15 Queering Open Pedagogy

Jesse Stommel

Originally published on July 30, 2017

Queering Open Pedagogy from Jesse Stommel

On July 30, 2017, Jesse Stommel offered the closing keynote for the Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver event. Watch the video here:

Transcript of slides:

  1. Queering Open Pedagogy
  2. The 2017 OpenEd conference recently announced a keynote from the Global Education Initiative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  3. A few clicks away from information about the Global Education Initiative on LDS.org are words (which I will not quote) that suggest LGBTQ people are subhuman, and that, while they encourage compassion, the church’s doctrine (this part I will quote) “will not change.”
  4. The community response to the OpenEd announcement was swift, and the keynote was changed. But the conversation that arose in the wake of the announcement continues.
  5. Academia can be deeply hostile to gay, queer, and trans people. And I’m continually unsettled by how infrequently this gets acknowledged.
  6. Sadly, far too many academic projects, events, and publications driven by LGBTQ people or issues are marginalized as niche or too political.
  7. What I see as most essential is a willingness to be human with humans, talk things out, and learn every second.
  8. I’m also unwilling to quote from Donald Trump’s recent (and vile) tweets proclaiming a ban on transgender soldiers in the U.S. military. We shouldn’t help his bigotry by amplifying it. Retweeting abuse is abuse. Headlines quoting abuse are abuse. We need to talk about this, but must be careful not to do more harm as we do.
  9. Trump’s tweets have been called a “distraction” and yet a recent Nation article (https://www.thenation.com/article/ donald-trumps-ban-on-transgender-troops-is-not-a-distraction/) points out why it can be deeply problematic to call his tweets about the transgender ban a “distraction.” Richard Kim writes, “Being at once anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT is not a diversion from some secret Trump/Republican agenda; neither is pitting us against each other. It’s what they do. It’s who they are.”
  10. For many LGBTQ folks, the fear of being shot, beaten up, screamed at, is a constant nagging dread. Just being ourselves puts us at risk.
  11. On June 12, 2016, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, 49 people were killed and 58 wounded. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Shortly after, a piece was published in the Washington Post called, “How to talk to a queer person who is afraid of dying.”
  12. Carlos Maza writes, “If you have queer people you care about in your life, talk to them. Always, but especially now. Maybe they seem fine … Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now. None of that will stop an LGBT person from being afraid of dying.”
  13. In February, The Trump administration and Betsy DeVos rescinded President Obama’s 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter that recommended specific protections for transgender students in U.S. public schools. The letter specifically outlined the responsibility schools have “to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including transgender students.”
  14. Increasingly, I think the work of education is activism not teaching.
  15. My queer lit. course was once singled out by a national conservative group as a “dishonorable mention” in their list of “America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.”
  16. A sound, a whole sound is not separation, a whole sound is in an order. Suppose there is a pigeon, suppose there is. Looseness, why is there a shadow in a kitchen, there is a shadow in a kitchen because every little thing is bigger. The time when there are four choices and there are four choices in a difference, the time when there are four choices there is a kind and there is a kind. There is a kind. There is a kind. Supposing there is a bone, there is a bone. Supposing there are bones. There are bones. When there are bones there is no supposing there are bones. There are bones and there is that consuming. The kindly way to feel separating is to have a space between. This shows a likeness. ~ Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
  17. In the Introduction to Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged” (8).
  18. “As a high-school teacher, I kept quiet about my sexuality because I didn’t want to draw attention to it. Instead, I created a deafening silence, a vacuum that tugged on everything around it and demanded attention by its absence.” ~ Christopher R. Friend, “Finding My Voice as a Minority Teacher”
  19. Critical Pedagogy asks us to rethink our approach to the classroom in fundamental ways, but it can also start in smaller gestures, the choices we make when assembling a reading list, the language we use in our syllabi when we present it, our first words in a classroom.
  20. Danielle Paradis writes in “The Pleasures, the Perils, and the Pursuit of Pedagogical Intimacy,” “I’m speaking at the very edge of what I’m trying to say. Learning is uncomfortable, and the trouble with letting someone teach you is that it leaves a mark — an impression.”
  21. In 2014, I co-authored an abstract for that year’s OpenEd conference with Danielle. The title of our proposal was “Queering Open,” and in it, we write, “Our work responds to the frustrated conversation about the meaning of Open by altogether challenging the impulse to neatly contain Open.”
  22. Danielle and I continue, “To queer Open is to imagine it as an emergent space always in process.”
  23. And, “From this vantage, Open Education is not confined by courses, platforms, syllabi, hierarchies, but exactly resists those containers, imagining a space for marginalized representation — a space that troubles distinctions between student / teacher and formal / informal learning — a space that recognizes our unique embodied contexts and offers opportunities for liberation from them.”
  24. Our proposal was rejected.
  25. “It does not seem possible to think of oneself as normal without thinking that some other kind of person is pathological.” ~ Michael Werner, The Trouble with Normal
  26. For me, “queer” is more useful as a verb than as a noun. Nouns are often fixed and immutable, whereas verbs imply movement and action. It makes less sense to think about what “queer” *is* and more sense to think about what “queer” does.
  27. “A word so fraught as ‘queer’ is—fraught with so many social and personal histories of exclusion, violence, defiance, excitement—never can only denote; nor even can it only connote” (9). ~ Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “What’s Queer?”
  28. “The story of identity in a learning space can’t be told by one person, or even seven people, but only by a cacophony of voices, a gathering together — of sounds, of ideas, of pedagogical intentions.” ~ Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “CFP: Pedagogical Alterity: Stories of Race, Gender, Disability, Sexuality”
  29. bell hooks means something very specific when she talks of Radical Openness, and so far the Open Education movement has failed to tread that particular water.
  30. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “for me this place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a ‘safe’ place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional, political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,” she suggests it is a place of uncertainty, a place of friction, a place of critical thinking. This is not an Open pedagogy neatly defined and delimited.
  31. Radical openness isn’t a bureaucratic gesture. It has to be rooted in a willingness to sit with discomfort.
  32. What if dialogue were the stuff of open pedagogy and not content? Radical openness means asking hard questions and having hard questions asked always of us.
  33. Teaching is always a risk. Learning is always a risk. But that risk is not distributed evenly. A gay male administrator experiences the classroom differently from a black teacher, a disabled staff member, or a female student.
  34. “We act—at our peril—as if ‘open’ is politically neutral, let alone politically good or progressive. Indeed, we sometimes use the word to stand in place of a politics of participatory democracy.” When we use a word like “open,” or ones like “agency” and “identity,” these should not be just empty signifiers. We should be transparent, and even partisan, in our politics. Especially as educators. ~ Audrey Watters, “From ‘Open’ to Justice,
  35. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

About the Author

Jesse Stommel is Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington. He is co-founder of Digital Pedagogy Lab and Hybrid Pedagogy: an open-access journal of learning, teaching, and technology. He has a PhD from University of Colorado Boulder. He is co-author of An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy.

Jesse is a documentary filmmaker and teaches courses about pedagogy, film, and new media. Jesse experiments relentlessly with learning interfaces, both digital and analog, and his research focuses on higher education pedagogy, critical digital pedagogy, and assessment. He’s got a rascal pup, Emily, two clever cats, Loki and Odin, and a badass daughter, Hazel. He’s online at jessestommel.com and on Twitter @Jessifer.


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