Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Doing Democracy: A Final Lecture 2012

Endings are always a time to look back. At the end of one’s life, one looks back on the life lived while those around one’s self do the same. At the end of a relationship, one looks back to see what went wrong along with what went right. And here, at the end of a course, we look back to see the journey - the intellectual journey - we have been on. So, as we end this class we might look back at our experiences and rehash what we read, thought about, discussed, and seen these past 15 weeks. We might literally RE-VIEW the class by going from week to week, reminding ourselves of what we “did” and perhaps should know upon leaving this class. Such an approach would begin with thinking about “democracy” through John Dewey, remembering the importance and limitations of educational policy, contemplating again the position of being an observer, a spectator, a viewer, the representations of gender at the American Girl store and Andi Zeisler...and so on and so forth.

Yet, such an approach seems rather outdated. It assumes, I think, that you as students need me as teacher to “explain” to you the readings and what is important from them...Rather than say allowing you to review and think about the readings on your own time as you see necessary since learning happens not in a linear fashion but in strange ways.

As such, I would rather start with the assumption that you don’t need me to explain this course to you because you are capable and intelligent individuals who can make sense of this course in any number of ways. Instead, I want to use this final lecture to “review” the course by viewing it differently, to demonstrate - rather than explain - the implications of this course as I see them myself.

There are many different ways to conceive of and think about the educational project. We can think of it as an act of transmission, an act of liberation, an act of oppression. We can think about and conceive of education as maintaining the status quo, as a mode of social reproduction, or as a push for social justice. What I think I have learned by thinking through the various materials of this course is that the way we frame the issues we talk about impacts the attitudes we take towards those very issues. And those issues are always inevitably connected to the bodies of our students, ourselves, and our community. I think perhaps Biesta illuminated this best when he asked us to leave open - quite radically - the question of the “human” and so here at the end, I want to use Biesta’s work as a frame to look back on our course and time together...

We might see that what we read, discussed, and experienced was not so much a quest for knowledge - although it was not devoid of knowledge I hope - but rather a quest, an adventure to think about and imagine the ways in which we might relate to the self and others. While we did not always read work that showed positive examples of how people relate to one another - think back to the film “Please Vote for Me” where we saw that even grade schoolers could be coercive and manipulative of one another. Or think about the various struggles for rights and recognition that undergird much of our reading - civil rights, women’s rights, and gay and lesbian rights. We see in all of these “movements” a struggle to relate to the self and others in less violent, less harmful ways. We see that Democracy is a struggle, a constantly evolving and perhaps at time de-volving political theory that plays out in everyday experience in complex and contradictory ways.

We see in all of this - the struggles and successes - the immense vulnerability that exists in being human. Humans are precarious beings. We can, at any given moment, be violated to the point of death. Yet, we can also, at any given moment, experience immense joy and happiness. Precarity shows us not only our vulnerability but also our excitability. Our readings this semester and our explorations of what it means to “do” democracy not only I think exposed the struggles of surviving in the world but also asked for, I hope, that we imagine and create ways to thrive in that very world. They have demonstrated ways in which people have related and might relate to one another.

For instance, while Eve Sedgwick showed the violence inflicted on non-gender conforming boys in the late 80’s and early 90’s - calling it open season on gay kids - we can see simultaneously the ways in which gay kids can have technicolor lives in the 21st Century. The stories we tell about, in this instance, gay kids cannot be centered entirely on the “gay kid as victim” but also the ways in which gay kids lead lives that are exciting, pleasurable, and perhaps most importantly worth living...There is, to return to Chimamanda Adichie, a danger in the single story asking us to constantly be vigilant in the representations, the stories we hear, read, and create. To, as Foucault asks, that we remain in a state of perpetual critique.

There are of course other ways to think through Sedgwick or any of the other readings and films we “read” this semester - perhaps the implications in The Weather Underground look different now at the end of this class. But, I think for me I see that “doing democracy” and the ways in which we think about “doing democracy” impact how we can relate to one another and ourselves. I would argue that we are at a strange juncture in American Democracy where the ways in which we relate to one another are narrowing ever so slowly...where public spaces are becoming privatized, where people interact less and less, where poverty increases at the same time immense wealth increases, where politicians are more concerned about being elected than doing anything productive for the ever growing list of problems we face as a nation and a globe, where intellectualism is in decline and being “smart” seen as a liability.

Yet, such challenges are opportunities to “do democracy” - to be a part of the process. And, it is my belief that how we frame and engage these issues is the challenge we all face leaving this classroom. Do we frame these issues as ethical? As political? As aesthetic? As a combination? And how does that framing impact what lives we can and cannot see?

While such a challenge might seem overwhelming and impossible, it is what we have before us. I hope that we can, in our own ways, rise to the challenge and imagine, create, and struggle for a more just, more humane, and a more livable world for all of us. This is not some utopic hope, but it is a call to “do democracy” in a way that allows people to see their power and their responsibility to one another and to, with that power, do less harm next time.

I conclude then by thanking you for this opportunity to learn from and with you...for your patience and kindness as kinks were worked out and I myself learned through democracy. While I am sure it was not the smoothest of rides and that I had my own share of failings...I do hope it was rather enjoyable and intellectual ride.

Teaching is, I believe, an incredibly humbling act and being with you all for this term  has been incredibly humbling. So, thank you for this journey.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A History of a Course

A History of a Course

And so we come to our final moments together as a class. Over the past 15ish weeks we have covered a rather large amount of content, philosophical arguments, and well “time”. Since this is part history class, time is of the essence since it is time that we travel through in looking at the spaces and practices in which “art” and “education” have occurred.

Efland while not the most exhilarating read does I think when juxtaposed with much of the other texts we read show us a particular way of doing history. He, we might say, provides a rather “straight” telling of the history of art education and in doing so covers over the untidy, unruly, failures of time gone by. Yet, I think there is benefit to such a straight reading because it does provide us one vantage point of thinking about art, art education, and education. From the Greeks and their gymnasium where the mind and body were “one” to the Middle Ages and the concept of the “apprentice” to the “child-art” movement we see the successful attempts at doing art education. And success if one aspect of living.

Yet, we might here at the end realize that success is not all it is cracked up to be. We might realize that our “time” together has been bookended by two drastically different approaches to ‘art’, ‘education’, art education, and history. Halberstam in her Queer Art Of Failure that we worked through today asks us to look at queer histories that “must contend with a less tidy past”. Failure becomes the name of the game for it is failure that disrupts the colonial, neoliberal, capitalist, normalized worlds of what it means to “be” or “do” living. We might, on our own time, think about the PBS documentary we watched on the history of American education (narrated by the most darlin’ Meryl Streep) how the failures of education’s past might expose some rather strange lessons that the conservative and liberal historians failed to grasp with their desire for American Education to be a “success”. But I won’t “go there now”...instead leaving that for you to do in your own time.

Instead I want us to think about “philosophy” since that has been the “other” part of class.  Perhaps philosophy is the failed discipline these days that “takes” time and seems rather out-dated in these days where “time is money” and “practicality” is the ideal form of doing things. Philosophy is after all, particularly in education, the discipline that seems out of touch and unrelated to the daily lives and practices of teachers. Unlike most other courses, the philosophy of education is the course most often put on the ‘cutting block’ and disdained by students for its irrelevance or difficulty. Yet, I am not totally convinced of I will wax on for a bit on this thing called philosophy that we have engaged together because I didn’t succeed at anything else...I couldn’t “do” so therefore “I teach” and I teach “philosophy”.

Let’s begin with a definition of “philosophy” and let’s do so with Matthew Lipman whose work on children and philosophy opened up ways of de-professionalizing philosophy and opening it up to the lives of children. Lipman writes:

philosophy is concerned to clarify meanings, uncover assumptions and presuppositions, analyze concepts, consider the validity of reasoning processes, and investigate the implications of ideas and the consequences in human life of holding certain ideas rather than others (224)

And so from reading philosophers from various perspectives - be that progressive, pragmatic, postmodern, poststructural, or feminist - we see an attempt to engage meaning and concepts in order to think through the consequences of such meaning and concepts. Lipman, we might be able to see now from his definition of philosophy is a pragmatist...for philosophy is not about “Truth” but about how words or ideas impact the ways we live and the consequences of doing so. The assumptions we make impact how we “do” things.

Jacques Ranciere as discussed by Halberstam uncovers the assumption of inequality that pervades how education is thought proposing instead to “presuppose” equality of intelligence. Perhaps the most challenging ideas in contemporary education and educational philosophy...Ranciere asks that we start with the assumption that teachers and students have an equality of intelligence...meaning neither is more capable than the other in terms of intelligence. The student does not need to be filled with knowledge...a knowledge that is never complete and sets the student up to constantly look for a knowledgeable other to “explain” the world. What does education without explanation look like and what does it mean to say to you, as Ranciere did “I must teach you I have nothing to teach you”? What does it mean to ask of ourselves that we taught ourselves amidst conversations with opposed to having been “taught” by me, a teacher? Can you now, at the end of our time out the implications of such a philosophical idea?

Perhaps this brings us to thinking about “giving a lesson” and the problems with such an idea in these postmodern times. Can we really “give” a lesson when such thought is often built upon the idea that something must be given in return? If I give you a lesson are you obligated to give something in return - papers? discussion? Or can I simply give and move on - not expecting something in return? If I do I neglect my “responsibility” as a teacher? If so, what is my responsibility? What is yours? I am not sure...have I given you your lessons? And have you given me what students are supposed to give in return? Have we all been responsible?

Enough of such questions...let’s be pragmatic. Pragmatism seems an apt place to be pragmatic since “pragmatism” is for education quite useful. It is not concerned with transcendental meaning or truth. It recognizes the slipperyness of language and how language can come to signify many different things, but does not get caught up in language games. The challenge for pragmatists is to think through the consequences of holding such beliefs or “truths” on how individuals can or cannot relate to one another. From Cleo Cherryholmes showing the ways to do “different” types of readings - itself a “pragmatic” approach - to Cornel West asking us to think about “prophetic thought” and “tragedy” we see pragmatism orienting us toward seeing philosophy as rather ‘practical’ and concerned with consequences.

Pragmatism has its own drawbacks though and so there are other ways we have been asked to orient our gaze. But before getting to other ways...let’s ponder “orientation” since I find it an interesting term. If we think about the various philosophical realms we explored...we might see how they “orient” us (position our gaze) in different ways. In doing so, such orientation simultaneously opens up ways of seeing while framing other things out. This is easily seen with the concept of “sexual orientation” where one’s orientation makes one look at particular bodies while framing out other bodies. Our “sexual orientation” orients us in particular ways toward particular bodies and pleasures and I would argue sensibilities.

So, the feminists orient us to frame the world by thinking particularly about gender. Nel Noddings, Angela Davis and Maria Tamboukou all asked us to look at gender and philosophize how “gender” implicates how teachers are seen, how teaching has been constructed in the modern era, and want ways thinking like a feminist opens up particular questions or ideas for doing education. Additionally, how do feminists themselves “disagree” and complicate one another by wanting to think more particularly about the position of raced female bodies? Classed? Able-bodied? It’s challenging and particular...but I think important.

Lynn Fendler - a poststructural feminist we might say - moves us away from thinking explicitly about “gender” and toward thinking about language. The radical question asked by poststructural feminists - namely Judith Butler - is “what is woman”? Such a question - damning to some feminist projects that rest on the assumption that “woman” is a stable category - points to the ineffable. If we accept language as figural - as opposed to holding onto the idea that language is “representative” - what are we allowed to do? We saw in our own class discussions brought in by you yourselves...that poetry and art can by being figural open up the imagination to break out of the status quo (and quite possibly maintain the status quo). How, Fendler asks, can we think about “figural education”? And is “art” a rather privileged domain to do so?

Before my concluding paragraph...I want to do my duty as a philosopher and point out that much of what we have engaged in throughout this semester while focused on issues of knowledge and knowing...was often more about ethics and relationality. If as I have noted many times, “knowledge is ubiquitous” and we still think schools are important despite such ubiquity of knowledge...we realize that schools are a “place” where people meet. So, how do we relate to one another? How do the knowledges we have engaged and the knowledges that we fail to see limit and open up the challenges of relating to the self and other? How does education shift if we focus less on “knowledge” and more on that ineffable thing of relationality and the feelings, emotions, and affects of being in a classroom? I am not sure...

I am, as you well know, not an artist so I am perhaps not qualified to engage in such an artistic question. I am somewhat of an outsider to this thing called “art education”...yet, my hope in engaging this adventure in insight with you all over this short period of time that perhaps we were able to see that education does not have to be dull...that as Foucault being dull is quite an achievement BUT one with a purpose...for if education was “pleasurable” like sex he says, then people would be knocking down the doors to get in. While none of you tried to knock down the doors to my class...perhaps illuminating my own failure to make education pleasurable OR my success as maintaining the dull, sad, history of education founded on inaccessibility...I might hope here at the end...that our time together allowed something to happen or opened up the possibility that somewhere, there in the future that will then be present these lessons we have engaged will come to life and the consequences will be beautiful.

I thank you for giving me your time and attention...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Final Lecture - Social Theory 2012

The Time of Social Theory

It seems apropos to begin the end of a class with Madonna. In her fabulous portrayal of Eva Peron in Evita she sings...”Where do we go from here? This isn’t where we intended to be. We had it all. You believed in me. I believed in you. Certainties disappear. What do we do for our dream to survive? How do we keep all our passions alive?”

Of course, the context of the song is rather different than ours has been these last 15 weeks, but the sentiment I think perhaps gets at one way to think about not only the pedagogical scene we’ve been in but also what it means to “do” social theory or theorize the social.

So, here at the end of a class we are left asking “where do we go from here”? And before you do, in fact, go from here and our time in this space has ended, I want to take time to re-view our time together as I see it. So, I ask for you to give me your time, for one last time.

We began what seems to be rather long ago when the temperature was warm and all of us unsure what was intended to occur in this space and time of a class on social theory. Charles LeMert started us off asking us to think of social theory as, in many ways, an attempt to put language to our social experiences and learn how to survive and I would add thrive in this perhaps beautifully cruel world we live in. John Berger also helped us frame one way to think about social theory via art history by reminding us or perhaps teaching us that seeing matters and how we see is related to and impacted by what languages, images, and stories we have access to. So, as I mentioned last week...we might think about this course as an adventure in different languages that might allow us to “do” social let’s review...

Jacques Ranciere started us down what might have felt like a confusing rabbit hole proposing that we ponder what happens if we presume an equality of intelligences. What happens if we “frame” the world in a way that actually presumes equality and how does this alter how we look at children who are often seen as “unformed” “immature” and “innocent”? In proposing we presume equality, his most compelling lesson is “I must teach you that I have nothing to teach you” and that is I hope what you have realized here at the end...that I have nothing to teach you...I can only take part in this adventure and create opportunities where you and I can muck around in knowledge, play with words, and try to make sense of our worlds and our contexts together. At times this was frustrating. At times it was confusing. At times it was hilarious. At times is was boring...but no matter the affective state hopefully we might be able to salvage the failures, the boredom to realize that even those states allow us to “do” something.

Along with Ranciere LeMert wrote:

One must never assume that those without a public voice are inarticulate. The arrogance of intellectuals lies in the assumption that they alone know and speak the truth (11).

As a professor I am rather concerned that I might come off as arrogant and knowing the truth and if that sincerest apologies. What LeMert reminds us, however, is that part of the task is to think about who can Speak. Gayatri Spivak in one of those “oft” cited sayings once asked “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and we learned in our engagement with Spivak, Fanon, and Anzaldua different ways in which the “subaltern” has been able to speak and the challenges that exist when trying to speak from the “outside”. And, of course, last week Grosz explicitly engaged what it means to be on the outside and how outsider status while often seen as “negative” can offer insight and a space/time to ask different questions. The “outside” is not always positive though as it has its own pitfalls. Wendy Brown in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty proposed that we think about the emergence of “walls” - walls that create an inside and outside - and the curious emergence of such walls at a time of “waning sovereignty”.

Walls and Sovereignty merge if we allow them with Grosz ideas about architecture from the outside. How does architecture ask questions about the body - not simply about the structures it puts in place but the ways such structures impact the different bodies. What does it mean to be on the “outside” of the wall between states and by definition on the “inside” of a different state? What are the powers that impact what it means to be either “inside” or “outside” such walls - what might be called architectural scars dividing space?

We might also go a different direction and think about the outside - as Grosz allowed us - and the reality that fashion is about the outside...and if we buy Svendsen’s argument, that fashion is, in a sense, what allows us to develop our identity or the “inside” of how we see ourselves. While Roland Barthes book on The Language of Fashion might have been a challenge...what Barthes here at the end might allow us to think about is the outside and how the emergence of fashion over time has allowed us to adorn the outside, the body in different ways. How does the detail of the dandy relate now to things weeks ago we might not have thought about? What is the time of education and how does the “process” of working through texts over time allow us as “outsiders” to different fields begin to ask questions?

Going back to the issue of “speaking”, we might also think about how the Southern Hemisphere has been left outside of Social Theory which caused Connell to ask and for us to explore

“Can we have a social theory that does not claim universality for a metropolitan point of view, does not read from only one direction, does not exclude the experience and social thought of most of humanity and is not constructed on ‘terra nullis’ [land belonging to nobody]” (47)

Perhaps it is Connell that illuminates the adventure we have been on...which is an adventure in disrupting social theory to think about the particular, the contextual, the space and time of difference to counter the dominance within the history of social theory (or academic thought broadly) as universalizing. This could be, following Spivak, an attempt in “education in the humanities” that “attempts to be an uncoercive rearrangement of desires” (17). And this type of education is one that Spivak argues “teaches us to learn from the singular and the unverifiable” because that is what a human is - a singular subject that by being singular is not “verifiable” (228).
Spivak brings us back to Foucault whose entire body of work was an exploration in subjugated knowledges. In his History of Sexuality paired with Christopher Reed’s art history of Art and Homosexuality, we were able to begin thinking about how we might read the social through sexuality - similar to how Anzaldua allowed us to think about the social through the mestiza or Fanon through the colonized. Foucault, however, allowed us to think about history in a different way - a way that is not linear and determined but one that is well, quite messy and complex. Reed illustrates this idea in how he read art history by looking at the different ways in which “sex”, “sexuality”, “eroticism” and “intimacy” are represented and taken up in different time periods - providing if you return to these two texts a rather nice “illustrated” way to read Foucault’s own history.

But, I feel like this review is getting rather I must wrap up. I will do so with Latour whom the vast majority of us were not quite able to engage. This makes sense because Latour is challenging and in the oft-cited binary between “art” and “science” we here at an “art school” might feel some animosity to “science” since it gets all the money these days. But, it might also be because as Latour argues Science has become something we cannot question or that “science has been used to silence”. If Science has silenced, then those of us who are not experts in “science” might feel rather shy or inhibited with talking about science...because we feel like Outsiders.

What I think is perhaps most compelling about Latour in relation to our time together is that in challenging the “epistemology police” and its emphasis on “matters of fact” he wants us to think about I would argue ethics and “matters of concern” and in doing so shifting us from seeking “certainty” to engaging “uncertainty. He re-frames the questions to ask
1 - How many are there of us?
2 - Can we live together?  
In asking these questions he does not allow us to get out of reality. Rather, he re-looks at reality to do something else....namely to radically argue for democracy and the necessity to not allow “knowledge” or “facts” to trump how humans relate and live together. He does not negate knowledge - he asks that people “knock at the door” - those who are “aptly outside” to seek entry and provide an argument that might or might not compel for changes.

And perhaps this is where I leave you and end our time together...pondering about the relationship between knowledge and relating to the other. How knowledge can oppress and emancipate? How different languages, different disciplines, might allow us to “do” different things...hopefully they allow us as educators and journalists to think through the ethics of living in the world and to end with Ranciere “one need only to learn how to be equal in an unequal society. This is what being emancipated mean” (133). So, I hope you learn how to be equal, how to “do” things in the world and that “such emancipation will begin when the student [you] decide it will begin” (24). 
My many thanks to you for this adventure in insight.