Thinking and writing are intimately connected… and both require practice.
Below are some excerpts from my teaching philosophy. I start with Sylvia Wynter’s thoughts on the connection between higher education and the 1992 L.A. riots — insights that are at least as important now as they were 25 years ago.
For a related but more informal set of reflections on how I approach teaching, there’s also this Q&A. I have nothing but respect for my students, and I’m honoured that one of them took the time to formally recognize the ways I try to support their mental health in the midst of what can be, at times, an overwhelming academic year.
In an open letter to her colleagues written after the acquittal of the police officers involved in the 1991 beating of Rodney King, Sylvia Wynter (1994) considers the role of higher education in shaping and disseminating an anti-black, colonial story of “the human.” She closes this letter by asserting that academic work must aim to undo the “narratively condemned status” of the racialized and the poor. This work, she argues, entails a rewriting of knowledge from within the academy—an epistemological shift from which a more capacious, relational story of humanness might begin to emerge. Inspired by Wynter, I aim to alert students to the world-making force of storytelling. I work to provide them with the tools to critically analyze and reimagine narratives of the world that animate everything from policy documents to pop culture. And I encourage them to reflect, through this work, on the stories they tell themselves about who they are and where and how they belong. By guiding students through an exploration of how “we” emerge through storytelling, I show them that stories can be revised, that the terms of belonging are changeable—and that “we” can narratively, collectively reinvent ourselves.
My core pedagogical aims are to foster my students’ capacities for critical, creative engagement with media and to assist them in developing their own unique writing voices.
My pedagogical emphasis on storytelling means that I’m asking students to open themselves up to revising the stories they live by—stories that are, as Dina Georgis (2013) argues, technologies of survival, ways of holding a “self” together. So I understand the classroom as a space in which students are deeply vulnerable. And because vulnerability is unevenly distributed across differences that are organized along lines of race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and citizenship, I’m keenly aware that some of my students come into the classroom already more vulnerable than others. For this reason, I’m not convinced that classrooms can be “safe” spaces. I see them more as sites of what Sara Ahmed (2000) might call “strange encounters.” In this context, my job as a teacher is to encourage students to be self-reflexive about their necessarily partial takes on the world and, as an extension of this, to value the contributions and interventions of their peers. I’m transparent about this at the beginning of the year, offering my reflections on vulnerability in the classroom alongside the proposition that our shared world only begins to take shape when we combine our unique perspectives on it. And then I work throughout the year to show students that they can trust me to facilitate this process. I model the self-reflexivity I’m asking of them, drawing attention to my whiteness in some contexts and to my non-binary embodiment in others. And I take my time responding to students’ in-class comments, sometimes rethinking my own point on the spot to underscore that our ideas are never really finished—that they will and should shift through conversations and encounters.