Love acts: swipe left

In January we embarked on a new collaborative writing project. The brief: To compile a collection of individual responses to one stimulus piece with a view to starting a great conversation! We wrote independently without discussing our thoughts and are publishing them here as a series of posts.

The stimulus piece is: “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.

There is something of the dating profile about title like ‘Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development programme’ in that it elevates the mundane to the exceptional. Even the photos are good. Given that the abstract read like a compilation tape of every idea that I’ve flirted with (metaphor analysis, reflective practice, phenomenology, rhizomes, identity work, lived experiences, emotion, voice, textuality, reciprocity and kindness (if I’m honest, not that into kindness, but I’m not going to admit to that) all pressed into service against ‘the man’): I swiped right.

But, as we all know, dating profiles frequently engage in a little gentle kittenfishing. (Or as Calamity Jane might put it not exactly lying but careless with the truth).

There is impossibility in the very premise of this paper. An academic development programme established to support academic colleagues gain promotion is surely deeply rooted in structures of performativity which are infused with neoliberalism and enact managerialism (Friberg, 2015 in Roxå & Mårtensson 2017). This is perhaps especially the case in what Macfarlane and Gourley term “the ‘hidden curriculum’ of emotional performativity” (p.455, 2009). By demanding emotional truth we really just hollow both out.

“Witnessing, as an act of love, involves the deliberate attendance to people, seeing and taking notice of that which they believe is meaningful.” (Laura, 2016, p. 219 in Love acts, p.83)

What we notice is never neutral. What people want us to notice is never neutral. We can see traces of this in the feedback cited in the article, which resonates most powerfully with the language and constructions of educational development.     

 “I have developed a passion for learning design . . .” (Love acts)

This feigning of passion is not even weary pastiche. Everyone is just too exhausted to celebrate anything, we’re just going through the motions, the reflective equivalent of garage flowers. In the Northern town where I grew up in the 80s, the Saturday before Valentines’ day some girls would buy massive cards with cardboard envelopes from the indoor market and carry them around town for the whole day. These cards weren’t inspired by any secret infatuation. They were simple, proud statements of belonging – ‘look I have a boyfriend’, because that’s what mattered, we all believed that carried meaning.    

Making such blatant claims to ‘passion’ is banal. It erases what it seeks to announce.

So can we empower participants in educational development programmes to perform sufficiency (for Fellowship, for promotion, for qualifications) within our structures of control, and yet retain spaces for truths which hold meaning only to them? What would that look like?

Elizabeth Smart’s novel of prose poetry By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept (1945) tells the subjective truth of her affair with poet George Barker, capturing “the power of emotion to transform one’s perspective on the world” (Ingrid Norton). On the Arizona border Smart and Barker are arrested for committing adultery. Her extorted ‘confession’ at once responds to and resists the interrogating officer. She answers the logical, rational progression of the interrogation with verse from the Song of Solomon, and so refuses to bear witness to her own legal or moral transgression. 

But at the Arizona border they stopped us and said Turn Back, and I sat in a little room with barred windows while they typed.

What relation is this man to you? (My beloved is mine and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.)

How long have you known him? (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.)

Did you sleep in the same room? (Behold thou art fair, my love, behold thou art fair: thou hast dove’s eyes.)

In the same bed? (Behold thou art fair, my beloved, yea pleasant, also; our bed is green.)

Did intercourse take place? (I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste.)

When did intercourse first take place? (The king hath brought me to the banqueting house and his banner over me was love.)

Were you intending to commit fornication in Arizona? (He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.)

Behold thou art fair my beloved, behold thou art fair: thou hast dove’s eyes. (51-52)

To the officer these logically dislocated responses are unintelligible and combative. But the reader, immersed in Smart’s metaphorical landscape, sees ‘her refusal to temper the heroic terms of her love into “a reductively literal view of the world” (McGill 80 in Bloom 2015, p.51). As Bloom has suggested: “In her lexicon, the subjective truth of erotic love is more legitimate than the institutional discourses that police sexual expression.” (Bloom 2015, p.51)

The title of By Grand Central Station alludes to Psalm 137 (“By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept …”) echoes the central question how can we find our own truth, tell our own stories in world which oppresses us: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” How do we liberate and legitimate the subjective truths of practice which exist outside the institutional discourses within which we operate? This is the challenge of educational development. 

(As a child I misheard the lyrics to Boney M’s ‘Rivers of Babylon – which I thought was ‘How shall we sing the love song in a strange land”. I might stick with that for now.)

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down

Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down

Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

There the wicked

Carried us away in captivity

Required from us a song

Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

There the wicked

Carried us away in captivity

Requiring of us a song

Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart

Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts

Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down

Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat…

The Big Bang (Learning) Theory: “You’re not sanding Penny”

To the uninitiated theories of learning can seem at best opaque and at worst pointless– but getting to grips with behaviourism can uncover some taken-for-granted assumptions which underpin many traditional educational practices. Moving things along from a salivating dog, or a radar pecking pigeon this clip sees Sheldon training Penny to be a more acceptable human being. Leonard’s plea ‘you’re not sanding Penny’ could be the call to action (learning) that you are looking for.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

A love that dare not speak its name?

Lecture at LTH LundThe long-maligned lectures holds sway (if not student attention) in most higher education institutions, and gives many HE professionals their job title.

In her article ‘Lecture me, really’ Molly Worthen bravely pledges her troth to this time-tested practice, so unjustly spurned by modish educators.

In her article ‘Lecture me, really’ Molly Worthen misguidedly chains herself to this archaic practice, so wisely rejected by enlightened educators.

Pieces in defence of the lecture appear regularly – and are met by a celebratory “hooray” from its avid and loyal admirers, and by dismay and bewilderment from its detractors.

Whichever tribe you belong to every vindication or condemnation offers valuable opportunity to revisit dearly held assumptions about the way we teach and the way in which students learn. Engaging in debate about divisive practices like the lecture can reinvigorate our engagement with the big questions: what can a University education do, how should it do it, and how do we as educators and students as learners best achieve our goals?

So, maybe not lecture me, really, but disagree with me, absolutely.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

The F word

PATRIARCHAL EDUCATION 2014“Feminist pedagogy is not a toolbox, a collection of strategies, a list of practices, or a specific classroom arrangement. It is an overarching philosophy—a theory of teaching and learning that integrates feminist values with related theories and research on teaching and learning.”

And so begins one of the most valuable teaching resources I have seen this year, a Guide to Feminist Pedagogy from Vanderbilt University. Beautifully designed around Shulman’s concept of signature pedagogy, this exquisite exposition of the ‘habits of hand, heart and head’ offers a liberating and exhilarating approach to teaching and learning.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

This

Creativity is a hard concept to define. Steve Wheeler pretty much nails it with this slide, part of his keynote at the Digital Pedagogies conference held in Doncaster on 3 July. By the power of Twitter (and @christinehough): “This”.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Textbook Cinderellas

CinderellaI love fairy stories.

I love English Literature.

I love teaching.

 

 

Once upon a time, now sadly a long time ago, when the ink on my doctoral dissertation was only just dry, I taught my first seminar group. Almost overcome with terror, I found solace in one magical text, Doing English by Robert Eaglestone.

Doing English enabled me to reconcile my experience of English Literature at school with the uncanny experiences of studying English Literature at University – and particularly, it showed me how I could make sense of the English Literature which was unfolding to my undergraduate seminar group as they grappled with the compulsory Critical Theory module under my inexpert tutelage.

Many years later, in a different life as a consultant at Academic Practice at the Higher Education Academy I was lucky enough to work with over 60 National Teaching Fellows on texts which captured their practice. Amongst their number was Robert Eaglestone, who wrote about writing the very text book that had saved me so many years ago.

The resulting piece, Textbook Cinderellas: how metacognition takes a worn format to the ball, argues that textbooks can and should be pedagogically innovative. But what I love most of all, is that it remixes the theories and sensibilities of English Studies with the scholarship of teaching and learning – to create something I find utterly enchanting.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.