Teaching to Digress: Pedagogy, Feminism, and the Search for Voice

Teaching to Digress: Pedagogy, Feminism, and the Search for Voice

Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis (Miami University, USA), Roselyn K. Banda (Miami University, USA) and Sarah A. Kinley (Miami University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8321-1.ch007
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Abstract

This chapter explores the challenge of creating a “liberated” classroom, one that digresses from the norm in both content and structure according to feminist principles. This teaching project was designed to create a unique learning environment through the use of black feminist pedagogy. Charged with teaching a cross-listed course (Women's Studies, Black Studies) entitled “Black Feminist Theory,” the teaching team consisted of a professor, a graduate student, and an undergraduate student. The team came together from a diversity of educational experiences in the U.S. and Africa. This chapter is a reflection of the team's experiences co-teaching a “non-traditional” course as well as a collective inquiry about the strategic importance of incorporating oppositional discourse into the college curriculum.
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Introduction

The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy. —bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

Inspired by bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994), this essay explores the challenge of creating a “liberated” classroom, one that digresses from the norm in both content and structure according to feminist principles of critical inquiry. Utilizing hooks’s model of teaching as a performative act that transgresses “traditional” notions of learning, we sought to create a unique classroom environment framed by Black feminist discourse. Our diverse perspectives as feminist scholars suggested that our respective approaches to Black feminism would bring together an uncommon, but useful, blend of knowledge and experience. The ultimate goal was to help students develop a critical awareness of intersecting variables in women’s lives (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.) on both national and international levels. The discussion that follows is a reflection on our experiences co-teaching a “non-traditional” course as well as our collective standpoint on the importance of incorporating oppositional discourse into the college curriculum.

We came together from three generations and two different national backgrounds to teach an upper level undergraduate/graduate course entitled Black Feminist Theory. I am a full professor in English, Black Studies, and Women’s Studies. Born and raised in the southern U.S., I attended historically Black colleges for my undergraduate education. At the time of our collaboration, Roselyn was a third year doctoral student in Educational Leadership. Sarah has graduated, but when we embarked on this project, she was a senior Black Studies major who grew up in the Midwest. We tell our stories individually and collectively in the following sections: (a) Where We Come From; (b) Subversive by Design; and (c) When Fecal Matter Hits the Fan.

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