On Silence

On Silence

The following article is republished from Hack Education with permission. Normally, we only post republications on the Page Two section of our site. However, we’re publishing this in the main section of the journal, because the issues Audrey Watters opens here should never be relegated to any back pages; rather, they should always be brought into the broadest daylight possible. Earlier this year Audrey and a handful of educators collaborated on a guide for teachers to use in starting conversations like this one. They write, “As educators we believe that we have a responsibility to use our classrooms to help young people grapple with and address the messiness of the world around them.” These are issues germane to the practice of critical pedagogy, and we do not see them as outside the purview of education. We cannot practice teaching outside of the society we live in, sheltered even from its most damaging and damaged confrontations.


I cracked open my copy of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals this morning to reread “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”

The essay contains one of the quotations for which Audre Lorde is best known: “Your silence will not protect you.” That sentence, even pulled out of context, is powerful — a reminder, a rejoinder, to speak.

But in the context of the entire essay — a beautiful essay on breast cancer, mortality, fear, race, visibility, and vulnerability — Lorde offers so much more than a highly quotable sentence on the responsibility or risk of silence or speech.

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This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


Danger and safety are both integral to education, particularly if one ascribes to critical pedagogy, which is, in many respects, about balancing the two elements. On one hand, it invites students and teachers alike to break free from safe thinking: to consider what they have been taught; to rethink the narratives, systems and hierarchies that have shaped their lives; and to make room for new and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. To do this effectively one must be willing to leave the security of assuredness and embrace the fact that learning can be a difficult and even painful process that shakes your foundations, changes you, and transforms the way you see the world.

However, critical pedagogy is also about recognizing and challenging the violence that is engendered in the social and political systems that surround us. It advocates for ongoing self-reflection and communication in education in order to cultivate safe spaces for critical engagement, dialogue, and even intimacy. It asks us to respect each other’s personhood, to work towards addressing the assumptions and prejudices that make learning environments unsafe and uninhabitable for so many, and to be mindful of the power we have to inflict damage on others. As a teacher I struggle to balance these two elements in my curriculum and my classroom. I find myself wondering: how can I create a safe space for dangerous ideas, and a dangerous space for safe thinking?

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A weak light filters in through frosted windows and splashes across a table-sized world map as a gallery of onlookers poke each other and whisper in hushed tones. Two figures stand over the map and point to borders and replicas of military units, vocally processing the pros and cons of allowing one nation water rights in exchange for economic and military support. As the two negotiators come closer to striking a deal, many in the gallery look visibly relieved while other become nervous and restless, turning toward their own compatriots to discuss behind a cupped hand how this new deal will impact their prosperity.

No, this is not a scene taken from a G18 summit or some high stakes tête-à-tête from a Tom Clancy novel, although as adults we are all a bit predisposed toward thinking this type of capability is something unique to our well-developed brains. This scene is just a regular Tuesday, or any other day of the week for that matter, in the 4th grade classroom of John Hunter as his students attempt to achieve the unachievable in the “World Peace Game.

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This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


It is easy for those of us invested in critical pedagogy to see need for major change in education in the U.S. It is also easy for us to write highly ideological manifesti that make sweeping philosophical statements about how things should be. One question I often hear from those getting their feet wet in critical pedagogy is where do I start? Many agree with the ideology and the goals of critical pedagogy and other movements seeking major change, but we cannot simply drop those changes into our current institutional structures. Never mind the fact that we have colleagues and students to win over before we can implement these changes with a chance at success.

But some of the issues raised by critical pedagogy are major ethical issues. It’s not that we can do something more efficiently or effectively, it’s that we see what we’re doing on the whole as being actually wrong. As a critical pedagogue, I can go along with something less effective much more easily than with something that goes against my newly pricked conscience. So when I disagree fundamentally with the direction something is headed, but am powerless to change it singlehandedly, what do I do? Do I forget about it and wash my hands of the situation? Do I leave in disgust? Do I bide my time until I can really do something? (And hope it doesn’t get worse in the mean time!) Do I try to make incremental changes, appeasing my conscience with the knowledge that I am improving things, albeit slowly?

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This article is a response submitted for our series about critical digital pedagogy. See the original CFP for details.


Educational standards limit the consciousness towards which critical pedagogy aims. Yet, those committed to developing critical digital pedagogies need to pay attention to standards anyway. Specifically, critical digital pedagogues at all levels of education must familiarize themselves with standards regarding Information and Communications Technology (ICT) literacy; K-12 educators because these standards may dominate your teaching circumstances, and post-K-12 because these standards will have dominated the learning circumstances of your students. Promoted by organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), and the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), standards for ICT literacy represent a key component of cultural and political oppression with which all of our students must become critically conscious.

Let me slow down a bit, lest I fall prey to a common complaint about critical pedagogy in any form. I am not suggesting organizations like the ISTE, P21, or CCSSI (and the governments that listen to them) are promoting ICT literacy standards designed to systematically oppress students (and teachers) required to adhere to them; this is not a call to gather your pitchforks and torches. Rather, I am suggesting these organizations and governments are promoting ICT literacy standards that are limited, and therefore limiting. In their current state, these standards generate a culture of silence about some of the possibilities of ICT literacy in and for education, and the capabilities of teachers and students engaged with technologies in the classroom.

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During the summer of 2013, I scratched my seven-year itch. I broke up with Facebook.

I first met the social media space in 2006, when the platform was in many ways an energetic youth bent on embracing all of life’s pleasures. Our relationship, like so many others, was full of vibrancy in the beginning. We shared our hopes and dreams, pictures of silly and significant events, and even shared music to chronicle our strengths and shadows. As our partnership matured, and Facebook began trying on new looks like the newsfeed, different privacy options, and even chat and mail, the once dazzling space dulled. We used to so clearly communicate, uninhibited by outside influence. And that quickly changed. As if almost overnight, Facebook began acting out, hiding important posts on the newsfeed and only showing what Facebook thought was most relevant or important. I began distancing myself in 2010. I could feel the shift in the site’s behaviors and habits, and I wasn’t sure then what that change meant for me or our relationship. In the final few years, I still occasionally flirted with Facebook, but I kept a distance; and in 2013, I finally left Facebook for good.

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For many, the classroom is an alienating place. There are environmental factors that play into this (and monetary factors that play into these environmental ones). There are stigmas, expectations, and traditions that may interfere with learning. In attending and visiting various college campuses around the country I frequently see the same colorless, characterless spaces, each one artificially illuminated by fluorescent light. In fact, I dare you to type “schools look like” into Google and see how the program autocompletes the thought. Or fill it in yourself. If you have spent enough time near the institution, it is likely you and the search algorithm will pick up on the same cultural trend: schools look like prisons. And by observing the current boom in 21st century classroom design companies, I know that the market (and incidentally, Foucault) agrees with me.

More troubling, however, are the less visible cultural biases that manifest in these traditional classroom spaces. When left unmodified, the “default settings” and practices of today’s classrooms may be further marginalizing diverse student populations. One scholar, Mildred Jordan, observes a variety of “negative affects that a mainstream American educational experience can have on African American and other minority students.” In fact, Jordan goes as far as to suggest that, “the behavior of Black students is often seen as being disruptive rather than an expression of their own cultural styles.” While this assertion is troublesome enough, I want to argue further that the traditional classroom doesn’t even capture the needs of the mainstream student well. The Gallup survey states that student engagement at the high school level is as low as 4 in 10 students. With classroom disengagement rates soaring, it appears that no class, race, or culture has discovered immunity (albeit disproportionately affecting marginalized populations). According to a recently released report, even the teachers are becoming increasingly disengaged with the classroom, lacking the “energy, insights, and resilience that effective teaching” requires. And it’s the students who pay the price.

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Hospitality in the classroom and digital pedagogical practices encourage participatory pedagogy and collective action. This model of learning and teaching emphasizes the shared responsibility between all members to contribute to and actively further the intellectual exchange and critical inquiry of the course; indeed, this model of learning can frame how we understand subjectivity itself. Google docs, for example, can be thought of as merely a technological innovation that enables collaborative notetaking. But the programming structure of Google docs closely resembles Clay Shirky’s articulation in Here Comes Everybody of how collective action invokes subjectivity by tying one person’s identity to the identity of the group and making a decision of a group binding on all individual members (51). A collaboratively constructed Google document creates a site of authoring — and self-authoring — that materially represents the multiplicity of subjectivity. Unlike “group work” (where students simply divide the workload of a project into discrete, individual tasks), the collaborative production of participatory pedagogy derives from a shared responsibility, vision, decision-making, and creation that cannot be divided.

As a critical digital pedagogue, I owe a great debt to Jacques Derrida. Derridean concepts of ethical hospitality, freeplay, jouissance, and différance have always felt intimately human to me. The vulnerability to rupture, the burdens and liberations of undecidability, the spirit of generosity in multiplicity . . . the conditions underpinning Derridean theory are brimming with deeply humanistic inquiry. These same conditions can instruct educators not only how to facilitate participatory pedagogy and collective action in our classrooms, but also about knowledge production as communal intellectual rigor and joy.

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I have colleagues who invoke “Best Practices” the way that evangelical Christians quote the Bible: God has spoken. During these conversations, I am tempted to say in a serious voice, “Best Practices dictate that teaching writing should include loud music in a public place and synchronized dancing. In short, a flash mob.” I mean, if Best Practices are really going to be the end-all of pedagogy, I want them to be cool.

I had a revelation about Best Practices during a discussion with my students about a similar concept: universal design solutions. We were reading Cradle to Cradle, a book which challenges industry to become more sustainable through ecologically smart design and which raises questions about what architects call universal design solutions. Braungart and McDonough weren’t talking about students. They were talking about household products like detergent. Here’s how a universal design solution works: in order to market the same detergent across the country, the industry designs it to work effectively anywhere, regardless of water quality, no matter what is being washed. That means if I’m washing out my tea mug at a sink with soft water, I use the same detergent as someone 500 miles away washing a greasy pan in hard water. The ecologically devastating result is that I dump harsh chemicals, which were never necessary in the first place, into the waste stream and eventually the water supply, harming aquatic life for no good reason.

Braungart and McDonough summed it up this way: “To achieve their universal design solutions, manufacturers design for the worst-case scenario: they design a product for the worst possible circumstance, so that it will always operate with the same efficacy.” (30) One of my students summed it up this way: “If you care about ecology, universal design solutions suck.”

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This article is the seventh in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


 “…Literature can be our teacher as well as our object of investigation”
—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

To say that being the only African American woman professor at a small, liberal arts college in the rural United States is a series of racial microaggressions (and macroaggressions) waiting to happen is something of an understatement. And still, you are hopeful that the aspirational institution that sent for you will be able to support you on its campus. Initially, you may ignore being regularly mistaken by your colleagues for the other (only) Black woman on campus, or be willing to patiently explain that the institution’s expectation that you mentor every Black student is not only unreasonable, but not conducive to successful tenure. By the time you encounter the catch-22 of seeming uncongenial, in part, because you carefully consider the social spaces you inhabit and very few of your colleagues seem to notice the confederate flags that casually drape the windows of cars parked in front of too many local watering holes, you begin to feel less hopeful.

In that American outpost, teaching became my refuge. With very little interference, I began to create courses which integrated canonical material from my subject areas of African American Literature, African Diaspora Literature and Black Studies with urban fiction, Hip Hop music and other forms of less traditional Black literary expression. These types of courses on a stodgy, rural, liberal arts campus encouraged a faithful student following, and that following felt like protection against the racist and sexist campus community outside the classroom. But it was not real protection; it couldn’t be. Through the experience of teaching Black urban literature, I soon came to realize that continued innovation cannot thrive in hostile spaces and that students’ goodwill cannot substitute for professional collegiality. For as bell hooks argues in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom “‘engaged pedagogy’ … means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” (15)

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The Political Power of Play

The Political Power of Play

This peer-reviewed article was simultaneously prepared as a keynote address for Re:Humanities 2014, a peer-reviewed undergraduate digital humanities conference held by the TriCollege Digital Humanities Initiative (Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore). The slides for the keynote are here.

We are accustomed to thinking about play as frivolous. We think of play as something that young children do; play is not serious, it doesn’t encourage deep, intellectual thought, it must be set aside as one grows older for quiet, reserved contemplation. Play is fun and pleasurable, the supposed opposite of rigorous education. Yet, Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers), is well known for his claim: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” People who work in the arena of higher education have extended this sentiment to grown-up children: Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel argue that play constitutes a new form of critical inquiry; Cathy Davidson suggests, in Now You See It, that game mechanics should be used to reformulate some of the most critical learning goals in education; game designer and evangelist Jane McGonigal notes that “reality is broken” and that games are the solution to many of our problems — that if we played games as if our lives depended on them (especially collaborative games), we would learn that challenges never stop, and that it is worth risking absolute failure for an epic win. Accordingly, increasing numbers of educators are tuning into the idea of play as something serious and rigorous. A Serious Play Conference is held annually by key game developers as well as educators; while Michigan State University offers a Masters of Arts in “Serious Games.”

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Education cannot just be filling an empty brain, but must be as Paulo Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Learning in prison is about the future that is at stake and the society at large. Prison rehabilitation should be based on process not content — should be focused on learning to make good moral decisions in a variety of situations and not a single dogmatic code of right behavior in our society. 

A pedagogy of prison rehabilitation is a life-or-death pedagogy. If even one inmate becomes a responsible, contributing member of society, there is a potential reduction of hundreds of new crimes and their potential victims. To the offender this means a life of integrity, new and positive relationships, a sense of peace and belonging, and a new self-efficacy. If the offender does not change, then it could be death on the streets, death in addiction or overdose, or a long slow death by the revolving door in and out of prison.

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This article is the fourth in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


I was in my car, pulling into the driveway after picking up some takeout. The radio was tuned to NPR, but I wasn’t paying that close of attention. I was exhausted after a long day of teaching and meetings.

The next day’s lesson was ready to go.

I wanted to clear my mind of school. I wanted to go home, see my family, and relax for the evening.

But, as I was reaching for the keys, I heard breaking news about the new way Facebook users would be able to classify their gender on their profile. I was then confronted with a choice. We have all been there. Do I ignore the information being offered to me so that I can continue on my way, or do I take the time to listen, knowing that I might hear something that compels me to rethink the plans for my next class?

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This article is the third in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


“To the naked eye, I may seem normal just like another student or individual; however, behind the mask, I am constantly reminded that I am different from everybody else. I am not sure when I will be able to overcome these fears and doubts because I sometimes feel like I cannot be myself in school or back home. To the naked eye, I am known as Alexander; however, behind the mask, I am known as a hard-of-hearing queer Latino. Would there be a day that individuals like me ever feel comfortable? I am not sure, maybe in a near future, or maybe not because it all depends on how accepting our education and culture can be.”

We write together to share our experiences of difference, and to explore the question of how our schools and classrooms might become spaces where we can share ourselves in honesty and safety, where we can grow and learn together. We are Alexander Hernandez, a college student at a small liberal arts institution, and Deborah Seltzer-Kelly, a professor of educational philosophy at that college. This essay brings together selections from our ongoing conversations on this topic, moving between excerpts of papers Alex wrote for a class in educational philosophy taught by Debbie, and passages we wrote together specifically for this project.

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This article is the second in a series about pedagogical alterity. See the original CFP for more details.


I am stuck with the following story — not only with it, but by it. My decision to articulate it is always marked by haltings and hesitations, whether I’m inscribing it here or speaking it to friends and/or colleagues. It is, for me at least, a story of my failure to account for alterity in the classroom, and I do not wish its telling to be read as an attempt to confess and absolve myself, nor as a compelling anecdote nonchalantly recounted over coffee: a hard-boiled tale from my time in the pedagogical trenches. I would humbly offer it as a story that haunts me, one that materializes intermittently as a call to remember the latent violence beneath (my) pedagogical authority.

But it is also a story about the unintended resonances and consequences of a teacher’s words. Who am I, then, to try and govern the scene of its utterance? I can only tell this tale in order to let it go, and so I will — but, as one who remains responsible for it, only after some brief meditations on bell hooks, Jacques Derrida, and the medium in which it is here articulated.

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On Being a Double Agent

On Being a Double Agent

When I was in graduate school working on my Ph.D. in English, I spent quite a few hours in the TA office, an expansive room in the basement of the English building, filled with cubicle partitions that barely demarcated the space allocated to each of the 20 desks. Each desk space was shared by two TAs, and the crowded condition led to lots of chatting, camaraderie, and general discussion, often on the topic of how our teaching was going. Most of us taught Freshman Composition, and the comp program was well-designed to generate growth in student writing. One of its strengths was the freedom it gave instructors to design their own assignments, and that group of TAs developed some amazing writing prompts and research projects.

Yet, a common trend in the TA office chatter was what to do in class on a given day. Unlike many of the TAs who were around 23 to 27 years old, straight out of undergraduate programs or master’s programs, I was older and had spent seven years teaching English in junior high and high school. To obtain my teaching license after earning a bachelor’s in English, I had taken pedagogy courses and national exams. During those seven years in a public school classroom, I had attended an almost interminable list of professional development workshops, and I worked closely with other educators to “hone my craft” of teaching. Listening to the discussions around me, I realized that I had some skills from those experiences that others were lacking.

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Cracking Open the Curriculum

Cracking Open the Curriculum

“‘I hate it when you talk like this . . .’

‘I merely observe that this is a quantum Universe and, as such, what happens is neither random nor determined. There are potentialities and any third factor–humans are such a factor–will affect the outcome.’

‘And free will?’

‘Is your capacity to affect the outcome.’”

~ Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods

I challenge you to look boldly at today’s curriculum. Hold it in your hands, as every educator should, and peer into it. Just below the surface lies a labyrinth of possibilities. Its architecture is Deleuzean in concept, manifest folds upon folds. Curriculum is nebulous, expansive, recursive. As educators, we must do more than expect critical engagement from our students — we must model it in our efforts to change, modify, and adopt new learning practices. An educational system emerging from the demands of an industrial nation begins to crack in the light of post-industrialism. New literacies arise; epistemologies change. We must enter the labyrinth despite the minotaur.

In the deepest recesses of academia, we find ourselves still heavily influenced by the pervading capitalist culture informing our learning communities. This is damaging. Economic gain and critical pedagogy are too frequently at odds. The academy has become, among other things, a place to produce certified experts each designated to complete their commercial task(s). When in this model, then, does the student get to consider the system itself? We cannot afford to leave it unexamined. Consider this: we work, shop, eat, and live in a society where much of our produce has lost a significant portion of its nutrient value through generations of poor crop management, yet we gloss over these details in historical narratives that recast these losses as advancements in efficiency and industrial progress. I, for one, feel alienated from the primal necessities of life, hidden somewhere behind the well-stocked supermarket shelves. Upon reflection, however, I realize that many of these commodities have visited much more of the world than I have. Without well-developed critical thinking skills, our students will come to depend on — and reproduce — this historical narrative just as the current economy depends on and reproduces these crops.

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Confessions of a Subversive Student

Confessions of a Subversive Student

My relationship with education has always been a kind of dissonant harmony. I have always loved learning, yet I have always felt like a rogue in the regimented institutions of homogenization. Today, the dissonance continues as I find myself at times upholding and perpetuating systems of conformity in education, while simultaneously trying to disrupt and subvert those systems in order to shake loose their inhumanities and ultimately help them evolve past obsolete structural paradigms. Reconciliation is slow-going and messy. The pendulum must swing a wide arc before settling in its consonant center.

In my fifth grade class, we had a mock monetary system in which we earned fake dollars for good grades and behavior. The “money” was to be spent at “sales” during which our teacher provided trinkets and candy, etc. that we could purchase. This fake economy — supposedly designed to teach us about the “real” economy — was a regulated, glorified reward system for obedience and the completion of worksheets. I used the fake currency to set up my own black market. I hired some classmates, and we expanded our business to other classes that didn’t even use the currency except in my shadow economy. I got in trouble for this.

That same year, my teacher asked me if she could try to publish a political cartoon about endangered species that I made for a class assignment (“sure,” I told her). Perhaps she wasn’t serious, but it made me consider the possibility that the things I did in school might have merit in the “real world.” The prospect of publishing a cartoon connected my education to the “real world” much more significantly than the fake money did.

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The ability or inability of a group or culture to progress is in direct relationship to the proliferation of aphorism within it. General statements of fact and abbreviations of great wisdom are misleading in that they censure further inquiry and discussion. The brilliance of our predecessors was never meant to be carved into stone monuments, but as a point from which our own meditations should depart. When we rest on their laurels we languor, we enjoy a tenure of torpor. We cannot attend old leadership any more than we can wait for new leaders. We must take the lead.

I talk to leaders every day. Because every day I am in contact with teachers who have an array of backgrounds, an array of pedagogical stances, an array of fears and beliefs. I hear teachers write about their students — encouraging them, disparaging them, condoning and cursing them — and I hear teachers write about their profession, usually from a perspective of discontent, of everything being not-quite-right. Teachers are spooked by their institutions, they’re intimidated by men and intimidated by women, no one is paid enough, and the list of crises in education seems impossibly long. Tenure and money are not solutions, online education is fraught, every single person deserves better treatment than they receive. Sisyphus had it easy.

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I may have created a racist. I am an adjunct instructor at a large, public university in a rural area of the country. Given the media attention surrounding the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, now those outside academia know the general powerlessness and insecurity of that position. I am also a youngish, short, woman of color from a lower socio-economic background. One colleague once remarked about my appearance that I was “a young, small girl with a sweet face.” At the intersection of gender, ethnicity/race, class and even physical appearance, I generally am at the “less power” end of the spectrum. So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from a white, male, probably middle-class student who is at least half a foot taller than me expressing anger and hostility. The email from a student I’ll call John read that he must speak up against a decision I had made that left him feeling powerless. Why was John so angry? What was it about my actions that left him feeling so powerless?

To provide a little context, I teach an upper division course, taken generally by juniors and seniors. John is in his senior year, and from what I understand, in his final semester at the large, public university. According to John, he has been working long hours at a job and also doing a lot of interviews to secure a job once he graduates. He is enrolled in other courses, but only has my class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. John, however, hardly attends my class. In fact, I remember him approaching me after class once to introduce himself and apologize for missing class. “I will try not to miss any more class,” he stated. I don’t think I ever saw him again until a few days ago. He came to my office to plead his case on why he deserved an extension on an assignment.

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Intimacy lacks a satisfying definition. It is, according to the New American Oxford Dictionary, “a close familiarity of friendship; a private atmosphere; or an intimate act (especially sex).” To be intimate with someone means you’re closely acquainted. These are not satisfying descriptions, as they fail to touch at all on the emotional ferocity and pleasure that the proximity to someone we esteem brings. There is nothing more soothing than an intimate conversation — the kind that lasts until three in the morning, leaving you glowing with warm satisfaction. It leaves you aching for more. These are often the best ways of learning, about someone else or about yourself. These conversations have the capability to transform ideas. They are moments for teaching, and for learning. Intimacy between friends or lovers is seen as a good thing.

There is a further point to be considered, and that is the matter of intimacy in another setting — a classroom. Intimacy in an adult classroom, is a rather sticky subject: is it allowed, and to what extent? In transformatory education, we must explore what Paulo Freire calls “the distance between the teacher and the taught.” The liminal space of possibility and uncertainty. Why must we mess up pedagogy with intimacy? Because when working between order and chaos we can produce either with a simple action.

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An Open Letter to My Students

An Open Letter to My Students

The following is a letter to my first- and second-year music theory and aural skills students at The University of Colorado–Boulder. This is my second semester at CU, and the music students and I are still getting to know each other. For some, this will be their first semester with me; others are still getting used to my pedagogical quirks. To help frame the semester, I will have them read and discuss this open letter.

My most profound educational experience was not a lecture, or a test, and certainly not a homework assignment from a workbook. My most profound educational experience was playing second horn for a brass sectional for our conservatory orchestra. We were playing Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, a piece full of difficult passages for the brass players. Our principal horn was away for an audition on that day, and our horn professor, Dale Clevenger (principal horn of the Chicago Symphony), played in his place. I sat right next to him, seeing and hearing what he was doing first-hand, and trying to match or complement him as I played. Even though he only talked to me for a fraction of the time, that single two-hour rehearsal was easily worth a year of lessons, or dozens of concerts. And no amount of lectures or readings could have accomplished what was accomplished by playing a hard piece alongside the greatest horn player in the world, trying to match his sound as I heard it.

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Teachers don’t teach; instructors don’t really instruct. The lecture-based course fell out of favor years ago, and we know today to bring front and center the role students play in their own learning. “Education,” says Paulo Freire, “becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” When critical and independent thinking are the most valuable products of learning, we must ask and make space for students to work and create on their own. It isn’t enough for them to take notes and then recite; learners must invent — not just the products of their knowledge, but also their own learning.
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This is the first article in a series focused on creating a dialogue among K-12 and post-secondary pedagogies and pedagogues. We will be accepting submissions for the related CFP throughout Summer 2013. Click here to find out more.

On my luckier days, I am gifted a few invisible moments at pick-up time before my son or one of his preschool classmates calls my name. It’s my time to see them as they are without me — a rare opportunity for a parent. Today is a lucky day, and I covertly watch a good friend’s daughter balancing in the low branches of a tree. She hesitates for a moment, one last look at the leaves above and the ground below. Her knees bent, lips set in a determined line. Then a slight bounce and she’s in the air, arms high, eyes wide, a miniature Amelia Earhart. But even Earhart struggled. The ground is there before she’s ready, her surprised feet don’t stick the landing and her knees and palms meet the woodchips roughly. There’s a short silence before her tears well in time with the pink scrapes on her knees.
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From all the jails the Boys and Girls
Ecstatically leap—
Beloved only Afternoon
That Prison doesn’t keep

They storm the Earth and stun the Air,
A Mob of solid Bliss—
Alas—that Frowns should lie in wait
For such a Foe as this—

— Emily Dickinson

Sometimes all you need is a Petri dish to grow an epidemic.

The point of any pedagogy is not the length of the course, size of the classroom, the headcount, or the completion or attrition rates. Pedagogy is unfazed by numbers; it is never outweighed by scale. Good pedagogy can be enacted in a room with one or two students, or in an online environment with thousands. This is because pedagogy is responsive, able to grow to the space it must inhabit, and its goal is a shift in thinking, which is spreadable by a single learner or by ten or by tens of hundreds.
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“Certainly anybody who has taught at the postsecondary level has had students who regard school as an inconvenience and lead soap-opera lives, but fortunately those students are not the norm. However, for Mr. Wahl they are the norm. How he could even try to teach so many academic bottom feeders is beyond me.” —Frank P. Vazzano

When we talk about students in public venues, anywhere from crowded rooms to publications to Twitter, what we say can have a deep affect on how our students see themselves. Linda Adler-Kassner discusses a concept called ‘framing’ in her 2000 book The Activist WPA. (‘Framing’ is arguably inspired from Kenneth Burke’s development of framing and language-use.) The basic idea is that we frame concepts. Frames are like picture frames which give our concepts boundaries and discrete confines. There have been several language, education and rhetorical scholars that use the concept of framing, but despite numerous documents arguing for conscious language use as it involves student-teacher interaction, many scholars are still missing the boat when it comes to the importance of the connection between language and engagement.
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Play is making a comeback. There have been TED Talks, peer-reviewed articles in pediatrics journals, pieces in The Atlantic, and an entire industry now devoted to the “right” kind of play for our kids’ development. So why devote another 2000+ words to play and pedagogy, especially because it has already been done well by the creators of this very site?

Part I
I’ve learned a great deal from watching my two kids, currently aged just four and almost six. I’ve watched them perform free imaginative play, interactive narrative play, and rules-driven play. Currently the conflict in my household is between the elder sister, who is obsessed with making sure everyone follows the rules, and her younger brother, who is still more interested in exploring and experimenting, happily making it up as he goes along.
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Teaching is a moral act. Our choice of course content is a moral decision, but so is the relationship we cultivate with students. Both physical and digital learning spaces require us to practice a politics of teaching, whether we’re conscious of it or not. However, traditional relationships between students and teachers come freighted with a model of interaction that often impedes learning. They are hierarchical. Progressive teaching, informed by a critical attention to pedagogy, resets the variables and insists on the classroom as a site of moral agency.

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This is the third in a series of articles that investigates hybridity as it relates to our positions as teachers and scholars, but also as learners, composers, and community members. We also consider the impetus for the naming of this journal and propose various directions the conversations might take us. Click here for part one, “Virtuality and Empiricism,” and here for part two, “What is Hybrid Pedagogy?”

Teaching is a practice. Good teaching is an engaged, reflective, and generous practice. Pedagogy is not just talking and thinking about teaching. Pedagogy is the place where philosophy and practice meet (aka “praxis”). It’s vibrant and embodied, meditative and productive. Good pedagogy takes both teaching and learning as its subjects.

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The rise of stuff like hybrid pedagogy, open source content, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) is changing the relationships between teachers, students, and the technologies they share. Pedagogy is no longer solely the domain of instructors; we must open the dialogue to students. This article starts a new strand on Hybrid Pedagogy in which we begin to disrupt the student / teacher binary by bringing students more fully into the conversation about their own learning.

I’m not sure how to talk to teachers about teaching.

I’m not a pedagogue. I’m not yet a college graduate, for that matter. I am on Twitter (@TeoBishop), and when I saw that Hybrid Pedagogy was hosting a #digped chat with Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold), the author of Net Smart, a book which explores how we might use new media more mindfully, I was enthusiastic to participate. I’m also a student at Marylhurst University, and a regular blogger and social media user, so I figured I would have something to contribute to the conversation.

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Encouraging learning is an act of subtle manipulation. When we enter a classroom, we’re stepping onto a stage. This is true no matter how student-centered our classroom is, because our students are also stepping onto a stage (or into an audience). Even in the most open learning environments, we all play roles: the teacher, the student, the devil’s advocate, the reporter, the questioner, the dictator, the grader, the teacher’s pet. It’s in the careful modulation of these roles that we can actively control a learning environment. [Jesse writes this last sentence fully aware that his co-author and much of his audience will balk at the word “control.”] This issue of control is a delicate one, because the work we do in classrooms (as both teachers and students) depends on a very deliberate attention to how we manage the space and how we express ourselves within it. The work we do in classrooms depends on us finding a careful balance between asserting control and ceding it.

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This is the second in a series of articles that investigates hybridity as it relates to our positions as teachers and scholars, but also as learners, composers, and community members. We also consider the impetus for the naming of this journal and propose various directions the conversations might take us.

In a broad sense, my own scholarly work is about the (sometimes wondrous, sometimes horrifying) relationship between bodies and technology. As our flesh is made intangible in the digital age, we find ourselves increasingly interested in bodies, dead and otherwise–in cadavers, crime scenes, bodily mutilation, and torture–in shows like Six Feet Under and The Walking Dead, films like Saw, video games like Gears of War, and novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is, by no means, a newfound fascination, but reflects a far more universal fear: a fear Shakespeare explores in Hamlet, beginning with the ominous words “Who’s there?”; a fear Mary Shelley explores in Frankenstein, wondering about identity and physicality from the first phrase, “I am by birth”; and a fear Herman Melville explores in “The Tartarus of Maids,” where he describes “blank-looking girls” working in a paper factory, slaves to a new-fangled machine.  Each author wonders what constitutes a self, of what sort of matter are we made, what it is to be a body, to be human. Each wonders where our (technological and political) machines end and we begin.

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One of the most innovative educational ideas of the last century, we propose, came from Paulo Friere, the Brazilian educational theorist and populist. In his critique of “the banking model of education” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes,

“Those who use the banking approach, knowingly or unknowingly (for there are innumerable well-intentioned bank-clerk teachers who do not realize that they are serving only to dehumanize), fail to perceive that the deposits themselves contain contradictions about reality.”

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This is the first in a series of articles that investigates hybridity as it relates to our positions as teachers and scholars, but also as learners, composers, and community members. We also consider the impetus for the naming of this journal and propose various directions the conversations might take us. Click here for part two, “What is Hybrid Pedagogy?” Click here for part three, “What Does Hybrid Pedagogy Do?”

A critical mind usually avoids binaries. We know that more than two political parties can exist, that gender is constructed, and that emphatic absolutes kill conversation. We live in a world of negotiated hybridity on a variety of levels. Everything about the word calls up a vision of science and the future: hybrid cars, hybrid humans, hybrid flower seeds. Rarely do we consider the applications of a term that floats around us and permeates our daily experiences. Hybridity, as this journal proclaims, is foundational to teaching and learning. What does this kind of hybridity imply?

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The Tangle of Assessment

The Tangle of Assessment

Grading and assessment are curious beasts, activities many instructors love to hate but ones that nonetheless undergird the institutions where we work.

Peter Elbow begins his essay “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment” with the mission to “attempt to sort out different acts we call assessment” (187). It’s interesting to note his specific phrasing here. He doesn’t say that he intends to “sort out assessment” but rather that he intends to “sort out different acts we call assessment.” From the first sentence of his essay, Elbow makes clear that assessment is a complicated and potentially fractious subject, one that he treads lightly. He continues, “I have been working on this tangle not just because it is interesting and important in itself but because assessment tends so much to drive and control teaching. Much of what we do in the classroom is determined by the assessment structures we work under” (187). The choices we make about assessment, often at the outset of a course (in the syllabus), guide much of what happens within the course. Assessment is a “tangle” for Elbow, both because it is difficult to navigate with any true objectivity and because ideas about assessment influence so much of what happens at institutions and in classrooms.

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In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.”

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The Student 2.0

The Student 2.0

Students are evolving. The student 2.0 is an altogether different animal from the student 1.0. And our classrooms are ecosystems, an environment all their own, where we each must decide how to engage this new species of student. We teeter at a slowly disintegrating threshold, one foot in a physical world and the other in a virtual one. Our students are no longer just bodies in desks; they are no longer vessels. They have become compilations, amalgams, a concatenation of web sites. They are the people in front of us, but also their avatars in World of Warcraft and the profiles they create on FaceBook. They speak with mouths, but also with fingers tapping briskly at the keys of their smart phones. When they want to “reach out and touch someone,” they use Skype and Twitter. They have become more than just ears and eyes and brains to feed. Now, they feed us, and themselves, and each other, with an endless parade of texted and tweeted characters. Shouldn’t we, as teachers 2.0, work with not against the flow of these seemingly errant 1s and 0s? Shouldn’t student-centered learning address itself, as fully as possible, to this new breed of student? Shouldn’t we understand our students as more than just inert flesh?

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