Friday, February 27, 2015

Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group on Teaching to Transgress, Part 1.

These are my notes from the first of two meetings of the Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group to read and discuss bell hooks' book Teaching to Transgress (link to my booknote and review of the book). This first meeting took place on October 20, 2014. This post mostly contains notes I took during the discussion and some of my impressions of the event overall. Like most book clubs and discussion groups, this was a blend of the leader using guiding questions and people pretty much saying what they wanted, mostly related to the book.

  • bell hooks is here. It is quite a feeling when the book's author is present to lead the discussion. 
  • We start with the notion that words are action. Words in a book can be a catalyst of action for readers. Think of intersectionality of words and experience.
  • Words can be used to raise awareness. Think of where people are in terms of change, some more ready than others. 
  • Our nation (the United States) does not have a national discourse on imperialism; using charged words in daily life. Contrast that with other nations having a higher awareness of imperialism and globalism. 
  • When you have diversity, there is no safety. Sooner or later someone will say something that is not harmonious. 
  • How do you frame accountability without lessening pleasure in certain things? Say a work of literature you may enjoy yet is sexist or has other issues. The issue is that society puts us in a binary position. 
    • Is not being able to enjoy a work, after seeing it in a new light, a price to pay? 
  • Often, political radical movements have been against something.  It is difficult to know what actions have political significance in many movements and protests.
  • A reminder: learning often comes way after the moment of teaching. Consider the power of experience in transforming learning. 
  • This quote was mentioned: "In all cultural revolutions there are periods of chaos and confusion, times when grave mistakes are made. If we fear mistakes, doing things wrongly, constantly evaluating ourselves, we will never make the academy a culturally diverse place where scholars and the curricula address every dimension of that difference" (33). 
  • It is important to be able to have difficult conversations. In our pedagogy, encourage students to not think in absolutes; this is part of critical thinking. 
    • "The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself" (11). 
    • We struggle to create a language of intersectionality and of compassion. 
  • How do we use knowledge to open up to others, share the knowledge? How do we open up spaces where people, all people, can talk together and reflect?
    • In our pedagogies, do we explain/teach fairness in various ways versus simply being righteous about it? 
    • In the example of "fairness," maybe the word "justice" is a better word. 
  • You cannot bring change without education for critical thinking and consciousness. 
  • Theory in the academy has grown and evolved; practice has mostly remained the same. 
    • On a side note, very few well educated people are knowledgeable about Appalachia (this is something not often not talked about. As for me, prior to coming here, I did not know that much, though it is a gap I am working to remedy). 
    • We need to reflect on how our pedagogies  extend past the classroom. How do we transgress to have newer and liberatory models of learning? 
    • Are we only educators in the classroom? (Or I could also ask are we only librarians in the library? I am sure that is a question that could get a few librarians going on either side of the equation, but that is another story). This is a crucial question that needs to be asked. 
  • There are always choices in how things are framed? 
    • Trust is another issue and question. 
    • Interrogation is a tool of critical pedagogy. 
  •  "To create a culturally diverse academy we must commit ourselves fully. Learning from other movements for social change, from civil rights and feminist liberation efforts, we must accept the protracted nature of our struggle and be willing to remain both patient and vigilant. To commit ourselves to the work of transforming the academy so that it will be a place where culture diversity informs every aspect of our learning, we must embrace struggle and sacrifice. We cannot be easily discouraged. We cannot despair where there is conflict. Our solidarity must be affirmed by shared belief in a spirit of intellectual openness that celebrates diversity, welcomes dissent, and rejoices in collective dedication to truth" (33). 
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, quoted in the book, on technology, society, and a critique of capitalism. Given current events today, the guy was clearly a prophet with vision. Our civilization really is floundering. At time I wonder if we are too late:
    •  ". . . the stability of the large world house which is ours will involve a revolution of values to accompany the scientific and freedom revolutions engulfing the earth. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing'-oriented society to a 'person'-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy" (quoted in 27). 
    • On a reflection as I type these notes, I later on went on to read Cornel West's book Black Prophetic Fire. In a segment of the book, West speculates about the rise of an American Gibbon to document the rise and fall of the American Empire. Or as I said in my booknote of the book, maybe what Americans, who are notorious for not heeding lessons of history or listening to anybody, really need is a Harry Seldon (though they are just as likely not to listen to that figure neither).
    • By the way, the MLK quote comes from MLK's book Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community.
  • Integration is a way that silences the experiences of others and the capacity of listening. 
    • Sharing reading with others can be important in starting to open spaces, to get others to listen. 
    • There is living in the talking and sharing of knowledge. 

A side note, and this will have to remain vague in order to not name names. There was a moment during the discussion where there was a consideration of what I will label "being Appalachian enough" (as in knowing the region, being committed enough to the region, maybe a native of the region even). For a moment, that did make me feel a tad uncomfortable given I am not "Appalachian" (though I am doing my best to learn and adapt to my new adopted home). In many ways, I have had many homes, though I can say of all places, Berea may well be the most welcoming (even with its flaws, and it does have quite a few even if the locals don't always want to talk about them). As a favorite poet of mine wrote:

"Yo vengo de todas partes,
Y hacia todas partes voy:
Arte soy entre las artes,
En los montes, monte soy." --Jose Marti, Versos Sencillos

I think that I am at the right place and time to do some good. 

Another thing that stuck with me, and it did stick with a lot of the faculty and staff present in the discussion was the recent failure of Berea to pass a fairness ordinance.  What stuck with me was a quote. It was something a friend of mine from back in Tyler, Texas told me when I shared the news of the ordinance not passing with her. She simply said: you cannot escape Kentucky. Whether we here in the college want to admit it or not, that quote says a lot.