Pedagogy is not a Weapon: Defending Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces

[CW: discussion of sexual assault, trauma]

Ever since Socrates upbraided his followers in the Agora, there has been a strong tradition among educators to bitch about students and/or their various foibles. We all do it, and there’s no denying that this type of venting can serve a valuable purpose, if kept to the private and confidential realm of office talks or water-cooler chatter with colleagues. But student-shaming has moved beyond the confines of faculty lounge venting and become a cottage industry of sorts, as the past few years have shown that it can pay to be an educator with pissed-off hot takes about Kids These Days™.

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Flashback: Let Them Eat (Unbundled) Cake!

Oh, look–the “unbundling” folks are back at it, with a spate of recent articles in edtech and “edupreneur” sites dredging up the idea of finding “efficiencies” by stripping off certain components from the “process” of college/university education to make learning (which they define exclusively as degree completion, which should tell you something) more “streamlined.” Josh Kim has a good piece up today on Inside Higher Ed that pushes back against this “unbundling” fetish, rightly suggesting that it will do no more than exacerbate the divide between the privileged and everyone else. But this isn’t a new criticism of “unbundling.” We rail against Bryan Caplan’s blithe lack of self-awareness and is wrongheaded screeds “Against Education,” but let’s not forget that the disruption crowd has been riding this unbundling horse for a while. In fact, yours truly railed against this very trend three years ago, so instead of writing another rage-blog, I’ve decided to repost the original essay. The fact that it is still relevant today is a gloomy reflection on the state of higher education reformism. Continue reading “Flashback: Let Them Eat (Unbundled) Cake!”

The Progressive Stack and Standing for Inclusive Teaching

There are two fundamental truths about Inclusive Pedagogy: it is an eminently desirable set of practices for teaching in higher ed, and it is an eminently difficult set of practices for teaching in higher ed. To teach inclusively is to swim against the powerful tide of “conventional wisdom,” internalized biases, and socio-political pressures. For those of us who try to live out the ideals of critical pedagogy in our own practice, inclusive teaching is a sine qua non. Teaching and learning cannot be liberatory, cannot be a “practice of freedom,” if any students are excluded from, or prevented from acquiring the full benefits of, their educational environment.  Yet, we also know that any attempt at inclusive practices that does not acknowledge the structures of inequality in which we, our students, and our institutions operate cannot be successful. To acknowledge asymmetries, however, does not mean to legitimize them. Rather, it should be a necessary first step in undoing them to create a vital, democratic classroom. Continue reading “The Progressive Stack and Standing for Inclusive Teaching”

Identity Politics and the Eternal Banality of the White-Dude Pundit

[Welcome back to the blog after a summer writing recess in these parts. To celebrate the beginning of another year of regular posts, I’ve included extra profanity and GIFs for your viewing pleasure.]

In these profoundly unsettling times, where the current presidential administration and congressional majority have declared war on large swaths of American society, one can be forgiven for feeling anxious, under siege, frightened about their future. Communities of color, immigrants new and older, those who identify as LGBTQIA, students, the ill and financially precarious–many of them warned of the violence and oppression they faced, and warned us that violence and oppression would expand into the public square in ways that would seem unthinkable to those who’ve never had to worry about being on the receiving end of those processes. And, in what has been both pathetic and eminently predictable, white pundits–most of them male, all of them privileged–have been wringing their hands, armchair-quarterbacking with a furious intensity that only the smugly unempathetic elites can muster in their unearned self-assuredness. And they have SOLUTIONS, y’all. So. Many. Solutions.

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Who Chose to Fail?

There are two articles in the most recent issue of the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History that clearly demonstrate that we academic historians have failed-consistently and spectacularly-in one of our most essential undertakings. For all the talk about making History accessible to a broader public, the value of historical literacy for an educated citizenry and the health of a democracy, we have failed, and seem determined to continue that failure, to provide an adequate grounding in History to one of our main constituencies: college students. Continue reading “Who Chose to Fail?”

Middlebury, Murray, and the Problem of False Equivalence

Imagine, if you will, this scene. The university’s annual symposium has begun, an event that promises to advance the mission of the institution by tackling subjects of depth and complexity in the human condition. This year’s theme is “Remembering the Shoah: Saying ‘Never Again’ to Genocide,” challenging students and the university community to confront some of the darkest chapters of modern human history. And now, striding to the podium to deliver the keynote address, comes…David Irving. Irving’s presence was vehemently protested by numerous campus and community organizations, including Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League, but college’s president firmly believes that students should be challenged by opinions “outside their comfort zone.” To those students who protested the fact that a conference on the Holocaust was being keynoted by the most notorious holocaust-denier in the Western world, the local newspaper’s editorial board scoffed at their need for a so-called “safe space.” “The real world doesn’t always conform to your precious beliefs,” the newspaper editorialized; “you’d best learn that now.” One of the university’s professors defended the choice of Irving as a keynote speaker, declaring “nothing is more sacred than the right of free and unfettered academic discourse in the university. In this marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will naturally by subsumed by good ones-that’s how it always works.” 

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