Monday, January 14, 2013

Collaboration in and Outside the Classroom: Some Thoughts

I have been thinking about the questions Margrit posed on Friday. She asked how we spent our holidays, and more specifically, she asked if we have plans for making space in our lives. It is that second part that I want to address, but I will do so by telling you about about how I spent my holiday.

Some brief context: Of the seven courses I am teaching this calendar year one of the ones I have been team teaching is a year-long Canadian Studies course called The Idea of Canada. My co-teacher and I have spent a great deal of time thinking through how to structure such a class: what do we want to convey to a group of second-year students with diverse national, ethnic, racial, and class back grounds? What kind of pedagogical methods are most effective for teaching not just history and culture, but the ways in which history and culture are formed? While I will admit that this is precisely the kind of theoretical and methodological challenge that thrills me, it is also true that I am staggered by the immensity and urgency these questions, especially when they are undertaken in a course that operates under the sign of the nation-state. My co-teacher, TVM and I have decided to focus our attentions on thinking about the ways in which the Canadian government has structured its (broken) relationship with First Nations peoples as a central arc that is followed through the course. 

Now, while it is not something that I think is absolutely necessary for anyone else, I also need to tell you that I feel compelled to activate my political and social stances for my students. I do this not to indoctrinate them into my own beliefs, but rather because I feel fundamentally responsible to put my politics where my pedagogy is, for lack of a more elegant way of stating things. 

This brings me to mid-December: I am in downtown Halifax with a former-student-turned-friend. We are taking part in the first Idle No More rally. We march along the Treaty Day parade route behind the Easter Eagle drummers. It is a beautiful sunny day. We are surrounded by the scent of burning sage. We stand with a few hundred people in Grand Parade, we listen to youth speakers address the Conservative omnibus bill C-45, and we hear them express fear for their treaty rights to traditional cultural practices. I am struck by the way in which these young people articulate so clearly the kinds of knotty historical, theoretical, and cultural conundrums that I attempt to work through with my students. As I am standing amongst this group of people, one young woman reads a poem written by her sister. I recognize her sister's name: she is a student in the Idea of Canada course. The poem is a lyric intervention into discourses of nation. It soars and dips. It asks hard questions. It is a clear-eyed, strong-voiced poem. 

After the rally, I go looking for the poet/student/woman to tell her what a wonderful piece of work she offered us. I find her, we chat, and I ask her if she and her sister  (who are doing much of the local Idle No More organizing) need any help. She says yes. And so, I do what I can. Mostly, this meant helping to write press releases for the informational sessions held in Halifax, for the flashmob round dance held in the Mic Mac [sic] Mall. It meant tweeting, posting information on Facebook, and sending emails to my colleagues at Dalhousie. It meant doing an interview with Sun media -- despite my discomfort with that forum -- while the central women organizing INM here were with many people in Millbrook and Eskasoni doing a traditional four-day solidarity fast in support of Chief Spence. And most recently, it meant speaking about settler-colonial history and unlearning at a teach-in held at Dalhousie

What does this all mean, and what does it have to do with Margrit's question? I haven't worked out all of my feelings and thoughts in a grand scheme yet, but in the short term I can say this: I spent my holiday getting out of my comfort zone. Too often my radical pedagogy stops at the classroom, or in my writing. Too often it doesn't get activated outside the university, and while activation within the university is crucial the university remains a site of privilege. Moreover, too often I feel as though I have little to offer, and I think that sense of having too little to offer is actually a way of facilitating my own fearfulness. Fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of taking up too much space, fear of being wrong.  I have written much about the challenges of being a member of the precariate, someone whose own sense of the future is too often bound up in fear for myself. I am coming to realize that my own future is bound up in my the future that my students are heading into, it is bound up in the future of treaty rights, it is bound up, in other words, in things that go far beyond my own small horizons. 

So I spent my holiday trying to use the relative power I have to make space. I'm fairly certain that is going to be a life-long practice. 

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