible.*  I work in teacher education, so there are always  widgets with teacher blogs and tweets front and center on our digital syllabus, and I nudge students to ask any of these teachers about the things we’re talking about in class.  It’s been a long time since I’ve assumed that students would take my word for anything, because they can engage so many other voices who are grappling with the very things we talk about in class.
  • We talk and write a great deal and we also mediate our learning because I believe strongly in the arts, and the visual, and “the semiotic power of multimodality” for building empathy, self-understanding,  and moving people to action.
    • I teach one of the first courses in the program, and in a very simple shift in a conventional assignment, I now ask students to bring 5 digital images to our second class meeting that say something about why they’re choosing this career path, organized in any sort of slide show.  No text is allowed.  We display these on whatever screens we  have around the room and we spend the first 30 minutes of class on a mostly silent “gallery walk” with post-its in hand, leaving behind notes of connection, questions, and interest.  No one dominates these early hours of class time; everyone experiences the genuine interest of others in the class.   There are very clearly no right answers. And, students also often bring in personal photos of their children, their own childhoods, those they love. They become known more fully, not just as another rational intellect in our community.

So:  Back to the title of the post.  I keep thinking of the pedagogies that Freire would have advocated if his students had had access to Tumblr (or any of the multiple tools for connecting, for creating, for representing their own learning apart from Freire’s version of what transpired in class).  I wonder what he’d write about learning one’s way out of oppression in this information-rich age when dictating a small segment of a siloed academic field to  a passive audience makes no sense whatsoever.

Freire wrote when the best available shift away from the teacher talking/banking was for everyone in the room to talk and reason together.

Now that we can shift even further to connect students to others engaged in the same problems, to find audience for their emerging thinking,  for representing themselves in genres other than formal academic discourse, should we?

WWFD?  [What Would Freire Do?]

*as much as I like the attentive nurturing in the garden metaphors that have been bouncing across #moocmooc, I wonder:  the gardener owns the garden and decides its boundaries. Other than wilting, most plants in a garden can’t exercise a lot of agency — other than the wonderfully rhizomatic weeds.
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Critical and Connected Pedagogies

It’s been years since I read Freire.

I’ve been working in an around various forms of critical pedagogy since.

And I was very pleasantly surprised when I read in this week’s prompt for the Critical Pedagogy Mooc Mooc:

Jesse Stommel has described critical pedagogy quite often and in many different places as a pedagogy of generosity. And his anthemic tweet “Ultimately, education has to be about kindness” reminds us that there is no room in critical pedagogy for fault-finding or censoring.

This quote from Chapter 2 in Pedagogy of the Oppressed also caught my eye, given my intrigue with digital pedagogies that were not on the horizon when I first read the book years ago:

Knowledge emerges only through intervention and re-invention, through  the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, and with each other. (loc 996 in Kindle edition)

I work in the field of Education, in a subfield in which we do “critical, normative, and interpretive” work around schooling, inequalities, and social justice.  And sometimes this world can feel as if faculty invest a great deal in out-critiquing one another  — while also building careers on writing about their  dismay at students’ “resistance” to critical pedagogies.   Rarely do they write very much about their own teaching beyond the reading list and the writing assignments, as if there was nothing relational about the work of education.

Even when colleagues in my field move to digital platforms in their teaching, they commonly assign writing prompts (within LMS discussion boards) in which they, not peers, are the actual intended audience.

It can get discouraging.

I don’t intend to fall into the fault-finding that Jesse cautions against.  But I do believe that this work of critical pedagogy is a whole lot harder than it seems.


Relatively early in my career as a university faculty member, I read Elizabeth’s Ellsworth’s essay Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering: Working Through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy.  I went back to re-read it this morning as I launch into this Mooc Mooc.  This is a powerful essay of her experiences organizing a course to address blantant racism on her campus, and it offers a powerful critique of the “abstract and highly theorized” work on critical pedagogy written then by scholars who were mostly white and male.

Reading this article again now as I’m doing a lot of thinking about connected, digital learning, I highlighted the section in which she quoted Valerie Walkerdine, a British feminist sociologist of education who writes brilliant things about pain, anger, and shame embedded within social class and mobility in education (a core interest of mine):

In schools, rational deliberation, reflection, and consideration of all viewpoints has become a vehicle for regulating conflict and the power to speak, for transforming “conflict into rational argument by means of universalized capacities for language and reason” (Ellsworth, p.301)

Often, both Ellsworth and Walkerdine write, students are justifiably angry about the circumstances of their lives or even their experiences in schools, but their anger has little place even within some critical pedagogies.

Later, Ellsworth writes:

In their writing about critical pedagogy, educational researchers consistently place teachers/ professors at the center of the consciousness-raising activity … in contrast, many students came into [my course] with oppositional voices already formulated within various anti-racism and others movements.  These movements had not necessarily relied on intellectuals/ teachers to interpret their goals and programs to themselves or to others. (p. 311)

It is common in work in critical pedagogies in my field to also elevate the role of faculty in opening “student voices” that are presumed to have been silenced with oppressive structures, and Ellsworth again takes this head on:

White women, men and women of color, impoverished people, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, are not silenced in the sense implied by the literature on critical pedagogy.  They are just not talking in their authentic voices, or they are declining, refusing to talk at all, to critical educators who have been unable to acknowledge the presence of knowledges that are challenging and most likely inaccessible to their own social positions. (p. 313)


I think that now more than ever, we teachers need to expect that students are engaged in “restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry [that] human beings pursue in the world, and with each other” outside of school, and that they are finding audience via media that have little to do with the rational, analytical writing that we teach and reteach them throughout their formal education.

I’m not romanticizing the digital engagement of our students outside of classes, but I am hopeful that more than ever, students have the capacity to learn from one another, to organize, to speak sometimes rationally and sometimes out of  anger, depending on the message they want heard, and to mediate all of this.  To me, this makes much of the work that Freire writes of more possible– even with work still to be done to close digital divides.

I work with many first -generation students, and I’m moving more of my assignments into visual and mediated projects. They learn rational argument and they also learn how to edit sound and images to communicate in broader ways.  They learn to make digital stories connecting their lives to the theoretical work we’re reading, often with deeply emotional overtones.  Hopefully (though they sometimes do push back on this) they are learning to connect with others to learn completely apart from my presence.

I’m reading the classics of critical pedagogy much differently now in this work in which we can pursue the problems in our worlds via digital networks of our own creation.

So for me now, a major goal in all of my courses is teaching digital literacies.  That’s becoming more essential — and more critical, in very sense of the word.

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