Women's Studies has as its mission feminist education, and at the root of this learning experience is the grassroots and scholarly work of feminism - a political movement that advances the liberation of all women and, thereby, struggles to end domination in their lives, as manifested through the intersecting vectors of sexism, racism, classism, and various other 'isms. Part of this struggle is the expansion of our worldviews so that we may begin to recognize our commonalities, embrace our differences, decenter privileged positions, bring to the forefront marginal experiences, and strive toward social justice. Part of this task is also involving men in these struggles as they learn to recognize the gender-liberated roles they must play in the creation of a socially-just world.
It is this commitment to feminist education that has shaped my teaching philosophy and my implementation of feminist pedagogy. I have defined feminist pedagogy according to the following goals and objectives that I list on all of my course syllabi. I thus set out to ensure that students will learn to:
As such, my teaching is informed by the educational theories of Paulo Freire, who has stressed student-centered curriculum in which students learn to dialogue and engage in praxis (theory integrated with practice), as well as black feminist intellectuals such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde, who have both stressed the importance of inclusivity, diversity, passion, and pleasure as integral parts of the learning experience for students and instructors. I am also cognizant of the power dynamics between student and professor, as noted by other feminist scholars of color, such as Patricia J. Williams and Eden E. Torres, not just in the Freireian sense of challenging concepts of the professor as the all-knowing authoritative figure, but also in the sense of critical race and feminist sensibilities that acknowledge how these power relations shift depending on who is in front of the classroom, based on their race and gender (in my case, being a woman of color, a woman of African descent).
Because of these factors, I emphasize respect in the classroom: respect from my students in my role as their guide and respect for my students in anticipation of their knowledge and experiences that they share, which may be considerably different from my own knowledge base but may nonetheless serve as a resource for our two-way learning. Once respect is established, I then challenge students to think in ways that they never expected and to be fully open to the experience. I once demonstrated this sentiment by showing on the first day of class a scene from The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy is deposited by a tornado in the magical land of Oz. I said to my students, "You are Dorothy, and my class is the tornado. It doesn't matter to me if you think I'm Glenda the Good Witch or the Wicked Witch of the West, since either one is a powerful woman. What does matter is that your black-and-white view of the world will grow more complex once you start viewing it through technicolor!"
Surely, how can any student learn if s/he doesn't have that epiphany of "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!"
Inevitably, some students see me as the Wicked Witch, troubling their comfortable worldviews, no matter how problematic these might be, but most see me as the Good Witch, not as someone who tries to rob them of their power (the ruby shoes?) but as someone who guides them to the power within themselves to fulfill their desires, change their lives, even change the world. I often turn to the everyday resources that they can access (popular movies, music, food, clothes, etc.) and engage in interdisciplinary methods (integrating literature, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, art history, philosophy, etc.) to illustrate the complex theories and concepts that we study in textbooks or from my lectures. Moreover, I don't just lecture; I integrate and facilitate discussion. I need to make that connection, to dialogue, so that students are alert, not nodding off, not listlessly taking notes, but actually thinking critically about any information that passes in the time that we meet. I also ensure that the content of course materials reflect their racial, ethnic, and gender backgrounds and expand beyond our national borders to emphasize the global, transnational, and multi-racial contexts in which we live at this juncture of the 21st century.
Furthermore, I expect students to reflect their critical thinking through student-centered projects that integrate theory with practice and foster interactions with various publics, such as empowering them to organize a conference or campus event, build a website, collaborate on a performance, and more recently, edit and publish an undergraduate student electronic journal with the intent of creating public outlets for student expression that advance the goals of their feminist education.
Teaching is a joy, and if I'm lucky, I can share and inspire that same feeling, even when they complain of "too much work" (translation: too much thinking!). At the end of the semester, whatever struggles, whatever gripes occur, they often find that they've learned considerably from me and from each other. Especially telling is when we revisit the course goals and objectives on the syllabus for our last day of class and reach consensus that these have been met.
Image Credit: "The Library" by Jacob Lawrence.