Monday, April 25, 2011

For Next Week (April 30)

I'd just like to remind you that there is no mandatory reading for this week (though it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a look at the article by Alcoff called "Cultural Feminism versus Post-structuralism". You might also have a look at the short reading by Sadeghi as it contains a real life classroom example of some of the potential problmes our presenter posed to us last week.

Also, bring in your lesson plan/ activity ideas. You'll be describing your ideas in small groups, so please be ready to share the following information about your class/ students/ ideas.

Describe the students/participants you will be working with.
What are the class norms? What is an 'ordinary' lesson like?
What sorts of materials do you plan to use for your 'critical' lesson or activity?
How do you intend to present the materials?
What activities do you want your students/participants to engage in?
What are your goals?
What potential problems or obstacles do you foresee?

You don't need to put all of this into writing, but please be prepared to discuss....
Have a great week

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One More Reminder...

We will be spending some time discussing your "lesson/activity brainstorms" in class this Saturday. So please bring in whatever ideas you have for a lesson plan or activity that makes an attempt toward critical practices. I think that invoking 'oppositional readings' among students is a good goal, but you are not limited to it. So please come prepared to share.

Also, a guest speaker will come to briefly share his unique approach to teaching that I think may be of interest to all of us.

See you on Saturday

Skinner's Teaching Machine


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Hey everyone,
Just a reminder... I'd like you all to post the responses you came up with (to the six different 'challenges' we discussed last week). I'm going to gather them together so we can all benefit from your ideas.
Also, if you would like to read more about cultural feminism and poststructuralism (or if you found Moffatt & Norton's description unsatisfactory) I would recommend the article in your course book called "Cultural feminism versus poststructuralism" by Linda Alcoff. It's a bit dense, but she sums up each position quite clearly.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Clip on Control Societies

There is so much aesthetic play in this clip that I get lost between an intellectual and an emotional response. So beware- there is more than just logic at play here. That said, I found this video to be a nice introduction to the concept of 'control societies' as described by Gilles Deleuze.

Woman on an Airplane

The woman in the airplane.... Oppressed? Too easy, I think. Certainly this advertisement contains a ton of images and suggestions that can make one's skin crawl. When one thinks about the target audience (presumably wealthy White men who can afford [or almost afford] to fly in business class) the sexual overtones, the patriarchal alpha male, the submissive Asian woman ready to please him... one has much to be upset by. More disturbing, perhaps, are the forces that make such an advertisement 'work'. In a way, this advertisement is not only reflecting gender, class, and race in society, it is also producing them. This is, I believe, the most important thing to remember here.
Our readings of this clip last night centered around the notion that this guy was an oppressor and the flight attendant was oppressed. Her nervous giggle signified subservience, passivity, and a willingness to please. The man's slick haircut, the various mechanical gadgets around him, his suit all tell me this is a certain 'kind' of man. But the tension that seemed to arise in class was over the status of this 'woman' (more on the apostrophes later). Is she inherently oppressed? And is he inherently an oppressor? I think that while power is always at play, the answer to both questions is a resounding “NOT YES”. The primary reason I resist the urge to label her 'oppressed' is because of the point I made above. The advertisement, as well as our readings of it, not only reflect power relations in society—they invariably create them as well. Our readings are always productive. Naming her 'the oppressed' (and therefore naming him the oppressor) is not some great realization, it is a means through which we reify power relations. We can start with the woman's giggle. It might be a defense mechanism to ward off the sleazy advances of this customer. It might be a way of flirting with him to ensure he 'enjoys his flight'. It could be read as a way of her using her sexuality because she's been placed in a position where her sexuality is her only defense. Perhaps it's a sign of passivity that she has been forced to take up in order to thrive in a male dominated society—a performance the men of the world require of her.
This is all quite possible. That isn't the only place I've seen such giggles. I see it quite often among young Korean women- sometimes in my classes. I can read such actions as responses to my White, male, American, educated English speaker authority in the classroom. This all may be very very true and a little too close for comfort. BUT (and there's always a but)... power is always at play. It is never static or fixed and it is never complete. If power is optimized when it is transparent I have to ask what I'm taking for granted here.
There is obviously some normative way of reading this exchange that makes it 'correct' to understand that the woman is oppressed and the man is oppressor. I've been trained in cultural studies—I've had a liberal education and I've learned how to deconstruct such images. The fact that my reading is or can be sanctioned in such a way means that it has power. Gee would say that its power is produced by discourses that I've been socialized into. In other words, certain discourses are speaking through me. These discourses are, of course, interested. In order to ascribe an identity to 'women' (oppressed) I have to assert that a certain reading is more 'correct' (Freire's side of the literacy problem). But this reading is normative, not just descriptive. We are constructing a normative representation of what the proper woman SHOULD be.
The danger I see is that this sort of reading is perfectly aligned with the same liberal enlightenment values that sought to free the world from its own ignorance and darkness during the era of European colonialism. If this woman giggles it's because she's been forced to do so by men. If she does so willingly it's because she's oppressed and doesn't even realize it. In order to resist oppression she should or we should [insert cultural values here]. Lucky me to be so enlightened as to know the proper social roles for women—and lucky her for being exposed to my wisdom.

The apostrophes...
This isn't a flight attendant. This is a representation. This 'woman' that I am so concerned about is an actress. My entire rant, for all my concern and preaching, is referencing a completely hypothetical person in a scripted exchange. The moment I began talking about this woman as if she were real (rather than discussing the symbols used in this advertisement and the forces that give them power) is the moment I lose myself in the representation. I took it as real.

Magritte painted The Treachery of Images in the late 1920's. What seems like a paradox is actually no such thing. Magritte is correct. This most certainly is not a pipe. It is an image of a pipe.
So what is the value in recognizing that 'this is not a pipe'? This is a reminder that any representation we are faced with is partial. There is no 'thing in itself' (and if there is, it is beyond our capacity to represent is as such). But we tend to take what's shown to us as what is. The image itself comes to stand in for something that is inaccessible. A complete picture of gender, class, and race relations as they play out in any society is inaccessible. Though for some reason we feel the compulsion to claim access to or knowledge of such things. Magritte, I believe, is trying to remind us to avoid that trap.
So back to the question... is this 'woman' oppressed? There's no fair way for me to answer this. But this in no way means that there aren't deeply embedded historical and cultural uses of power constantly at play. It just means that I can't fully and accurately describe them because I am always in the act of performing them! This doesn't mean that we have no responsibility. Quite the opposite, the task at hand is no longer to discover the oppression out there and remove it. The task is much more complex. The task is to recognize much more subtle forms of fascism—the one's we are continually confronting and performing in the here and now. Prescribing the correct reading of an advertisement, and the correct way to understand gender, class, or race (or other) oppression, are ways that power is at play right now. Perhaps this is much more 'real' than the flickering images we saw on the projector last night.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reflective Practice Meeting, Sunday April 10

Our main aim is to get teachers talking constructively about teaching in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. The backbone of our plan is not in workshops or teacher training sessions but instead lies in the arena of teacher development. Our vision is to get groups of teachers throughout the country to get together and engage in dialogue about what is happening in their classrooms and then to support each other in finding constructive ways to make meaningful changes to their teaching practice. Along these lines we will be having a "reflective rendezvous" each month in Seoul with the hopes of building a model that can be reproduced nation-wide.

Last meeting we discussed ways of reflecting and challenged ourselves by designing personal plans for reflecting on our teaching. In our next meeting Michael Griffin will hold us accountable to our plans, facilitate some norming and push us further towards becoming reflective practitioners. So, bring your plans (successes and challenges), your active listening skills and an open mind to our third reflective rendezvous on Sunday April 10th (2-5pm).

Where: Meeple Book Cafe ( near Sinchon Subway station. Get out at exit #4 and head straight. It's just a little ways and on your left. If you've gotten to "On the Border" mexican restaurant you've gone too far. The room will be reserved under the name RP SIG.

How much does it cost? For members of KOTESOL the meeting is free. If you're not a member of KOTESOL it will cost 5,000KWN which includes a tasty beverage.

Hope to see you all there,

The three reflective practitioneers Kevin Giddens, Manpal Sahota and Michael Griffin

Reflective Practice SIG

Words, Werds, Whirreds...

Lots of thoughts on last week's class:
The first thing I want to address are comments one of our presenters made on her blog. These comments were quite insightful and I think they can help us elaborate on the way we're reading and discussing things. The presenter shared that she created a Power Point presentation that summed up the main ideas in Chapter One, only to get to Chapter Two and confront the concept of banking education. She explained that she worried that her way of presenting the information in the first chapter was based on banking ideals and she questioned her approach. I think these are important questions and that perhaps, the most important thing one can take from these readings is the sensation of questioning oneself as a teacher. I think it is crucial that we can ask difficult questions about our teaching practices. Unfortunately, in the age of accountability teachers are more and more often placed in a position of having to defend their practices rather than questioning them. It's good to be able to do both but probably more constructive to do the latter. I think that the presenter's willingness to question her approach is commendable and I hope that our class can be a 'safe space' where we can all question our practices.
That said, I think that there is a danger in all of this. Freire's ideas evolved a lot over the course of his life. Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published fairly early in his writing career. As he traveled and as his ideas reached further and further out into the world he rethought a lot of things. Of course he never abandoned the idea of emancipatory education, but the ways that he framed it continually shifted within the contexts where he did his work. If Freire had been an English teacher in contemporary Korea, I believe his ideas would be dramatically different. Why is this important? Well, I think that it's easy to fall into the trap of seeing these concepts as prescribed methods to universal problems. Banking education contributes to oppression. This is a nice straightforward equation but it has little to do with real life and real teaching. If we begin to judge ourselves according to a set of abstract principles, no matter how 'emancipatory' they purport to be, aren't we falling into a trap? Isn't the idea that our teaching must be 'emancipatory' according to “Freire's principles” in its own way oppressive? Banking education (whatever that means) certainly seems like something to move away from, but I don't think it's helpful to let Freire loom above our heads like some 'emancipatory' paternal figurehead.
So... I really enjoyed the presentations and the conversations they inspired. I think that the open conversation style each presenter employed was engaging. I also think that we saw clear evidence that no classroom format is really 'neutral'. No matter how we set up the chairs and no matter how we structure our group activities, certain voices are amplified by particular forms of interaction. I will continue to play with classroom and conversation formats and I encourage all future presenters to do so as well. Let's keep an element of play in our activities.
Finally, I think it's worth mentioning some of my reservations about Freire's ideas. First of all, I have to admit that I'm a little uncomfortable with the ease with which Freire throws out the terms “oppressed” and “oppressor”. I have no doubt that in his own teaching contexts (the early 60's in rural Brazil) it was quite clear to him just who was oppressed and who was the oppressor. I'm not sure that these sorts of designations are so transparent in (post)modern, (post)industrial, globalized spaces like Seoul. Certainly oppression exists (at least it certainly seems to). But I'm not so sure the noun “oppression” necessarily leads to the need to designate fixed identities like “oppressor” and “oppressed”. Take the fairly straightforward descriptions in Chapter Two. Freire implies that teachers are in the position of “oppressors” and students are in a sense, the “oppressed”. But I'm not sure that at the time he wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed he could have foreseen the emergence of the intense “age of accountability” which has implemented some very creative ways of reducing the freedom teachers have in their classrooms. Indeed, the trend is toward teacher proof curricula. I personally find it hard to ascribe a simple “oppressor” identity to teachers in this sort of context. Further, I think that static categories like oppressor/oppressed carry with them the danger of reducing the complexity of real life human relations into theoretical/academic jargon. Once we feel comfortable with these categories it is easy to see how everyone and everything can fit into them. It is in this way that language is productive rather than simply descriptive. Naming such categories determines what we are able to see. And perhaps ascribing any identity to the other or to the self is in some senses an act of violence. While the events in North Africa and the power transfer in North Korea are nice clear-cut examples of oppression, our day to day interactions and dealings are usually not so clear. Perhaps words like “oppressor” and “oppressed” are ways that we avoid the messiness and the ambiguity of day to day life. Perhaps calling another “oppressed” in some way serves to silence them. Perhaps calling myself an “oppressor” is a way of avoiding responsibility. This is not necessarily the case but I think the danger is there.
So, I appreciate everyone's willingness to keep playing the theory games. We have one more week of the thick stuff and then we're going to (hopefully) transition into some more hands-on work that can carry over into our classrooms. Keep blogging!