Radical Honesty in the Classroom

During the discussion of Anthropology and #BlackLivesMatter on Wednesday November 1, I was taken by the concept brought up by Professor Bianca Williams of radical honesty. She spoke of the inherent biases of all professors and their undoubtable inclusion of them in their curriculum and classroom. She teaches a class on radical honesty and “Truth-Telling as Pedagogy for Working Through Shame in Academic Spaces”. She introduces her class with a complex description of ways she embodies her identity such as race, gender, and mental health. These act as a explanations of positionality and how and why she teaches and exists the ways that she does.

This notion of radical honesty comes into direct communication with Freire’s ideas of the banking and problem-posing education. Freire describes that banking education requires teachers to be knowledgable and students to be ignorant, for the teacher to teach and the students to be taught, and for the teacher to confuse the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he set sin opposition to the freedom of the students (73). What Bianca Williams encourages with her monologue is quite the opposite. She disrupts the narrative character prescribed to teacher-student relationships that Freire speaks describes as fundamental to the dehumanization of banking education (71). Williams gives power to the students and advocates for a dialectic approach to learning. Freire writes “Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indespensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality” (83). This is exactly what Williams seems to be doing with her approach to radical honesty. It serves as an important if not integral part of problem-posing education.




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the other side

Out of curiosity, I wanted to read an argument in vehement opposition to Freire’s Marxist-inspired teachings.  I found this : http://www.city-journal.org/html/pedagogy-oppressor-13168.html (tbh I wish I hadn’t because it pissed me off).

Sol Stern essentially argues that pushing leftist Freireian ideas actually oppresses minority students because it prevents them from considering the other side: conservatism.

“Of course, the popularity of Pedagogy of the Oppressed wasn’t due to its educational theory alone. During the seventies, veterans of the student-protest and antiwar movements put down their placards and began their “long march through the institutions,” earning Ph.D.s and joining humanities departments. Once in the academy, the leftists couldn’t resist incorporating their radical politics (whether Marxist, feminist, or racialist) into their teaching. Celebrating Freire as a major thinker gave them a powerful way to do so. His declaration in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that there was “no such thing as a neutral education” became a mantra for leftist professors, who could use it to justify proselytizing for America-hating causes in the college classroom.”

  • Arguing with frat boys always ends with the “You just hate America!!” patriotic morality bs.  In response, I turn their patriotism on its head: Critiquing America and wanting to improve her conditions is the highest form of patriotism- if you believe in something, you believe in its ability to improve.

Stern also supports Graff’s argument that “Making it the main object of teaching to open “students’ minds to left, feminist, anti-racist, and queer ideas” and “stimulate” them (nice euphemism that) “to work for egalitarian change” has been the fatal mistake of the liberatory pedagogy movement from Freire in the 1960s to today.”

  • I really can’t understand how someone could argue that teaching anti-racist ideas is a “fatal mistake” and still say they’re not racist…

“Freire’s ideas are harmful not just to students but to the teachers entrusted with their education. A broad consensus is emerging among education reformers that the best chance of lifting the academic achievement of children in the nation’s inner-city schools is to raise dramatically the effectiveness of the teachers assigned to those schools. Improving teacher quality as a means of narrowing racial achievement gaps is a major focus of President Obama’s education agenda. But if the quality of teachers is now the name of the game, it defies rationality that Pedagogy of the Oppressed still occupies an exalted place in training courses for those teachers, who will surely learn nothing about becoming better instructors from its discredited Marxist platitudes.”

  • This is the biggest myth in the education reform movement.  The teachers are not the problem- fundamental inequality is responsible for racial achievement gaps.  How can someone who has to worry about getting shot while walking to a friend’s house perform at the same level as someone whose parents are investment bankers and can provide all the books, music lessons, and club sports practices a kid could ever want? @Sol Stern: you’re a racist.

“In the age of Obama, finally, it seems all the more unacceptable to encourage inner-city teachers to take the Freirian political agenda seriously. If there is any political message that those teachers ought to be bringing to their students, it’s one best articulated by our greatest African-American writer, Ralph Ellison, who affirmed that he sought in his writing “to see America with an awareness of its rich diversity and its almost magical fluidity and freedom. . . . confronting the inequalities and brutalities of our society forthrightly, yet thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”

  • Way to co-opt a black activist’s language to support your own racist beliefs. I’m done.


I bet you can guess what Mr. Stern looks like.





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A good question, in short, is an honest question, one that, like good theory, dances on the edge of what is knowable, what it is possible to speculate on, what is available to our immediate grasp of what we are reading, or what it is possible to say. A good question, that is, like good theory, might be quite unlovely to read, particularly in its earliest iterations. And sometimes it fails or has to be abandoned. But we don’t come together to perform what we already know how to do. We come together to be unlovely and take ourselves apart, in order to mutually construct even more difficult ideas. It’s not supposed to be easy. The labor is what makes it beautiful.

We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know

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Making Excellence Inclusive

Making Excellence Inclusive

Making Excellence Inclusive is AAC&U’s guiding principle for access, student success, and high-quality learning. It is designed to help colleges and universities integrate diversity, equity, and educational quality efforts into their missions and institutional operations.


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Louis Althusser 1970 “Lenin and Philosophy” and Other Essays Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)

As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year.[2] The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production. This may be ‘simple’ (reproducing exactly the previous conditions of production) or ‘on an extended scale’ (expanding them). Let us ignore this last distinction for the moment.

What, then, is the reproduction of the conditions of production?

What do children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add – i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of ‘scientific’ or ‘literary culture’, which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher management, etc.). Thus they learn know-how.

But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the ‘rules’ of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination. They also learn to ‘speak proper French’, to ‘handle’ the workers correctly, i.e. actually (for the future capitalists and their servants) to ‘order them about’ properly, i.e. (ideally) to ‘speak to them’ in the right way, etc.

To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words’.

In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the Church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches ‘know-how’, but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its ‘practice’. All the agents of production, exploitation and repression, not to speak of the ‘professionals of ideology’ (Marx), must in one way or another be ‘steeped’ in this ideology in order to perform their tasks ‘conscientiously’ – the tasks of the exploited (the proletarians), of the exploiters (the capitalists), of the exploiters’ auxiliaries (the managers), or of the high priests of the ruling ideology (its ‘functionaries’), etc.

The reproduction of labour power thus reveals as its sine qua non not only the reproduction of its ‘skills’ but also the reproduction of its subjection to the ruling ideology or of the ‘practice’ of that ideology, with the proviso that it is not enough to say ‘not only but also’, for it is clear that it is in the forms and under the forms of ideological subjection that provision is made for the reproduction of the skills of labour power.

What are the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs)?

They must not be confused with the (repressive) State apparatus. Remember that in Marxist theory, the State Apparatus (SA) contains: the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc., which constitute what I shall in future call the Repressive State Apparatus. Repressive suggests that the State Apparatus in question ‘functions by violence’ – at least ultimately (since repression, e.g. administrative repression, may take non-physical forms).

I shall call Ideological State Apparatuses a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions. I propose an empirical list of these which will obviously have to be examined in detail, tested, corrected and re-organized. With all the reservations implied by this requirement, we can for the moment regard the following institutions as Ideological State Apparatuses (the order in which I have listed them has no particular significance):

  • the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
  • the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
  • the family ISA,[8]
  • the legal ISA,[9]
  • the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
  • the trade-union ISA,
  • the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
  • the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).


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Queering Education

Queering the actual modes of education in universities and in education systems at large is a must. To free public imagination, we must break loose of tunnels, where the light only comes from one source, from straight ahead, a light which is never reached, and one only see’s but is never touched by. To queer education is to turn the tunnel into a field, where objectives are anywhere you can find them, and the direction can be meandering, uncertain, but always in light, that is, the satisfaction of learning is not what you are approaching, but the learning itself.

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THE Debate: Fear and anxiety contaminate our thinking about the possibilities of university life

Jennifer Doyle is professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. Her latest book, Campus Sex, Campus Security, was published by Semiotext(e) this month.

The campus security nightmare scenario in the US revolves around two phenomena: the statistical anomaly of “the rampaging shooter” (who could be anyone), and the statistical fact that any female student can become a rape victim.

The genderedness of risk is stark: every male student is a potential threat; every female student, a potential victim. It may feel strange – wrong, even – to juxtapose the extraordinary mass shooting with the omnipresent crisis of campus sexual assault. Fear and anxiety about both, however, contaminate our thinking about the possibilities of university life – and every now and again, these two stories converge.

Take, for example, The Hunting Ground, an earnest documentary about the recent student-led anti-rape movement at US universities. The title wilfully conflates “the shooter scenario” with the ubiquity of sexual assault, and equates rape with murder. And the film itself subordinates the legal activism of women who have been sexually assaulted to the sensationalism of the individual story of those assaults. It is as rigorous in its feminism as an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

A recent study conducted by the Association of American Universities found that one in four women is subjected to sexual assault while in college. Although researchers debate the methods used in these kinds of surveys, as well as how the data solicited from survey participants are interpreted, even the most conservative estimates regarding the frequency of sexual assault describe what is clearly an intolerable situation. A very problematic lesson is often drawn, however: that women put themselves at increased risk of sexual violence by going to college.

The Hunting Ground opens with a montage of young women opening their college acceptance letters. One after another quivers in anticipation, surrounded by loving family, as she reads. Her eyes fill with tears, she jumps up and dances with joy when she learns that, yes, she has been accepted by the school of her dreams. Oh, the irony! For, in The Hunting Ground, these women are lambs going to slaughter.

This idea – that the campus is where rape happens – contributes to a dangerous public discourse that fetishises women’s innocence and vulnerability, and whips the public into a frenzy over the spectre of the man who does not belong on campus. This is not to say that sexual assault is not frequent on college campuses. It is. But it is also frequent within the context of relationships with men. “Women are far more likely to be raped than men”, however, makes an absurd headline, and the media are not generally interested in research that shows that college graduates are less vulnerable to sexual violence than people who never go to college because, really, who cares about the poor?

When we look at the world through the Law & Order lens, we find ourselves fixated on the idea that campuses are dangerous places, especially for women, and that hypervigilance is required. Mixed into our work email are campus security memos, animated with instructional videos advising us of our options should an armed lunatic appear. The popular complaint regarding the fragile psychology of students who ask for “trigger warnings” masks the troubling fact that the infrastructures shaping our universities are increasingly defined by paranoia. “By being prepared, alert and relaxed,” a recent article in the trade magazine Campus Safety explains, “you are best able to observe your environment and notice changes that may pose a risk.” Like stalking victims, staff are encouraged to lean on intuition when surveying their environment. “Intuition is not magical,” the article continues: “it is an educated hunch based on your knowledge and experience. Nothing is more intuitive than survival.” Such instruction instrumentalises prejudice. It gives permission to people (here, campus security officials) to indulge their “intuition” regarding who looks out of place. This has severe consequences for members of the university community.

The fear of sexual assault becomes a blunt-force administrative tool used not to open up the university to more people but to wall it off. During 2011’s Occupy Movement, for example, when the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, Linda Katehi, mobilised the police against peaceful demonstrators – which led to a well-documented, miserable incident in whichseated students were pepper-sprayed – it was with the aim of protecting female students. In the ensuing report into what went on, Katehi explained that she had been afraid of what might happen if the students spent the night in the camp they had set up: “We were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record…If anything happens to any student while we’re in violation of policy, it’s a very tough thing to overcome.”

Katehi’s apprehension of being “in violation of policy” is a reference to “Title IX”, federal law that entails that if an assault is found to have happened in the wake of a university’s “deliberate indifference” to a clear risk, the university may become embroiled in an expensive thicket of lawsuits and federal auditing. But student demonstrations against rising tuition costs are not generally associated with an increase in rates of sexual assault.

There is a tremendous difference between the media’s presentation of the problem of sexual violence and feminist work on this subject. We need to interrogate the sexual politics that structure our understanding of risk and vulnerability. We need to ask why, in this moment, we are romanced by the idea of the campus as the place where rape happens, instead of as a public resource that makes rape less likely.

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