• Charlotte

Teaching Reflections: Disruption as feminist practice

At the point of starting this post last weekend, I reflected on how it’s funny (maybe not funny) how literally exhausted I felt last week, and despite a late night celebrating my partners birthday, I woke up early and feeling fresh as a daisy, full concert mode in the shower. I know that’s telling me it’s not tiredness, but something else. However, this is not my reflection for this week.

Interestingly this week and some of last, in class, we’ve been discussing elements of control and authority. With my first years, we’ve been discussing Milgram and the obedience studies.

Interestingly perhaps, the homework set for them this week is to violate a social norm, as an experiment to come back and discuss (note - went very well).

In class, I did my usual trick that I do every year (ability pending) - I ask the students to do something, out of the blue - this year I asked them all just to stand up. Nothing more than that, no reason. And they did. I asked - why did you do that? And they all looked around and just said - because you told us to.

I will note - I ‘disrupted’ my own class, mid-class, to get them to search for updated information about the Milgram experiment, because I didn’t feel comfortable just discussing that experiment as it is, without acknowledging some of the information we know now. I’ve seen calls on social media for people to update their class materials if it involves people such as Milgram, Zimbardo, Tajfel, (and more recently, Eysenck) and I just don’t think it’s good enough to say year on year that you’re ‘too busy’ to do so, despite agreeing that yes, maybe we should change the subject.

With my third years, I asked them to reflect on the lies they were told as a child. You know the kind - that when the ice cream van music plays, it’s out of ice cream; the tooth fairy; *spoiler alert* Santa isn’t real - the purpose behind these lies is control - control of children’s behaviour, and whilst it might be funny to reflect on these now, it tells me something interesting about the point we get to in adulthood and now know these things to be a lie, but how other forms of control or obedience in childhood still carry forward.

Case in point - disruption from students in class. I don’t mean the playing of candy crush, or students thinking they're silently shopping, but they’re actually typing with the heavy-footedness of an elephant - I mean the ones who respond to your questions without *a hand raised*, the ones who think out loud, the ones who play devils advocate.

I reject the idea of this being about respect. I think it’s something more than that. It’s the creation of a space that allows for those kinds of interjections.

In another class, for which students were reflecting on what they felt were good and bad teaching practices, one student commented that he thinks sometimes, lecturers (note the move away from teachers) can share too much personal experience and they don’t feel like they learn anything. Whether it was intended as a passive-aggressive comment or not, I completely recognise myself in that comment. I do share personal experience. And I always tell students at the start of the year when I see them that I do that, because the concepts we talk about are not just within a theoretical vacuum, they happen in everyday life, and the odd anecdote or drawing of attention to real life things can help us better understand not just topics, but also the perspectives of others (for examples - see the many other posts in this blog). To say that nothing is learned from personal experience is to reject the idea that someone else’s experience provides an enrichment to your own, and I don’t believe that to be true. My third years know this, and I learn so much from them (more than the boring details on my life they get from me), from the classes that are explicitly centred around bringing yourself into the work we look at.

Personal experience, and the use of I, disrupts traditional academia by putting yourself into the story. For students, this enables much more of themselves within their curriculum, rather than bring an outsider to it.

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