Critical pedagogy and the undercommons

Last year at Rethinking the University, John Conley argued that politically engaged pedagogy was a political alibi that the academic labor can’t afford to indulge in. Here, in a curious essay that has appeared in Social Text and also on interactivist, Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey argue something similar: that critical pedagogy is only the perfection of the university’s professionalizing tendencies.

…Critical education only attempts to perfect professional education. The professions constitute themselves in an opposition to the unregulated and the ignorant without acknowledging the unregulated, ignorant, unprofessional labor that goes on not opposite them but within them. But if professional education ever slips in its labor, ever reveals its condition of possibility to the professions it supports and reconstitutes, critical education is there to pick it up, and to tell it, never mind—it was just a bad dream, the ravings, the drawings of the mad. Because critical education is precisely there to tell professional education to rethink its relationship to its opposite—by which critical education means both itself and the unregulated, against which professional education is deployed. In other words, critical education arrives to support any faltering negligence, to be vigilant in its negligence, to be critically engaged in its negligence. It is more than an ally of professional education, it is its attempted completion.

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Contradictions of authority in radical pedagogy

In reading about “politics of knowledge”  today I was reminded of a horribly unresolved issue: the contradictions of authority in radical pedagogy. Let me quote a classic case from Saundra Gardner, Cynthia Dean and Deo McKaig’s 1987 article, “Responding to Differences in the Classroom: The Politics of Knowledge, Class, and Sexuality.”

Because this was my first officially designated women’s studies course, I thought it had to be “truly feminist” in content and form… Instead of being the source of knowledge and socially distant, I would become a peer and facilitator of knowledge. Thus, I perceived, as have others, that the “truly feminist” classroom is one in which I would give up my official trappings, merge with the class, and, in the classic sense of “instructor,” become invisible.

By playing such a passive role, I set the stage for the following dynamic that emerged early in the semester. The feminist majority, or those students with a strong background in feminism, began to use their knowledge as a source of power. As a group, they were articulate and dominated the class discussions. They often talked at rather than with the other students and, as a consequence, effectively silenced the nonfeminist minority. Thus, rather than sharing ideas and learning from each other, the students used differences in knowledge to create a distinct hierarchy in the classroom, with knowledge being a source of power over others. In other words, the feminist majority defined the class as their class and soon became the new caste of ‘men,’ while the remaining ‘women’ sat passively, accepting their subjugation.

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student-teacher equality & the limits of radical pedagogy

I came across a very interesting interview with one Michael Denning, a marxist cultural studies person at Yale. I’m particularly interested in his comments on graduate education; evidently he has organized a research collective co-organized with students. He says there’s a big difference between a seminar, where the teacher doesn’t write but only grades the students’ work, and a collective where everyone is working together. He comments:

“Particularly after the first year, people in a graduate program are part of the profession, they’re part of the industry. They have exactly the same day-to-day concerns as I do: how do you manage teaching on the one hand, and getting your research done on the other, which is the central structure of the research university. That’s why I don’t really think of this as graduate training.”

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