Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Performativity Ethics?

Character education has been a topic and will continue to be a topic of discussion in one of my courses. During a recent conversation we had to list our "character traits" that we would want education to incorporate. I entered the dialogue with blank cards, arguing that inscribing such set of pre-ordained character traits limits the imagination of what the character of our students can be...by reaching for a particular character trait that is "pre-established" are we limiting ourselves to only thinking in the narrowed range of what invoking a signifier allows. What is lost in our imaginations if we signify the character traits we want to develop...would a different approach be to model those traits and "perform" them in class, not inscribing those traits with a "word" but performing them...performing the necessity of humour in the classroom and life, performing the notion that life is unfair at times and must be dealt with...if we performed these "traits" and thus through those performances became subjects with those traits would the imaginations of students (all of us) emerge to new possibilities of what relationships can be within not only the educational environment, but beyond the hallowed walls of the academy? What does a performance theory of ethics mean then? What does it look like? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of not (re)inscribing notions of character traits (and ethics) but rather invoking them through performance...I say performance because I think that such a performance emerges from practice, from a reflexive notion of what one is performing...I see it as having more agency than such "action"...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The notion of "ze"

I was recently conversing with an individual about Queer Theory and the often times precarious nature of working with Queer Theory in education. One issue that has always interested me was the notion of "ze" and "hir"...pronouns often utilized by individuals who identify as transgendered and/or transsexual. They utilize such pronouns to illustrate that gender is not a simple binary. I think the use of such pronouns is provacative and an "easy" way to think about the non-binary "reality" gender. I wonder however if such a move is problematic. Years ago, Feminists illustrated the universal status of "he" in language. "He" was the assumed pronoun to utilize when gender was unknown, it was unmarked. Nowadays, any "PC" person will recognize this and use "he or she," "he/she," or "s/he" or some or some other variation in both spoken text and written text. With this move, the way we spoke and wrote recognized the gendered nature of our lives and theroetically did not leave anyone out...yet the concept of adding "she" to text (written and spoken) re-iterated the binary notion of gender - showing that there are two "genders" that need to be recognized. Will simply broadening this to include "ze" and "hir" break down the binary - which a third term would obviously do since "bi" implies only two - but in the process create a new system that only recognizes "three" genders...asking those who identify with the "ze" pronoun to provide "proof" or evidence of their "third gendered nature"? Is it a step in the right direction perhaps...much like adding "she" to the way we wrote and spoke made the female visible? As an instructor would my disruption of the simple "binary" by including "ze" in my spoken and written text cause my students to question gender more? Or is it a fruitless endeavor to assume that a pronoun can capture the plethora of "genders" that exist...would creating a pronoun create a loss in what was? Could language ever capture the entirety of what it signifies for even "he" and "she" fail to display the complexity of gender within what is supposedly signified through those two terms? Would my disruption just re-establish gender stability except have another static identity included?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Dance of Writing

I was recently in front of the class, performing my role as an "instructor," when I made the analogy that writing is like a dance. My co-instructor and I were trying to explain to our students that we wanted them to show us in their discussion posts that they were engaging with the text(s). I was not sure if they were understanding what we meant by engagement...since arguably their (our?) education up to this point (1st year in undergraduate studies) has not allowed students (us?) to engage in knowledge, rather just reiterate what has already been written.

So, I wanted to convey to them that writing is a process, an exciting one at that. Such a desire, caused me to come up with the analogy of dance...the dynamic process between two bodies working with one another, feeding off one another, feeling one another to create a coherent "dance" - perhaps also infusing the notion of the erotic in education? While in traditional dance there is someone who "leads" and someone who "follows," such a process is complex for the person who leads has to develop the trust of the person who follows...power in a dance relationship is not simply "top-down" but also "bottom-up." Similar to the power relations in a classroom, since we as instructors share power with our students since they can guide the course content as much as we can...perhaps showing that the analogy of dance works for teaching in general also?

In many ways then, writing about a text or engaging with it, is like a dance. The text(s) will lead but only as far as the writer (student) will allow such a lead. Is there understanding? Comfort? Desire? Pleasure? How do each of these intersect with one another to allow the writer to engage with the text. Now, as I made this analogy some of the students may have thought I was a little odd, so my co-instructor stepped in to add some of her own thoughts about the "diversity" in writing, which lead me to chime in that such "diversity" is like the multiple styles of dance that exist..."Show us your tango, your rumba, your hip-hop, your breakdance...show us the dynamic between you and the text, how you engaged in it, how it lead you and you lead it?"

Is this analogy a beneficial analogy though? An answer that will depend on the student's relationship with dance. Since writing is often seen as a "task" or "chore" perhaps the ability to think about writing as a dance will infuse the needed passion and joy into the difficult task of writing/dancing. Although if one has bad experiences with dance, will such an analogy bring about the "chore" of dance practice, making writing seem more arduous and difficult?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ethics in Education

As the new academic term begins, I find myself in a class on ethics, justice, and virtue in education. Since education has taken a turn to focus on developing skills in students as opposed to developing critical thinking, the course wants to ask if "Character" education should be re-instituted into the purpose of education. Arguably, "character" education never left education, it just became an implicit purpose as opposed to an explicit purpose...afterall, students learn norms and " how to behave" in class in a variety of ways, just not through an actual course devoted to it. However, should character education become an explicit part of education where notions of citizenship, value, ethics, etc are discussed, where differences are utilized rather than norms?

While I think "character" education is an important topic, what dilemmas do we face as we think about it. How do we talk about character development in a way that is transformative and provacative, as opposed to limiting and marginalizing. Along with this, how does the research community around issues of education hinder the possibility of character education with its emphasis on quantifiable skills and achievement...is quantitative methodology inevitably de-humanizing the education system by propelling forward a notion of determinism and prediction? By this, I mean...if we privilege quantitative research (or positivist epistemology in general) because of its ability to illustrate patterns and "predict" what could potentially occur, do we eliminate the change, the unique relationship between each student in the desk and the complex environments around each of them? Do we deny the variability in humans and if so, what does that say about us?

Thinking about a particular part of education, I want to think about "sex education" and character education. I would argue that "sex education" is a form of character education. It in current "form" it teaches students that "abstinence" is best and heterosexual relationships are the only legitimate form of relationships - they are moral while anything outside of heterosexual relationships are immoral since they deserve no discussion unless through pathologization. Since sexual "ethics" is such a taboo and controversial subject matter, how can education trouble this form of sex education and could it do so through "character education?" In the current political environment, my guess would be no since 1) education funding has decreased and 2) sex education profers up abstinence instead of thinking about the "fact" that teens have sex and desires - giving them information will not make them or less sexual, it will just provide them with more information about issues of health, safety, and perhaps even the multiple forms of desire (i.e. oral, anal, S/M, etc.). How can we then re-insert sex into sex education and discuss notions of desire, pleasure, and perhaps a queer ethics of sexuality? How would such a format to "sex education" propel students into thinking about sex instead of feeling shame or embarassment when sex or desire or pleasures are brought into conversation...OR how do we embrace that shame to disrupt the power shame has been used to silence discussions on desire and sex, showing that sex (no matter how one "identifies") can be pleasurable but exists within a complex web of shame and moralizing that complicates it.

Beyond sex education though, should education incorporate civic courses that debate and discuss notions of citizenship, politics, etc...perhaps bringing in critical lenses such as feminism, postcolonialism, queer, and critical race theories? Would such an approach trouble the economic underpinnings that are part of education and minimize critical thinking...since such thinking would not create docile student bodies, but bodies of subversion and difference. Can character education do this or would character education simply re-assert or re-affirm norms of "majority" ethics centered on phallicized whiteness?