Saturday, July 9, 2005

Teaching

Just signed the contracts to teach 'Sociology of Science and Technology' and 'Urban Cultures' again this coming winter. After reflecting on my own experience and the comments of my students, I'm making some changes to the course content and assignments, and spending some more time reading and thinking about my own teaching philosophy and practice.

To this end, I recently read Intoxicated Midnight And Carnival Classrooms: The Professor As Poet, which focusses on a few ideas that simultaneously resonate with me and strike me as more than a bit flaky.

"We argue for an approach to teaching that values permanent unresolve; proceeds by indirection, obliquity and unknowing; revels in scrambled, broken moments; and enjoys recursive undecidability. The posture of the professor is one of 'not knowing': a positionality that celebrates nonmethodical methods, abandoned meanings, insurgent, incomplete meanings, an 'intoxicated midnight' in Nietzsche's phrase... Rather than trying to help students tidy up experience, the classroom itself can be seen as an aesthetic and carnival project of undoing identities and helping us to inhabit the chaos, fragments and messiness of a postmodern world. We go so far as to suggest that the postmodern classroom is an emerging space of intensity for articulating endless uncertainty about both the professor's and students' positions, identities and stances."


Ha! I can just see all the serious sociology students running out of the first class screaming - and I get excited about the ones that would stay. As it stands, my fourth year students complained bitterly that what I was teaching them conflicted with what they had learned so far and my second year students begged for information about which they could be certain. I can't in good conscience correct those sort of things, but I take seriously those who had the balls to tell me that I can be confusing, intimidating and condescending. (Just don't get me started on some of the asinine comments students make on evaluations.)

The difficulty for me, it seems, is finding a balance between certainty and making it up as we go along, between abstract ideas and concrete realities, between structured and free-form teaching, between authority and camaraderie.

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