Teaching Manifesto

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

I’ve spent the past week at the University of Mary Washington as a fellow at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Summer Institute. There were wonderful keynote speakers — the amazing Tressie McMillan Cottom and Cathy Davidson and great “tracks” to choose from. I spent about a month trying to decide which track would be right and decided to choose Intro, not so much because I consider myself new to digital pedagogy but because I wanted a chance to have a sense of the foundations of why we do what we do in our physical and virtual classrooms.

Although the institute is about digital pedagogy, one of the most valuable things I’ve taken from it has been asking ourselves not simply what technology we use with our students but what the implications are of that technology. One of the powerful exercises we did was to break into groups and look behind the apps. Looking at their founders, their boards, where their capital came and is coming from and, most telling, their Terms of Service left me unsettled about the technology, including learning management software and companies like TurnItIn, that my students are using for their classes. Too many of these companies see their users as products to produce content for their platform and sources to harvest data from.

After several days of talking about pedagogy, mostly through discussions of writings by Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Seymour Papert, Sean Michael Morris led us in a series of timed writing exercises to get at what we thought about ourselves as teachers and our own pedagogy. (I didn’t write down the prompts so I’m guessing at them based on memory.) This is what I produced:

First exercise prompt: When did you first think of teaching, of yourself as a teacher? Start with “What I want to say” and write for 7 minutes without stopping, circling back to “what I want to say” if you get stuck.

What I want to say is that throughout most of my education I saw myself as a student. Even in grad school, even finishing my Ph.D., even in the classroom, I saw myself as trying to be a student with all the insecurity about whether I was good enough, real enough to be wherever I was. I have that same insecurity now. I teach from a place of insecurity, of instability, wondering almost constantly whether what I’m doing or having my students do is the right thing, if they’re getting anything out of what we’re doing.
What I want to say is when I feel like a teacher, when I see my pedagogy is when I see / listen to / look at what my students are making, writing, saying. And I can see the texts we’ve read or watched together in their work, how they’ve thought about them, how they’ve been, in some way, influenced by them.
Where I teach from, what I feel confident in is my activism. It’s  not hard for me to take a stand, to have a position. I do adhere to the Chicano studies philosophy that Rudolfo Acuña wrote that sometimes there is no other side. That there is a moral or just position, a good fight to fight as it were. So when I teach Chicana/o studies I teach activism, art and justice. I sometimes argue my position with my own thoughts, but mostly my students are getting my ideas from the readings, art and writing we do. I wonder sometimes why I don’t get more push back, something that friends and colleague in the field do get. Perhaps I’m good at using humor to defuse or lighten tension. Perhaps (though I hope not) it’s that my students see my passion and feel overwhelmed by it, are afraid to push against it. I really hope that isn’t the case.  And I don’t think I have anything more to say here and am just waiting for this last minute to stop.
We went from that exercise to constructing (quickly) a tweet that was our pedagogy in five words.  Mine is

 The final exercise was what I was dreading most because I knew our goal was to produce a teaching statement or philosophy. I’ve been working on materials for the job market and find that while all the materials produce anxiety, writing the teaching statement has left me hating what I’ve written. Our prompt to was to write something explaining why we teach. Maybe because of the earlier exercises or the feeling of the class being a community, as I started to write I began to tear up.  What I produced was something I thought I could put on my syllabi explaining to my students what I hoped the class would be like and why.
There are not enough voices engaged in Chicana/o studies in this university, in this state, in this country, in this world. Our artists, our people are under attack and it has pretty much ever been so. Yet there is so much that is significant in Chicana/o thought, in literature, art and in our own lives. I teach what I do the way I do because I want us to see it and talk about it together. I want my classes to add to and be part of this collection, to hear the voices from our past and amplify them. I want your voices to be amplified, your word to be read, your art seen.  And so there is a lot of for us to look at, to read, to watch, to uncover. It is work and it is amazing.
My writing partner for the exercise called what I wrote a “manifesto” and I was happy with the thought that that’s what I’m doing, teaching from the position of activism as an act of social change.
The final thing Sean asked us to do was to write either the opening or closing sentence of a speech on pedagogy.  My stab at that and end for this post:
Most important, we should ask ourselves whether what we are teaching is worth learning.
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