“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Confronting one another across differences means that we must change ideas about the way we learn; rather than fearing conflict we have find ways to use it as a catalyst for new thinking, for growth.
Just finished reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks late this evening, and now listening to a talk hooks gave at the Women of Color Conference. A few random thoughts follow.
I am very happy to now be teaching at an institution that is utterly diverse and representational of all of the races, classes and backgrounds of the neighborhoods it touches. The differences at the reference desk and in the classroom are astounding. There is genuine appreciation and a sincere desire to learn.
I went to Stanford thinking that class was mainly about materiality. It only took me a short while to understand that class was more than just a question of money, that it shaped values, attitudes, social relations, and the biases informed the way knowledge would be given and received.
I have been thinking a lot about class in preparation for an upcoming talk and how language and labels can differentiate between something that is purchased, sold to a collector, archived and preserved versus an item stolen, shared and passed among friends. Thinking about how to teach and study and learn about the things that I know inherently through experience in a way that will be inclusive but truthful to others whose experiences may only be academic, or on the periphery.
When those of us in the academy who are working class or from working class backgrounds share our perspectives, we subvert the tendency to focus only on the thoughts, attitudes, and experiences of those who are materially privileged.
One goal I have had for a while (with some urging from colleagues after tales of exasperated conversations gone bad) is to enter into more conversations about class and to point out situations that are inherently structured to ignore anything other than a white upper class bourgeois stance/background/advantages. This still feels a bit daunting to me to "call out" these situations (since they feel like they are everywhere all at once), but I do want to speak out more about all of the assumptions and "values" that come wrapped up in education and academia. In Teaching to Transgress, "Confronting Class" was a really great read in this regard.
When I entered my first classroom as a college professor and a feminist, I was deeply afraid of using authority in a way that would perpetuate class elitism and other forms of domination. Fearful that I might abuse power, I falsely pretended that no power difference existed between my students and myself. That was a mistake. Yet it was only as I began to interrogate my fear of "power"-the way that fear was related to my own class background where I had so often seen those with class power coerse, abuse and dominate those without-that I began to understand that power was not itself negative. It depended on what one did with it.
Feeling very reassured and happy that there are many friends discussing critical pedagogy, thinking about teaching, and encouraging Education as the Practice of Freedom.
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