Random musey thoughts

As I enter the middle of my career as an academic I am continually struck by the new wine in old bottles approach that characterizes pedagogical trends in higher education.   The most recent example of this “phenomenon” is the buzz about the “flipped classroom” which we used to call “student-centered” or “student-led” teaching and which I learned about as an undergrad women’s studies student.

In the flipped classroom, students “acquire” knowledge outside of class (you know like we used to do by reading) so that they can “do” stuff in class with that information.

I really don’t care if it takes a new buzz word for people to “rediscover” pedagogies that have worked, but what peeves me to no end is the erasure of the work, mostly done in gender and ethnic studies classrooms,  in which knowledge production was always understood as emanating as much from “people” as “professors.”

 While the emphasis on using technology to provide information outside of class is new (that retro thing known as “experience” was our “outside” text along with the actual textbook or readings) the dynamics were the same. The professor shuts up, and the students, working together, produce knowledge and insights. At the end, the (good) prof brought discussion back to the entire class and helped draw out collective insights.

What is being erased are the connections to the social movements that gave rise to these programs within higher education in the first place.  Liberation schools of all sorts have existed in social movements of the 20th century, from the workers schools of the CP to the programs started in the South during the civil rights movement to the precedents in the Black Power movement.

Brochure for the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Liberation school  E. Dubois files

When some of these activists moved into IHE they brought with them the experiences of working in these activist-oriented schools.  The course often snuck in through the back door of experimental colleges or continuing education, but gradually seeped into pedagogy of the more traditional courses as well.

As Mari Jo Buhle explains in the introduction to The Politics of Women’s Studies that during the earliest days of women’s studies

faculty joined with students to inaugurate  a classroom style that  would flourish decades later as  feminist pedagogy.  At the time, though, founders of women’s studies were  in alliance with others of their generation who advocated  an alternative to the established educational theory that prevailed in US school systems.   They believed in the possibility of social change through critical teaching and learning, and, like other New Left teachers, they were especially sensitive to the ways  in which conventional  classrooms reproduced social inequalities.  (xxiv)