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"Talking in Class": Notes Towards Day 6 (Thurs, Sept. 17)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. [2:25-2:40] opening silence, designed by Abby
Rosa in charge for Tuesday
review sign up sheet (add Rhett x2, Joie and Riley x1)

II. [2:40-3:00] coursekeeping (and some backstory...)
sign up for a conference with me on Monday (or...?)
to discuss the paper you're writing tonight (!),
the 3-pp. revision/web event #2 I'll be
asking for on Sept. 30, when I'll want to you "talk back" to this first essay,
to those of others in the class, and/or to our class-wide discussions:
how would you now visualize-and-vocalize silence?
How might you now tell the story of your own and
others’ silences in the classroom?

details re: Saturday's cluster-wide, day-long trip to Philly.
There will be boxed lunches available for pickup in Erdman @ 8:45
(who wants to collect these? need 2-3 folks).
A bus will collect everyone @ Pem Arch @ 9 a.m.
We will take a Restorative Justice Mural Arts tour from 10-noon,
and a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary @ 1 p.m. Afterwards, we will
gather @ OCF Coffee House for an hour's conversation about our experiences.
You'll be given train passes to make your own ways home.
[Also of possible interest: BBQ Not Bars: Community Cookout to Fund Schools, Not New Jails!]

Tuesday we put Delpit into conversation with Kim & Marcus;
 today I asked you to read Tompkins' short piece on
"Talking in Class," along with a chapter of Margaret Price's Mad @ School,
and an essay by Angela Carter on the implications of trauma and
trigger warnings in the classroom

Tompkins came to speak here when her book first came out
(almost 20 years ago, but I was t/here!); she talked about
how her excellent education "in a purely academic sense,
had a retardant effect on her development as a whole being";
BECAUSE of that excellence, she said, she had very little
self-knowledge, and her relations w/ other people were
not so good: she was an "exemplary product of our
education system, not doing so well in living...."
educated away from listening to/knowing self,
as own best authority

thesis of her talk/book is that the
educational system ignores the knowing self,
teaches us not to trust our experience
knowledge essential to conduct of human life is
"without standing in the curriculum," when the
purpose of education should be to "give them
to handle the things that are coming up in their lives" (xiv)

I first put this essay into my syllabus when I got an e-mail
from a former student, diagnosed with a serious disease,
who was being urged to have major surgery:
"Even though I just graduated from one
of the best colleges in the country,
I feel ill-equipped to deal with this particular challenge";
a few years ago, a colleague and close friend, with whom
I'd co-taught and co-written for years, was diagnosed with
and died from lung cancer; he was actively dying as we
were teaching our last class together, on "The Story of
Evolution and the Evolution of Stories," and I thought--
we'd done all teaching together about evolution,
about what Biology and English could teach each other,
but...what did we know/
what could we teach our students about dying?

why are these dimensions of our lives left out of school?
Tompkins says that "in school, by definition:
others know better than we do"; we learn to
give up our own judgment in favor of authority;
this militates against development of the individual

I'm more interested in the collaborative process,
of groups making things together...

Next week, we'll move into the second section of the course,
"Cultures of Silence" (expanding on Kim and Markus's idea
that there are different cultural practices of talking
and being silent
, and different ways of understanding
these divergent practices...); the epigram for this
section is from Ortega y Gasset: "Each people leaves
some things unsaid, to be able to say others."

We'll spend the whole week, next week, on a 1983 memoir
by Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan Indian woman whose text
and whose silences have been very controversial; it's several
hundred pp. long--some of this skimmable!
(you know about skimming?
making judgments about what's worth it?)
Please try to read it all for Tuesday (I'll focus us on the first 1/2,
but it's hard to discuss 1/2 a book...).

Anyone familiar w/ this? Studied it in other contexts?
Can provide some Central American context? (it was
first published in Spanish; if you'd rather read it in
that language--anyone?--there is a Spanish language edition
available in Canaday and two more copies in Swat and HC libraries).

It's a complex dance between being silenced and chosing silence,
so of course watch for those keynotes (as well as anything else
you'd like to talk about...your assigned posting this weekend
is your paper, but if you want to give me/us a heads up about what
interests you/where you'd like us to focus our discussion,
please do so in the course forum...)

[cf. Rigoberta's editor: "Rigoberta has chosen words
as her weapons and I have tried to give her words the permanency of print"...]
when might we want such permanence...and when/why avoid it?

III. [3:00-3:30] A couple of stories about Margaret Price's visit to campus:
* my own pedagogical innovations--which tend generally in the direction of less structure, more fluidity--
might be particularly disabling for brains that operate differently than mine, which find not more comfort
and more freedom to do/be, within structures of clear expectation (the lesson here is like Delpit's)
* building access into the infrastructure of the class (rather than as an "add-on," accomodation);
yet the risk that we will all disable one another thereby...
* the difficulties my Assessment group had, in talking w/ Margaret, due to
her difficulties in "decoding" what we were doing/wanting in that "kariotic space."

Also: a backstory about Angela Carter's piece. Last year, in Inside Higher Ed, a group of seven humanities professors, including Homi King in Art History here and Patti White in Film Studies at Swat, argued that “Trigger Warnings are Flawed,” because we “cannot predict in advance what will be triggering for students,” because there is no mechanism “for distinguishing material that is oppositional or critical in its representation of traumatizing experience,” and because -- as well-intended as trigger warnings may seem -- “they make promises about the management of trauma’s afterlife that a syllabus, or even a particular faculty member, should not be expected to keep.” Strikingly, and ironically, this essay -- which focuses on the impossibility of prediction and the futility of promises -- concludes by shifting the locus of vulnerability from the learners to the teachers, asking those students who request trigger warnings to be aware “that the faculty who teach the very materials that help them understand and combat … practices of injustice” are “the most vulnerable members of their professional context,” that student complaints may be used to marginalize these faculty members, or to delimit what they teach.

I pretty much bought that argument, until I attended the conference for the Society of Disability Studies in Atlanta this past June, where I heard both Margaret Price and Angela Carter present in a session entitled "Excess, Access, Deviance, and Distress: Trauma as an Analytic in Disability Studies," and heard Angela's argument that rather than "creating "a false binary between one group experiencing institutional exploitation and another," we imagine that faculty and students stand "in solidarity to demand and create the kind of community it takes to truly provide education as a practice of freedom." Anglea's essay has helped me understand that accommodations are not really about keeping one another "safe," but rather about providing "access to opportunity for a more liveable life"; moreover, that seeking such access necessitates political analyses, an acknowledgement of trauma as "an imperative social justice issue within our classrooms."  "It’s hard to imagine a trauma that is not in some fundamental way attached to relations of power"--which must make us"attentive to who gets to have grievances."

To help us make sense both of Mad @ School and "Teaching with Trauma,"
I want us to create a "barometer" with our bodies

(inspired by quote from Bracken and Thomas, on Margaret's p. 15):
"human mental life ... is not 'some sort of enclosed world residing inside the skull,'
but is constructed 'by our very presence and through our physical bodies' "
and in our social settings through time and space

Please stand in a single line.
I will read a series of sentences, first from Margaret's book
then from Angela's essay (selecting discriminatingly from those below....).
if you agree w/ the statement, please move towards the screen
if you disagree, please move towards the front windows.
Please explain yourself, first to those closest to you, then to us all.
If hearing these explanations affects your position,
please re-locate your body accordingly.

From Margaret:
"If you are crazy, can you still be of sound mind?" (p. 1) --yes to the screen, no to the windows.

"Madness is usually not threatening" (p. 1).

"Human life is a form of mental illness" (Lawrence Davis, qted. p. 3).

"disability is a mode of human difference ... that becomes a problem only when the environment ... treats it as such .... it shifts the "problem" of disability away from individuals and towards institutions and attitudes" (p. 4).

"the most important common topoi of academe ... include rationality, criticality, presence, participation, resistance, productivity, colegiality, security, coherence, truth, independence" (p. 5).

"Why is 'coherence' one of the most-often emphasized features of a thesis-driven academic argument; does the demonstration of coherence indicate a stronger mind?" (p. 6)

"Those of us who do function successfully in academe tend to pass much of the time" (p. 7).

"For thousands of years academe has been understood as a bastion of reason ....
Academic discourse operates ... to abhor mental disability--to reject it, to stifle and expel it" (p. 8).

"We might reconstruct 'normal' academic discourses to become more accessible for all .... to measure up to us" (pp. 8-9).

"As with queer, the broad scope of mad carries the drawback of generality but also the power of mass" (p. 10).

[Let us] "redesign our social and work environments, emphasizing the importance of interdependence" (p. 13).

"neurodiversity acts as a positive force in human evolution, enabling alternative and creative ways of thinking, knowing, and apprehending the world" (Antonetta, qted. p. 16).

"we need a way of taking inclusively about people for whom access to human interaction is problematic" (Montgomery, qted. p. 19).

"Many of us are mad at school" (p. 20).

"incorporating narratives of experience is one way to improve access to academic prose .... stories I like best ... render their own occasions of telling ... explain how and why they came about" (p. 23).

"attention to discourse is foremost an activist goal" (p. 29).

"madness [is] a radical disunity of perception from that held by those who share one's social context" (p. 32).

"we practice academic discourse ... as a project of social hygiene ... to diagnose, cure, contain, or expel the mad subject .... to protect academic discourse as a 'rational' realm" (p. 33).

[cf. Haraway on the 'god-trick,' and Nagel on the 'view from nowhere': academic discourse] "claims a gaze that comes from nowhere and everywhere all at once, omniscient and unlocatable, and therefore shielded from any countergaze" (p. 35).

[for] "rhetors whose worlds may be ... composed of ways of knowing fundamentally invested in dis/order and non/sense ... attempting to voice the 'truth' of mental disability creates a paradox ... producing rhetoric whose very authenticity destroys its fluency" (pp. 38-39).

Ellsworth's point is that reason an oppressive construct played out through seemingly benign imperatives such as "sharing" and "dialogue"...

"Dialogue ... is impossible ... because ... power relations between raced, classed, and gendered students and teachers are unjust .... all voices in the classroom ... cannot carry equal legitimacy" (Ellsworth, qted. p. 40).

Nor do all rhetors bring an ... equivalent sense of what concerns are "reasonable," what are "rational" and "appropriate" ways to voice ideas--in short, what sort of human to be in the classroom (40).

"Is it possible to listen to the mad subject?" (p. 42).

"Critical pedagogy ... requires an uncomfortable state of mind .... fear manifests as resistance .... loss of composure [is an] educational opportunity" (p. 46).

"stop seeing emotion, pain, and trauma as ... anti-intellectual, and solipsistic, and instead ... recognize them as ways of knowing" (p. 50).

[let's] "focus on the disabling aspect of some teaching" (Lewiecki-Wilson and Dolmage, qted. p. 55).

from Angela:
trauma is a disabling affective structure..."the response to an unexpected or overwhelming violent events or events that are not fully grasped as they occur, but return later in repeated flashbacks, nightmares, and other repetitive phenomena" (Carhty Caruth)

We are fundamentally changed by trauma; and these changes bear legacies.

experences of re-traumatization ...are not the same as being challenged outside of one's comfrot zone

distinguish between trauma and injury can be be triggered is to mentally and physically re-experience a past trauma...This is not a state of injury, but rather a state of disability.

in a political/relational model of disability...the longer resides in...individuals but in the built environmetns and social patterns

trauma must be understood as unequivocally political

the ability to be recognized as a person living with trauma is a political privilege

often administrative systems themselves traumatize and disable us the most by 'distributing life chances and promoting certain ways of life at the expense of others

"safety" was used by people with privilege to silence the voices of "those of us on the margins" (bell hooks)

attempts to ensure safety in a classroom risk denying difference

one's social privilege determines the kind of relative safety that might be felt @ any given place and time

now students from the margins...are accused of clinging to safety as a means of avoiding the rigors of an intellectually challenging education

Trigger warnings provide a way to "opt in"

A college classroom...that adequately accounts for the material realities of diverse bodyminds is almost inconceivable within an institution built on awarding individual merit over acknowleging structural privileges and inequalities.

it is the ethical responsibility of educators to respond to the emotional experiences that happen in the classroom

the implementation of Universal Design...would "leave gaping holes in access to academia not addressing the intersecting dilemmas of privilege and oppression"

the best learning and unlearning often comes with great discomfort, and this discomfort is not equivalent to trauma

legislation and mandates cannot force anyone into consciousness

it is the job of educators to teach students how to understand, respond, and engage with the full complexity of the world

Imagine faculty and students standing in solidarity to create the kind of comunity it takes to truly provide educaiton as a practice of freedom.

access and accomodation are not about "safety"

trauma is an imperative social justice issue

IV. [3:30-3:45] Price says that her argument "requires a disorienting shift away from presumptions of tragedy,  courage, or brokenness" (p. 4). Can you apply this claim to the current stories you know about being silenced? Does this require any disorienting shifts?  How to apply this to Angela Carter's reflections on trauma and trigger warnings?

Might applying Price or Carter's arguments to the current draft of your paper require any such disorienting shifts? Find two partners and start telling each other about your intentions for your paper...